The heydays of the 1920s and 1930s saw Manila abuzz with theatres, cabaret, jazz clubs and ritzy boulevards, making it one of the most glamourous cities in the region. This was all brought to a halt during theof Manila in WWII and Manila never really regained its pre-war panache. But in recent years its spark has been reignited by a new generation of fun-loving Manileños determined to put it back on the map. Boasting everything from craft beer, street food and speakeasy bars, to live music and a contemporary art scene, Manila is emerging as one of Asia's most happening capitals.
Cubao X and the Collective
Head to these two precincts to see where Manila’s arty, hip, student crowd congregate.
Grungy Cubao X in Quezon City is the epicentre of cool with its little village comprising dive bars; stores selling vinyl records, vintage clothing and collectibles; and a bunch of vibrant cheap eateries. More central is the Collective in Makati, a large warehouse-like centre hosting live-music venues, art spaces, boutique shopping, street-style food and an energetic crowd of locals and expats out for a good time.
Cocktails, craft beer and third-wave coffee
Whatever your poison, Metro Manila is an excellent city for a drink. Choose from cheap beers at streetside stalls or artisan drinks concocted by local brewers, mixologists and baristas.
The speakeasy bar fad has reached Manila, proving a huge hit with trendy locals keen for quality drinks in refined surrounds. Speakeasies such as Finders Keepers and Blind Pig (facebook.com/pages/Blind-Pig) are hard to find – as as you’d expect – hidden behind nondescript facades. Each have their own set of bar rules and menus featuring both original and classic cocktails.
Manila is also fast gaining a thirst for craft beer, with Big Bad Wolf and Perfect Pint both pulling beers from Filipino microbreweries; and places like Global Beer Exchange, which stocks its shelves with local and international craft lagers and ales that you can drink in or take away.
For non-alcoholic stimulation, there is always coffee – something locals have started to take seriously. A growing number of cafes source single-origin beans and roast on-site. Places to look out for a good cup of coffee include Craft Coffee Revolution, Coffee Empire and EDSA Beverage Design, who all serve espressos, aeropress and cold-drip brews using state-of-the-art equipment.
Flourishing foodie scene
While Filipino food may not get the plaudits that the cuisine of Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore does, a new breed of Manileños are driving an innovative food culture, meaning visitors can now eat very well.
Street food is one foodie trend to have hit Manila. Try El Chupacabra, responsible for introducing authentic Mexican to capital. This taqueria is setting the town alight with awesome corn tortilla tacos, filled with anything from chorizo to pork sisig – a Filipino twist on the Mexican snack. For American ‘dude’ food head to Charlie’s Grind & Grill, where they make saliva-inducing Black Angus and waygu burgers, served with a side of duck-fat fries and a selection of craft beers. A fleet of food trucks has also taken to roaming the city and can be tracked on Facebook – look out for Food Truck Park, who dish up a menu of favourites like ramen, and pulled-pork sandwiches.
Quezon City (QC) meanwhile has the happening Maginhawa St, known for its vibrant, creative restaurants. Most notable is Van Gogh is Bipolar, featuring the genius chef-owner-artist Jetro Rafael, who cooks up original recipes within a riotously bohemian atmosphere. In the neighbourhood there are also good vegetarian restaurants creating meat-free Filipino classics; Pipino Vegetarian Food does an interesting portobello inasal (barbecued with soy marinade), while Greens Vegetarian Restaurant serves amazing meatless sisig. Also keep an eye out for the new Z Compound – another popular QC hangout – with its small community of street-food spots.
For artisan food shopping, the Salcedo and Legazpi farmers markets are both places to head on the weekends for local and international treats.
Manila’s thriving music scene is nothing new. Pinoy rock is a well-respected genre that’s always pulled in the punters with underground bands and bigger acts such as the Eraserheads.
SaGuijo is one of Manila’s most revered bars for raucous rock n roll; it's a ramshackle venue with a nightly roster of live bands covering indie, punk, garage and emo. Up the road is B-Side, one of the most popular parts of the Collective, a warehouse venue that draws a jumping crowd to catch soul and rock. Its Sunday reggae parties are an institution. Across town in Quezon City, Black Kings Bar is a dive bar with a house-party vibe hosting hardcore, metal and blues bands. Then there are the iconic old-school venues such as Bar 1951 (formerly Penguin Bar), 70s Bistro and Conspiracy Bar, all chilled-out places to catch classic Pinoy bands and upcoming blues groups.
The clubbing scene is also strong with venues like Black Market, where renowned DJs spin underground electronic music and party tracks. As does well-established Republiq, or the swankier 71 Gramercy at the top of Manila’s tallest building.
Manila has long produced talented artists, and has some ultracool galleries to showcase the work of its contemporary and experimental art scene.
The Metropolitan Museum of Manila (aka the Met) has established itself as a world-class modern art museum, with abstract and experimental pieces up there with anything you’d find in New York, Berlin or Tokyo. Other superb galleries include Vargas Museum, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and 1335Mabini – all places to discover where Manila’s art scene is at.
In recent years a number of local entrepreneur artists and culturephiles have set up grass-roots NGOs to promote everything cool going on in Manila (and not in the mall).
VivaManila (www.facebook.com/vivamanila.org) is one such example, started by a proud group of Manileños on a mission to revive what had become downtrodden downtown Manila. They promote cultural events, art shows and gigs, as well as putting on street markets, music festivals and Sunday brunches. Another shining light is 98B (www.98-b.org), an artists collective based in Escolta St (once Manila’s ritziest strip and still home to some architectural gems). They host a Saturday flea market selling original artworks, handmade crafts and vintage clothing.