ON THE NEW MALATE
Malate was once upon a time, a genteel neighborhood, charming and tree-lined, dotted with small and quaint one-of-a-kind bars and restaurants. Remedios, Julio Nakpil, Maria Orosa, Mabini, M.H. Del Pilar, and Adriatico were the streets where the boy I was became the man I am now. It was home. Malate, and the neighboring Ermita, were certainly romantic; it was the only area in Metro Manila where I could take a walk with my girlfriend, chatting as we discovered one establishment after another, under the oldfashioned street lamps that lit up our evening strolls. Café Adriatico, Moviola, Hard Rock, Insomnia, Iguana, Garlic Rose, Blue, Caribana, Guernica, Patio Mequeni, Camp Gourmet. All very different, all overflowing with character. All, save for the legendary Café Adriatico, exist only in my memories now. There was the thrill of walking through the dodgy red light district for three a.m. recovery food: twenty peso shawarmas at the Golden Ship Canteen, and the twenty five peso taco salad at Rosie’s Diner. Earlier in the evenings, there was Cosa Nostra with its lone waiter, a stooped, bemoustached gentleman. It was the most swoon-inducing Italian restaurant in the city. Just five or so tables, as I remember. But best of all was the Penguin Gallery. It was the gathering place of artists, photojournalists, backpackers, poets, writers, and young professionals on a tight budget. Our drink of choice was the “submarine”, a glass goblet filled with Pale Pilsen or Red Horse, with a shot glass of lambanog dropped in, hence the cocktail’s name. It was basic, but quite potent. That would explain the “performance art” that was a trademark of the bar. An indie actor shouting our stanzas of dark verse from a corner table? All good. Amy the owner, a cool and calming presence, and head waiter Jun, spiffy in his black suit, always smiling as he took my order, winking as he noticed another new lady by my side. Unforgettable times. It was a Belle Époque for my generation, and I thought I’d never see the likes of Old Malate again.
But just after Christmas in 2014, a tiny bar, literally just a store front, opened right across the small Mexican soft taco joint that was already drawing the more adventurous types to the one-lane Felipe St. in one of Makati’s oldest districts, Barrio Poblacion. El Chupacabra and Tambai. They were small and quaint and one-of-a-kind, and they were located a stone’s throw away from a dodgy red-light area. Hmmm. History was repeating itself. A powder keg had been lit. The place exploded, seemingly overnight, with dozens of distinct new bars and quirky restaurants opening in rapid succession. And when the smoke cleared, Poblacion had become the New Malate. I was home again.