Originally a Filipino restaurant and club owned by the late Ness Aquino, it featured many Filipino celebrities, including Amapola (a.k.a. Amapola Cabase). Aquino and Amapola also co-hosted a weekly television program, The Amapola Presents Show on KEMO TV Channel 20.
During the late 1970s, Jerry Paulsen was the first promoter of bands to appear at the Mab on a regular basis. He booked them on Mondays and Tuesdays to begin with so he could showcase the bands that he featured in Psyclone magazine to existing record executives. The scene became so popular that he was soon booking two bands a night seven days a week. Bay Area punk and New Wave bands performed there, and it was an important touring stop for bands from beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. Among the local bands that performed regularly at the Mabuhay were The Adaptors, Avengers, Dead Kennedys, The Nuns, Crime, Dils, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, The Mortals, new wave band Judy Garland, the Tubes and Wall of Voodoo, to name a few. After he left, Dirksen (the "pope of punk") booked The Dead Boys, Nico, The Runaways, Devo, X, The Police, SVT, The Go-Go's, Motörhead, Sun Ra and his Arkestra, Patti Smith, The Jim Carroll Band, and others. Comedians such as Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams also made early appearances at the venue.
Dirk Dirksen, nephew of Senator Everett Dirksen, had a unique style as emcee, deliberately baiting and trading insults with audience and band members, which had the effect of raising the energy of audience and performers alike. In order to maintain the show's fast pace, he would move past an encore to get to the next band and tell the audience, "Eat it." Dirksen's abrasive persona (which was largely a performance) was a central part of the atmosphere of the Mabuhay. He was sometimes referred to as the "poor man's Bill Graham." Dirksen was the sole person responsible for connecting the English punk rockers with those in the United States. By creating an exchange program, punk bands for England and NY came to the Mabuhay and vice versa, staying in each city performing a few nights at a time. This spread the "punk" scene globally making it a household word, thanks to Dirksen and Aquino. The alley located next to the Mabuhay is named for him. The Mabuhay was in the lower level of the 435 Broadway building, which also housed the On Broadway Theater, known in 1984-1985 as "Rock on Broadway."
The Mabuhay Gardens closed in 1987. The building subsequently housed a nightclub called the Velvet Lounge. The venue was again opened in September 2007 under the name Club 443. Currently, Fame Venue operates at 443 Broadway, which is used for conferences, concerts, catering and other events.
The Mabuhay Gardens featured in a chapter from Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (Pulitzer 2011). This chapter, "Ask Me if I Care," was also published in the March 8, 2010 issue of the New Yorker. The Mabuhay Gardens are referenced in the song "Looking for Lewis And Clark" by the Los Angeles band The Long Ryders on their 1985 album State of the Union.