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Bar hopping in Manila's Poblacion Neighbourhood


Shaking off its polarized rep—too seedy, or too snooty—Manila’s nightlife has now staked out an edgy middle ground awash with bars fueled as much by refined menus as free-flow fun. Stephanie Zubiri goes night-crawling in Poblacion, and finds its dark laneways are now paved with gold. Photographs by Scott A. Woodward

Published on Jul 2, 2019

“Here, Steph, have a bite of your shawarma.” My friends push the meat-stuffed, garlicky wrap toward me as a remedy to my obvious tipsiness. After a night out in Poblacion, booze food is a 3 a.m. necessity.

Far from the glitzy cosmopolitan entertainment districts in big glossy developments that Manila is usually known for, Poblacion has exploded in just the past few years to become a hip new party neighborhood with a rough-around-the-edges locale essential to its charm.

The streets of Makati’s north, formerly known as “Williamsburgos,” have now fully blossomed into a gritty urban creative paradise. With lower rent, unusual Art- Deco structures, makeshift patched-up buildings from the 70s, and an overall slightly decrepit allure, the area has become a hotbed for small bars and contemporary restaurants run by the passionate and adventurous.

Each little joint invariably feels more special than the last—a vintage chic space with delicious modern Filipino food and a killer Negroni, a quirky rabbit hole with a gin list as long as my forearm, a tiny black room with music to rival any small indie electro club in Paris, to give a few examples. So with friends visiting, I organized a night on the town, a hop among the latest eating and drinking venues to arrive on the small streets and dark alleys that mushroom out either side of Kalayaan Avenue.

As I told them, the best way to experience Poblacion is to dress down and wear sneakers—a necessity for walking from one gin joint to the next and avoiding the occasional gutter side roach. Just say, “Yes!” to the night and wherever it takes you, even if it means you have to pay for it the next morning... or soak it up with a pre-bed shawarma session. 

FOR VINTAGE SIPS AND A VIEW 

Don’t be put off by Dr. Wine’s (drinks from P190; mains from P580) odd name—although part- owner and self-proclaimed healer-by-vino himself Vincent Landais will tell you that a glass is the cure for everything. Dr. Wine has all the makings of a typical bar-bistro in the artsy, hip Republique area of Paris—repurposed wood, crates, vintage flea- market finds, leather sofas and a long communal table in the middle. The name speaks for itself, so we order from their excellent wine list—a well-curated selection of good value-for-money bottles from around the world and some beautiful, special drops like an Alter-Ego de Palmer in a ready-to-drink 2007 vintage—and pick on a board of cheese and charcuterie. Their homemade terrines, pâté and rillettes are to die for along with their foie gras mi-cuit terrine. You could also order something heftier like osso-buco or cassoulet from their dinner menu before heading upstairs to the rooftop bar, Kartel (drinks from P250), for stronger drinks and an upbeat vibe.

A TAP ROOM WITH A TWIST

“Have you figured out what you want yet?” glares the neon sign above the bar that tends to take on an existentialist air once I’ve had one too many pints. I’ve found myself quite often at this philosophical crossroads coming up with the one logical answer to that burning question: a cold beer. Fueled by the young and local Engkanto Brewery, Polilya (bar snacks from P160; drinks from P140) pours some bold stouts, hoppy IPAs and fresh lagers along with amazing beer cocktails and excellent bar chow to match. Come early to nibble on kaffir-lime infused spicy crabcakes, Gangnam-style chicken wings or beer-steamed mussels before staying late to watch the boho-chic crowd flood the space to party. If you must have a seat, you’d better remember to reserve in advance because this place gets more packed than a tin of sardines.

COCKTAILS IN WONDERLAND 

Hidden on the grittier side of Poblacion, Run Rabbit Run (drinks from P400) does feel a little bit mysterious with its dark and moody interiors. Just like Alice, I allow myself to be lured into the realm of the Mad Hatter and settle in with a big balloon glass of craft gin, forgetting all notions of time and space. A seat by the long bar on the ground floor provides the perfect view to the making of their amazing cocktails; while they do the classics well, if you’re feeling adventurous try their more out-there concoctions like the Kaya Toast cocktail with coco jam, peach liqueur and spiced rum. Huddle up here with a friend for long chats set to the beat of chill hip-hop, or venture up to the bar’s second floor for the cozy lounge area that has ample space for a bigger group to enjoy their curated selection of gin from around the world. Alternatively, the large, open-air terrace offers a brighter and more vibrant ambience.

NATIVE EATS IN SUPER STYLE

A flickering lamp leads us up bare white stairs into Lampara’s (mains from P380; drinks from P280) gorgeous airy space with a distinct vintage, Midcentury vibe. Contrary to the usual street-eats and bar bites in the neighborhood, this Neo- Filipino bistro serves up delicious and honest food from a pared-down menu cooked with modern techniques and laced with all kinds of familiar, local flavors. Think silken tofu with pork floss, a crisp duck leg with soy and liver pâté or a roast pork that’s equally crackly and tender. Start with one of their signature cocktails, The Gasera Ni Simoun, a flaming rum and grapefruit concotion with torched rosemary, or an excellently executed classic Negroni, then order several, or as we did, all the menu items to share among friends. Don’t forget to end with their yema and tsokolate dessert, a sweet and savory, rich local dark chocolate confection with egg custard caramel and crunchy bits that are worth the extra calories.

MEET THE RESIDENTS OF TAMBAI ALLEY

My very first encounter with Poblacion during its initial gentrification days was sinking my teeth into some seriously tender pork yakitori while pounding cold beers on the streetside plastic stools of Tambai (yakitori from P50; drinks from P60). A bastardized way of saying “stand by,” is a colloquial local expression meaning “to hang out,” and the concept has expanded down the laneway. Set behind this pioneering eatery, “Tambai Alley” has a handful of tiny specialized establishments run with a lot of soul—once you’re in, it’s hard to leave. Wantusawa (mains from P350; drinks from P200) is a seafood-focused izakaya. Start with fresh oysters from Aklan province, followed by a bowl of yaki udon tossed with scallops and crab fat, a creamy laksa, or grilled octopus, and wash it all down with some sake or a gin highball. Next, head over to ebi 10 (fb.com/ ebi10ph; mains from P165.), a hole in the wall, where the air is thick and sticky with with the vapors of deep-fried goodness. We go for über crispy tempura and indulgently stuffed sushi rolls, where each piece seems like a little mountain laden with spicy tuna, scallops, tobiko and more. If you want to keep the drinks flowing, sultry and sexy, live jazz and Motown speakeasy Panaginip (instagram.com/ panaginip.ph; drinks from P300) is just the place.

 

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