I live in classic, old Manila, in the Sta. Cruz area, home to medical supplies stores. It’s not exactly a neighborhood where pubs or bars and cafes would be open in case you want a drink, or a place to relax after work. I prefer it this way, and I hope our community will not succumb to the gentrification happening in many similar neighborhoods in the future. For someone like me who enjoys her early morning solitude over a fresh cup of coffee and a relaxing drink after work minus the crowd, my solution was to construct my own rooftop bar at home.
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It’s not just the access to custom-made drinks that I’m after, but the total experience a rooftop deck provides. I sought to create my personal oasis: a most-hidden, by invite-only speakeasy, situated on the third floor of our house. To manage expectations, my rooftop bar is neither fancy nor aesthetically curated, but it delivers on my objective of recreating the roof deck experience on a daily basis, and for family and friends on occasion.
Growing up, our family really enjoyed rooftop settings. My Uncle Johnny’s place in San Andres Bukid, which we codenamed “Opalo,” was where our clan got together during New Year’s Eve and other special dates. It featured a swing, a seesaw, and even a bahay kubo at the rooftop. We kids would have a grand time playing and collecting aguinaldo from the elders.
In recent years, the clan headquarters moved to Seaview, a penthouse overlooking Manila Bay. It had the same rooftop balcony feel, with an elevated ambiance. We had a great view of the Manila Bay sunset, and a front-row seat to the amihan and habagat, depending on the season that brought us closer to nature. Well, as close to nature as you can get in Manila.
I suppose this is why I prefer al fresco dining and why I find the rooftop bar setup so appealing. When the time came, Opalo and Seaview served as inspiration for our own rooftop balcony, with a semi-outdoor, open-air design for better ventilation and a partial polycarbonate ceiling to allow more sunlight in.
In designing the balcony, I listed down certain mandatories to make sure the area will work according to my and my family’s lifestyle.
Firstly, the space should be able to accommodate guests on occasion while having enough space for personal workouts. That is why we decided not to put permanent furniture for now. The tables and chairs are foldable and can be rearranged to fit the occasion.
Secondly, the space must be self-sufficient for us and guests, not relying heavily on the main kitchen downstairs. That is why we made a bar area, with a sink and cabinetry, electric outlets for kitchen appliances, and a refrigerator.
The bar is my personal space and it is where I experiment with alcohol, coffee, and tea-based drinks. Items I frequently use must be visible and within easy reach, so I had four wooden shelves installed on the wall, so that the spirits, coffee beans, and tea leaves plus the coffee makers are on display. The refrigerator is right beside the shelves and the sink for easy access to fresh and cold ingredients, and lots of ice. The countertop area serves as the work area for preparing the drinks, and this is also where the toaster and electric kettle are permanently placed. Below the countertop and sink are storage spaces for the glassware, utensils, and my stock of whiskeys, gins, vodkas, and coffee beans.
Lastly, I wanted access to fresh herbs for drinks and salads. That's why I dedicated a portion of the balcony to creating an edible garden—which I affectionately call Madison Squarefoot Garden. I based the name after the space-saving gardening method I am trying out: square foot gardening. Madison is also an area of trial and error, a place for me to try planting basils, mints, and oreganos; okras, squashes, and corn; tomatoes and pepper plants, butterfly pea flowers, kamias, citrus, insulin, ashitaba, and aloe vera, and whatever else would grow.
I can say I have killed more plants than I have ever harvested, but being able to pick fresh leaves to make into tea or sore throat relievers, harvest greens and herb flowers for salad toppings, and cut fresh herbs for cocktail ingredients is a simple joy without compare.
So, would I recommend that everyone have their own rooftop balcony setup? Yes, of course. The thing is, I do not wish to go to bars and cafes every day, so I made the bar and café come to me instead.
The elements of my bar
- Sufficient shelving to display wine and spirits, coffee beans, and tea leaves meant for daily use—four rows of wooden shelves.
- The stock. I have on hand only wines and spirits that I (and my family) like. These include gins, whiskies, vodkas, tequila, liqueurs, and beer. Any time we want a night cap, I can serve my family some gin & tonic, or gimlet, or bloody mary. I also have around a month’s supply of coffee beans, different types of tea leaves, and matcha powder.
- The basic bar tools. For a number of simple cocktails drinks, the essential tools are:
- Two-piece weighted tin shakers. Do not get the three-piece Boston shaker as it is more difficult to use and prone to spillage. I use the Koriko brand.
- A long bar spoon.
- A wooden muddler.
- A strainer.
- A citrus squeezer.
- A measuring cup that has measurements in ounces and millilitres.
- The coffee equipment.
- I collect manual coffee brewers and I use them depending on my mood and the type of beans I’m using. I have a French press, a pour-over dripper, a Clever Dripper (my daily default), a Vietnamese phin filter, a Turkish cezve or ibrik, and an Arabic dallah. My newest toy is a Kyoto-style slow-drip iced coffee brewer.
- A gooseneck electric kettle
- A coffee weighing scale
- A Hario Mini Slim burr grinder. This is my preferred manual grinder since electric burr grinders break down after a year of use.
- The tea equipment.
- Personal ceramic tea set for single serve.
- Japanese ceramic tea set for family and friends.