Saturday, September 06, 2008

I recently had the opportunity to contribute to a new men's magazine, Blue, published by Atlas. I'm posting the following since this is the version I told them to use--NOT the one you'll see printed in its pages. This one doesn't have "TK" after the names of Edru Abraham and Jani Moldero ("TK" being mag lingo for "to come", meaning "info to be supplied"); and it mentions other Malate hotspots in the '60s. Enjoy. Next post: what it REALLY takes to be a magazine editor. Kidding.

Malate calling

By La Labuyo

My first significant memory of Malate goes back to 1987, when my mom brought me to Mike de la Rosa’s atelier to have myself measured and fitted for my junior prom dress. I remember the Remedios circle being a green dome studded with trees (not the flat park it is now), and the surrounding houses and buildings looking so quaint, but refined. Because memories can lie, I won’t even attempt to describe the décor of de la Rosa’s atelier, but I am sure of this: the aura of the place, the whole of Malate, was nothing like I ever felt before. It was more than romantic and bohemian; it was rich and dreamy, yet at the same time a bit dark and oh so very sensual. And because I can define it better now, I understand that it isn’t the mere history of Malate that makes it so redolent with the energies of the past souls and events that transpired there—it is its never-ending evolution, its ability to create and re-create itself, like a giant, mystical shape-shifter, that makes it what it is.
My parents say I was a Malate visitor as early as age three. Being friends with Edru Abraham, who (with Jim Turner and Jani Moldero) put up the legendary Hobbit House in 1976 (some say ’73, some say as late as ’77), they brought me along and had their drinks (beer for Papa, gin tonic for Mom) while I played with the pet birds and monkey and baby-talked to the hobbits. Too bad I have no recollection of those days. Now I wonder—may I have known that midget who now watches our car while I drink at The Oarhouse? I’ll never know.

My papa speaks of Andrei’s, Roxy’s and Reminicences in the ‘60s, where he and his fraternity brods would drink with bellas, artists and intellectuals (“some legit, most pseudo,” he says). Lifestyle vanguards of the 70s and 80s speak of Coco Banana, founded by the indomitable Ernest Santiago, where fashion, theatre, and intrigue were the order of the day. Older artists and theatre actors speak of a less polished but more fun Penguin Café. I started hanging out in Malate in college (our favorite haunt was Café Adriatico—classic!), and have continued since (the first incarnations of The Verve Room and Episode, Sidebar, The Garlic Rose, Café Caribana, Penguin, The Hobbit House). Later on, it was the Velvet Mafia bastions (“Velvet Mafia” because they were run by very powerful, very stylish members of the third sex): Aquario, Fidel, LaDiDa.
I stopped going around 2001, and only came back in 2006, when I started going out with a photojournalist who wouldn’t step inside any other bar except The Oarhouse on Mabini St., unless a gun was pointed at his head first (and even probably then he’d say he’d rather die than drink at any other place). Originally put up in 1977 by retired U.S Navy man Chuck Monroe, it became a haunt for musicians, theatre and media people, writers, photographers, and other visual artists.
Save for The Oar, Hobbit House (which has relocated to Arquiza St. in Ermita), Penguin, Café Adriatico, and Casa Armas, Malate has changed. Radically. To accommodate the more popular palates of the call center crowd, big bars with showbands have sprouted along Adriatico and Remedios. There’s now a—gasp!—Giligan’s Island on the corner of Orosa and Nakpil. The spot which once housed French restaurant The Blue Frog now houses a Korean eatery.
To escape the signs of evolution, you may want to consider visiting an old nightspot which had my mother oooh with nostalgia: Harry’s Bar at the Top of the Century. It’s located on the 19th floor of the Century Park Hotel on P. Ocampo St., another place where Mom used to take me while she and Papa enjoyed Happy Hour (hey what can I say, they were a very happy couple). Opened in 1976, and named after Lucio Tan’s brother, who is also the president of the hotel, its main feature is, literally, a piano bar (y’know, the white, grand type with a counter fitted around it to seat listeners who like their piano music played really, really close).
The décor hasn’t changed much, and will make you expect a young Eddie Garcia to saunter through the doors in a brown double knit, polyester suit. Don’t get me wrong, though--its ‘70s veneer is its charm. Featuring floor to ceiling windows, the place offers you an almost 360-degree view of Malate and its environs—an element that undoubtedly adds a romantic touch to the couples who visit the place. Thursdays and Fridays are its busiest days, when the corporate crowd and matrons come to enjoy the pianist. Music is generally 70s and jazz standards. On Fridays it’s Arthur Manuntag and the Romy Posadas trio the audience listens to, and on Saturdays (cigar and wine night), it’s singer April Ramos and pianist Bobby Cabral. The minimum consumable between “primetime” (9PM-1AM) for food and beverages is P375 from Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays; P475 on Fridays. If you’re looking for a better bargain, though, come between 5.30PM and 8.30PM from Mondays to Saturdays for Happy Hour (five beers plus free appetizer) for P200+++; and at 12 midnight and stay till closing—“Power Hour”, with the price of one for two on local beers, and half price on regular martinis and shots. And don’t forget to order pica-pica! Pastrami Mon Ami (P260), made by the hotel’s famous deli, is a winner.
Back to 2008, 19 floors down, a few blocks away, and nearing midnight: young gay men begin to trickle in dance club Club Mafia on Orosa corner Nakpil (beer is P90). Over on Remedios, head-thumping music blares from Socialista, a club that claims it’s a fine-dining restaurant, as well (its house specialty, Lengua, goes for P390. Beer is P45). Across its posh façade, monobloc chairs and tables line the street to service a more, uh, easy-going kind of crowd. Cars crawl past. A peanut vendor creeps by. A flaming homosexual flaps his arms in a vibrant dance for an audience of brawny drunks.
Sure, Malate has changed. But whether for better or for worse is hard for one to say. Malate—the place, its soul, its spirit—knows exactly where it is and where it’s going. See you there soon.

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