Makati, one of Metro Manila’s 16 bustling cities, has more selfie-takers per-capita than any city on the planet. Officially deemed the selfie capital of the world, it's also a lively city of night and weekend markets, vibrant local theaters, and an engaging art scene. 

At the city’s fringes, roadside eateries that open up to passing pedicabs and jeepneys abound. A buzzing subculture champions an independently run dining, drinking and retail scene — reshaping old-town and red light districts into hip, local neighborhoods. Ready for a quick tour? Consider this offbeat guide to Makati.

Rooftop view of Makait City at dusk with lit high-rises in the background and white cement buildings in the foreground
Makati City © Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

At first blush, Makati nests a premiere business district, and by extension its high-rises, five-star hotels and upscale lifestyle centers. At the city’s fringes, and perhaps its soul, is the rich art scene, old town pedicabs (cycle rickshaws) and roadside eateries, and a buzzing subculture championing an independently-run dining, drinking and retail scene; turning old-town and red-light districts into hip, small-establishment-driven neighborhoods.

Mornings at the local weekend market

Makati has two park-operated, pop-up markets that have reliably set up shop between 7AM and 2PM every weekend for over a decade now. Saturday is hosted by Salcedo Market (nestled in Jaime C. Velasquez Park, Salcedo Village), and Sundays belong to Legazpi Market (at the corner of Herrera and Rufino Sts., Legazpi Village). Both markets offer an exciting spread of fresh produce, cooked local and world cuisines, and artisanal home and personal products. These handmade goods include coconut kefir, cane sugar drinks, and sticky rice cakes in pork blood stew (puto dinuguan). You can also find abaca-woven bags, Tillandsia air plants, and upcycled bottle lamps. 

Vendors and shoppers at the Truly Handmake Chips stall in the market
Any given noon at Salcedo Market © Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

Soak in the multi-activity eccentricities of Makati Central Square

Makati Central Square was formerly called Makati Cinema Square because the cinema was the mall’s main feature in its heyday circa the 1980s. Now it’s a kitsch shopping center that houses a curious mix of shops, attracting a following despite being dwarfed by upscale neighboring malls. Inside: an experimental-art theater, a 42-lane bowling alley and billiard center, a guns-and-ammo store, art galleries and an art supply shop, several thrift-clothing stores, a vinyl record emporium, and cheap dining joints with religiously returning patrons. At one point, a local wrestling group set up shop here; on occasion, casting calls and commercial audition lineups are an occurrence around its top floors.

View through the window of men playing billiards, 80s decor inside
Makati Square’s billiards scene © Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

Schedule an art crawl along Chino Roces Avenue

In case you aren’t in town for two of Makati’s public art events (Art Fair Philippines in February, and Art in the Park in March), taking multiple stops to see the diverse contemporary art galleries strewn across this 5km stretch of road might make up for the missed experience.

Start at Silverlens. One of the city’s first galleries, it’s an expansive two-story multi-disciplinary art space that was once a smaller photographic art studio when it opened shop in 2004. Then move to Karrivin Plaza. Home to 1335 Mabini, Art Informal and The Drawing Room — showrooms that sit inside a trendy design and dining hub.

If you’re looking for more experimental, punk and art-pop pieces, La Fuerza Plaza and its five galleries — Nova, Finale Art File, Vinyl on Vinyl, J Studio, and Archivo1984 — has you covered. Relatively smaller but established spaces Kanto, Eskinita, and Underground (galleries tucked in the kitschy Makati Central Square) round up Chino Roces Avenue’s notable art stops.

A sculpture that looks like a larger-than-life lego man with pointy ears and a rounded face
A Reen Barrera sculpture at Vinyl on Vinyl © Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

Visit an offbeat Gotohan (beef-tripe-porridge joint) in the old town district

Bangkal District is a train-tracks-cross away from the posh Ayala district to ‘Old Makati,’ locally famous for its cheap furniture finds. If you’re in the mood for a food adventure, and if you happen to like puns, then that’s two reasons to visit Goto Lechon Know. 

It’s an eight-table joint that opens up roadside to passing jeepneys. Try savoring a hot bowl of beef-tripe porridge (goto) topped with chives, atsuete (the local annatto fruit), and hard-boiled egg. Goto Lechon Know’s tiny but dynamic kitchen periodically opens to visiting foreign and local artists who guest cook for a night.

Food, drinks, and roadside gatherings at Goto Lechon Know
Food and drinks at Goto Lechon Know © Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

See a stage show at the neighborhood theaters

Greenbelt may be a premiere mall famous for its retail designer stores, but tucked on the second floor of Greenbelt 1, a.k.a. ‘old Greenbelt,’ is OnStage. The 800-seater theater stages Repertory Philippines’ original and adapted plays, which run the range of a classic Wizard of Oz show, to a musical on the life of Philippine first President Emilio Aguinaldo.

A 15-minute walk from Greenbelt to Ayala RCBC plaza, meanwhile, gets you to the relatively smaller, 450-seater Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium. It hosts Atlantis Production’s stage shows, with more contemporary plays such as Harry Potter-parody Potted Potter, and Tony-Award-winning play Angels in America.

Do an abridged Poblacion crawl

Poblacion’s hip drinking and dining spots may be the subject of an entirely exhaustive list altogether, but an alcohol-blissed view of the city at night from a six-story roof deck may be one of the backpacker-friendly neighborhood’s better ideas. Z Hostel has a requisite bar and DJ deck for the livelier crowd, and sunset sessions that feature an orange skyline and free cocktails for the more relaxed, conversations-driven set.

Next door: ethnic-inspired interiors, local craft beers, and heavily Pinoy-flavored bar chow and dining dishes feature in Filipino pub Alamat (myth or folktale).

Further out along Palma St., a stop at creative space and retail hub Pineapple Lab surprises with Fringe festival events that promote free-to-the-public productions and free market pop-ups that advocate an alternative gift economy. Then there’s the charmingly individual pieces you’re bound to find at its resident vintage shop Glorious Dias (named after Miss Universe Philippines 1969, Gloria Diaz).

A bar with red lighting, candles in the corner and sign above the tap that reads, 'Beer People'
Barstool-side at Alamat ©Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

Take a nightcap (or another drink) at a quiet-neighborhood ‘coffee shop’

If you’re having trouble finding the whiskey section and dimly lit bar that contrasts the sunny disposition of its bartenders and wait staff, that’s because The Curator is, at exterior glance, that quaint coffee shop at the corner of Palanca and Legazpi Street (just a quick 5-minute walk from the Greenbelt complex). The speakeasy opens up prohibition-style to an adjoining cozy back room with a full-service bar and jazz music playing in the background. On the menu try craft cocktails and assorted spirits that earned The Curator entry into Asia’s 50 Best Bars (the only bar in the Philippines to make the list). Up front is the brighter-lit café where you can order house-made horchata, signature espressos, and pastries.

Dark room with a silhouette at the bar and three shelves of bottles behind the bar
At the backroom of cocktail bar and café, The Curator ©Paul Mondok / Lonely Planet

Shop from indie stores and smaller brands

Makati’s supermalls may be inescapable, but the city’s independently-run retail scene is arguably more exciting.  Take Aphro Living: a home and design store that looks like an arthouse playground (the built-in slide next to the display-shelf stairs probably gives it away). 

Streetwear has such a cult following in the city that Makati houses two of its most recognizable advocates. Suez and Zapote, whose name takes after its corner streets address, is a retail shop that houses pioneering brands like Team Manila and the Daily Grind. Purveyr Post in Bangkal and Poblacion houses over 50 brands between their two locations, providing a fixed space for local streetwear supporters. They also host bi-annual pop-up events that represent over 80 independently owned and designed clothing from Makati and across the country.

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