Manila’s hidden neighbourhoods are hip and hot

Nov 23, 2016

In the once overlooked neighbourhoods away from the malls of central Makati, trendsetters are discovering the speakeasies, holes in the wall, and indie establishments that are giving the Philippine capital new buzz. BY GREG BLOOM

In Manila’s upscale district of Makati, there is a point where the malls and skyscrapers peter out and give way to the telltale signs of the barangay (inner-city neighbourhood). Steam rises from street-side food carts. Motorised tricycles buzz along narrow roads lined with low-rise residences. Teens play hoops on makeshift street courts.

This is Poblacion, Makati, also known as the P Burgos area after its central street. Traditionally considered a red-light district, Poblacion is shedding its reputation for seediness and becoming cool, as well-heeled white-collar Filipinos and expats infiltrate the area to enjoy the burgeoning dining scene and experience a more authentic slice of Manila.

At a tiny space off P Burgos Street, tequila bar-cum-Mexican restaurant A’Toda Madre exemplifies the area’s transformation. The California-influenced Mexican food is mouthwatering, and the trippy mural-splashed walls are lined with more than 80 varieties of Mexican tequila. Try the barbacoa (slow-cooked beef) tostaditas (deep-fried tortillas), a fixture on its specials menu.

In the past, all that was cool in Manila – the sushi restaurants, galleries and tapas bars – gravitated to the malls of Makati’s central business district or to the Fort Bonifacio area (the Fort). Lately, there has been a shift in that norm.

“I think what people are looking for is something more organic, something a little more natural that has evolved over time,” says Jon Ramos, owner of La Casita Mercedes bed and breakfast at the corner of quiet Enriquez and Fermina streets. Ramos’ newly opened B&B, in a beautifully restored house dating back to the 1930s, is an emphatic vote of confidence in the Poblacion area, which some Manilenos have begun calling Williamsburgos because of its growing reputation as a hipster magnet. The comparison to New York City’s Williamsburg may be ambitious, but you get the point. Cool stuff is happening here. People congregate curbside at El Chupacabra (5782 Felipe Street, Tel: 63 2729 3358), a thriving street taco bar that ignited Poblacion’s resurgence when it opened in 2013. Up a nearby side street, the flashpacker set joins Manila’s cool kids for nightly rooftop parties featuring top DJs at luxury hostel Z.

From Poblacion, head west on Buendia Avenue towards another residential neighbourhood packed with cleverly conceived surprises. Here, you’ll find 12/10 (7635 Guijo Street, Tel: 63 91 5663 2823), a sleek new Japanese izakaya (drinking spot); Guijo Suites, a gem of a boutique hotel; as well as the legendary indie-rock club Saguijo.