The night scene in Manila is growing quiet. Whispers of one day pop-up restaurants have long kept people on their toes, bars are tucked behind fancy decors and it is now a crime against your popularity to geotag the underground scene on Instagram. The city has developed an obsession with minimalist inconspicuous spaces. However, everyone knows that people go to hidden places to be seen anyway. I spent one night, aided with little clues, uncovering three of the secret spots – following a page or two from the guide to speakeasies and remembering that the prohibition period is long gone and it is now time to party.
Through the Pay Phone
Sitting right smack on the second floor of the café Frank x Dean is its cooler sister, Ocean’s Telephone Co. Guests enter through London’s iconic red phone booth and are taken to a single-room bar lit up by a neon sign. The crowd is a mix of yuppies and millennials — not surprising since on Thursdays, throwback song choices from I Wish You Were Here to Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls are a nostalgic treat (and easy bait) for that market.
I have had possibly a hundred mojitos in my entire drinking life and I can tell when one is poorly made. Their mojito was diluted and tasted like water and sugar. The only real mojito hint I got was from the mint leaves. I dropped the cocktails not long after and found the silver lining when I switched to beers. They were served cold in bottles that seem endless. They were the perfect companion for listening to TLC and of course, some Britney.
Through the Closet
I did not expect to enter Narnia the night I looked for Mandalay Whisky Bar. The uncanny resemblance to the story was obvious; a closet for a door, two lion statues greeting you upon entrance and hidden corners and rooms. Thankfully there were no white witches around.
The place reeks of luxury and power. The plush leather chairs are a little intimidating and the menu is highfaluting if you do not know a thing or two about whisky (an advice from a Scot– drink it as is with cold water on the side). The portions are small and the prices are steep if you are used to paying Happy-Hour style.
They serve Peking Duck buns, Kitayama Wagyu scratchlings and Kalbi Stew as fancier bar grub choices. Roasted nuts and deep friend wonton crisps are given on the house too for anyone who would enter and stay for a whisky shot or two.
The most expensive bottle can set you back at PHP 250,000; with the same amount you can pay for a car down payment or an engagement ring or a weekend in Amanpulo. This is the bottle you save for extremely special occasions, closing new deals or, if you can afford, simply winning at life. My drink choice of Glenlivet 12 was safe, mainstream and sensibly priced but the overall presentation and experience at this bar still made me feel like a winner.
Through the Convenience Store
Probably the most popular—based on crowd presence– of the three is Bank Bar, literally housed inside the RCBC bank building. Waiters clad in bulletproof style vests usher you to the nearest empty table if you are lucky or to the bar where most are marking their space. The walls are adorned with flashed murals that change throughout the night— artsy yet gritty enough for even Banksy.
The center piece is the mega altar of liquor that is an answered prayer for devotees and new believers alike. The cocktail menu is a playful with interesting entries such as the Pinay Colada, Mariang Bastos, Crown Jewels, and Due Diligence. A martini mobile bar is available for those who prefer it shaken not stirred.
Stay on until later and catch the hangover food served from midnight onwards. Take your pick from a gourmet tapsilog, pork belly chahan or the instant yakisoba served in Chinese take away boxes. Bank Bar unapologetically mixes the classic with the whimsical. It does not always add up but somewhere in the frenzy you find something close to the heart and it makes for a wonderful night. Cheers to that.
Ocean’s Telephone Co. – 2F Frank x Dean, Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Mandalay Whisky Bar—Inside The Belle & The Dragon, Legaspi Village, Makati City
Bank Bar—GF RCBC Bank Corporate Center (inside 7/11), 25th & 26th St, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig