No, we’re not talking about restaurants or bars that happen to have live bands. We’re not talking about cafes that will just let in any Sitti-sounding busker to strum a tune within its walls. We’re talking honest-to-God gig venues, dude. Front row seats to culture. Places whose small shows can go toe to toe with any big concert.
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This is, in no way, an exhaustive list. But if you’re stuck on the usual circuit—including but not limited to Route 196, Saguijo, Mows, 70s Bistro, or the parts of Poblacion where everybody spins but are just way too crowded some nights—these spaces can get you out of your rut, and make your gig-going lifestyle a little more interesting.
Jess & Pat’s
What makes Jess & Pat’s really cool as a venue is what some people might find lame about it. It doesn’t serve alcohol, its gig lineups mostly consist of either acoustic acts or acts that never go too heavy, and the gigs never end very late. Before 1am, the show’s done. This is obviously not a party animal’s watering hole. But for an audience who just wants their live music fix without the head-pounding buzz of alcohol, the stench of yosi, or the aura emanated by hipsters who go out just to be seen, Jess & Pat’s is perfect. Mellow enough for the whole family, lively enough to get you clapping and singing along.
Acts that have played here: Munimuni, Kaleidoscope Eyes, Over October
Address: 2/F 63 Maginhawa Street, UP Village, Quezon City
When you think of Mandaluyong you don’t normally think, “Oh, yeah, that part of Metro Manila is poppin’.” Odds are you think of Megamall and Podium, which are in Ortigas, god, get it together dude. And look, I was that person too, until I found out that Mandaluyong has one truly amazing thing going for it. It has 123 Block. It’s a two-floor venue that acts as a co-working space but also acts as an event space, whether the events are book fairs, candle-making workshops, or gigs. And when it’s a gig, it’s a real sight to behold. A crowd pools around the first floor’s elevated stage, and when the audience is big enough, the crowd clings to the staircase like vines, and extends to the second floor, where gig-goers can watch from above. They also serve kombucha.
Acts that have played here: half-lit, BLKD x Calix, Ciudad
Address: 123 Pioneer Street, Mandaluyong
Handlebar Bar & Grill
The part of Poblacion where the old Hell’s Angels coots hang. It’s a bar with the swagger of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and the scent of a leather jacket older than your nephew. Come for the classic blues and rock shows — and rugby match nights — stay for the lamb roast.
Acts that have played here: Kjwan, Blue Rats, Basti Artadi
Address: 31 Polaris Street, Poblacion, Makati
12 Monkeys Music Hall & Pub
I don’t know when or how it happened but the 12 Monkeys that used to stand in Century Mall is now a mall chapel. That’s fine though. It was out of the way anyway — at least for a QC boy like me — and I’m too used to seeing Century Mall as the unofficial turf of The Rest Is Noise. The good news is: We still have El Pueblo, where the OG 12 Monkeys venue stands. What’s interesting about 12 Monkeys is that out of almost every other venue, it’s here where you can normally find your OPM favorites of the early 2000s. True Faith! Side A! Brownman Revival! MYMP! I’m talkin’ the Myx veterans, the lowkey legends who walk among us. Head to 12 Monkeys if you feel like jumping into a time machine that can bring you back a decade or two.
Acts that have played here: True Faith, MYMP, Brownman Revival, Side A, Barbie Almalbis, Hale, Mayonnaise
Address: El Pueblo, Ortigas, Pasig
Look for the door in front of Katipunan’s Center of Culinary Arts. Don’t get distracted by the collegiate cacophony going on next door and Pop-Up, which is a madhouse. Instead, patiently ascend the flights of stairs that’ll get you to The Rooftop, where DJs play dance and house in the late afternoon as beats carry you from sunset to cool evening. Personally speaking, the last time I was at Rooftop, I got so drunk my gait was reduced to a walk-of-shame shuffle, so have something to eat first. Then drink, then be merry.
Acts that have played here: LM900, Doughboy, Cisco Disco, Thirstkid
Address: 287 Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City
I know everybody knows about 20:20. But I think the outdated notion that clubs are different from gig venues still persists. A club is a gig venue. DJs are musicians. And whenever 20:20 does Circus 20:20, which is probably the closest thing to Meiday you can get these days—what with the free entrance and the crazy acts and a crowd dead-set on wilding out, it’s one of the best gig places you can treat yourself to. So make Circus a part of your monthly routine, and put 20:20 on your map for that reason.
Acts that have played here: CRWN, Jason Dhakal, Local Sun
Address: 20a La Fuerza Plaza 1, 2241 Don Chino Roces Avenue, Makati
Catch 272 has been around for a while but it’s on this article for three reasons. 1) Makati gets way too much attention with all its clubs and expensive food and snobby Manileños (like me) stinking up the place with gentrification. Quezon City deserves love too, and Catch 272 is the pearl of Kamuning. 2) The drinks are amazing and affordable. The most bang-for-your-buck cocktail menu you’ll ever see is here. And the bartenders are friendly too! 3) It’s a safe space. Reviews and friendly management will let you know that the bar is explicitly LGBT+ friendly. Out of every venue on this list, Catch 272 is the one with the makings of a second home.
Acts that have played here: Búeni, Pamcy, Alyana Cabral, Sleep Kitchen
Address: 41-B T. Gener, Kamuning, Quezon City
Illustrations by Chris Clemente