The Manila bar scene is alive and well, as bars have improved in leaps and bounds these last five years, especially in the quality of drinks and cocktails. The reason may be the improving skills of local bartenders, fueled by spirits brands like Bacardi, Cointreau, Diageo, Glenfiddich, to name a few, that have been sponsoring yearly bartender competitions.
While we are by no means near the level of Singapore in terms of award-winning bars, some Manila bars are starting to gain recognition in the international bar scene, with local establishments like The Curator making it to the revered Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for the past three consecutive years, along with ABV which was included on the list in 2016 and 2017.
Thanks to these developments, more and more local bar and restaurant owners are starting to see the value of improving their beverage programs. In the long term, this not only improves their bottom line and the local bar scene, but can help upgrade the dining scene as well.
If you want to know where to drink this new year, you can’t go wrong with my pick for the best new bar of 2018, as well as my 10 all-time best bars of the past year, listed below in alphabetical order:
Click on the image below for slideshow
BEST NEW BAR 2018: THE BACK ROOM. This new kid on the block just opened last year but is already showing its potential for greatness, thanks to its curated list of well-made, signature cocktails executed by a very competent bar team led by Shangri-La The Fort’s Head Barkeeper Ulysse Jouanneaud and bartender Poch Ancheta. Aside from the superb cocktails, its house gin called Bee’s Knees is also a must-try. All this comes in a very handsome package—good bar chow and cool interiors that help transport its customers to the speakeasies of old. IG: @backroomph, www.backroomph.com/ Photograph by @backroomph on Instagram
ABV. An acronym for “Alcohol by Volume,” this speakeasy is hidden behind an old-fashioned elevator shaft inside a popular burger and hotdog joint. ABV’s head bartender Lester Ligon represented the Philippines in last year’s Diageo Worldclass International Bartending Competition, finishing 6th out of 54 competing bartenders from all over the world, putting not only ABV but also the Philippines back on the drinks industry spotlight. Basement, 22 Jupiter Street, Makati City, (02) 832-5330, IG: @abvph, www.abv.ph Photograph by @abvph on Instagram
BLIND PIG. Having opened in 2011, this speakeasy is considered by many as the pioneer of the craft cocktail scene in Manila. The bar is hidden behind a nondescript door with nothing but Braille signage (the pig is blind, after all), located on the ground floor of a Makati office building. It continues to serve the quality cocktails it is known for, and maintains its clientele’s need for utmost privacy, with strict bar rules that are actually implemented. It’s my old go-to place for Shepherd’s Pie. 227 Salcedo Street. Legaspi Village, Makati City, (0917) 549-2264, reservations@blindpigph Photograph by @davidong on Instagram
GIN LIBRARY AT DISCOVERY PRIMEA’S GILARMI LOUNGE. When you’re in the mood for only gin & tonics, the Gin Library is always a good choice with its rotating collection of over 50 gin labels. The bar offers free-flowing G&Ts Mondays to Fridays from 5 to 9 pm, priced at P800 per head for premium bottles and P1,300 for deluxe bottles. What sets it apart from other gin bars is its wide selection of tonic water, garnishes, and bitters to create your preferred G&T mix. Guests availing of the Gin Library happy hour deal are also entitled to a 30% discount on select pizzas. Discovery Primea, 6749 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, (02) 955-8888, IG: @discoveryprimea Photograph by @discoveryprimea on Instagram
LA COCTELERA AT RAMBLA. Translated as “cocktail bar” in Spanish, La Coctelera is the nickname of the bar on the second floor of Rambla. This is my favorite restaurant/cocktail bar pit stop when I am in the mood for more than the limited bar chow you find in other bars. It’s the perfect place for boozy dinner meet-ups with friends. The bar pioneered the Gin Cart as early as a year or two before the G&T craze hit Manila, with gin carts now sprouting all around town. Though it doesn’t carry the most number of gin brands in town, it is still one of my favorite haunts for a properly mixed G&T that I usually enjoy with Rambla’s to-die-for empanada with pineapple and foie. 2/F Joya Building, Joya Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City, (0926) 690-9774, IG: @ramblaph Photograph by @ramblaph on Instagram
LIT. Known as one of the best whisky bars in town specializing in Japanese whisky, this cozy bar has now expanded to whiskies from other countries, aside from other spirits. It hosts whisky tasting sessions and other spirit-centric classes and has become a favorite venue for high profile whisky events like a Kavalan masterclass that featured Kavalan’s Master Blender Ian Chang, and the recent launch of the exclusive Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) in the Philippines with Cindy Chiu, SMWS Brand Ambassador for Asia, in attendance. If you’re in the mood for a lighter and more refreshing whisky fix, LIT happens to serve the best whisky highballs in town. G/F Serendra (near Gino’s), Bonifacio Global City, (0917) 510-0014, IG: @litmanila Photograph by @litmanila on Instagram
MIRÈIO TERRACE AND LONG BAR AT RAFFLES MAKATI. Located at the 10th floor terrace of the hotel’s Provençal restaurant Mirèio, Mirèio Terrace offers one of the best sunset views, as well as after-office happy hour deals, in Makati. While not the cheapest, it is the best value for the price—no watery, diluted drinks here. Instead, you can avail of the Golden Hour free-flowing drinks package at P1,010+ or get 50% off per drink instead. On the ground floor, Long Bar offers its legendary Happy Hour daily, 5 to 8 pm, with free-flowing local and imported beer, cocktails, and house wines for P840+ per person, including a complimentary chef’s snack platter from the bar chow menu. To make things even merrier, Long Bar has recently included all house-pour liquors to its Happy Hour package. Raffles Makati, 1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati City, (02) 795-0707 Photograph by @rafflesmakatihotel on Instagram
OTO. “Oto” in Japanese means “sound” and OTO the bar is a serious listening room equipped with turntables, tube and digital amplifiers, speakers, and a plethora of vinyl records that come with an equally serious food and beverage program. Located in the now hip, newly-gentrified Poblacion district, OTO is definitely the best bar in the neighborhood for both specialty coffee and craft cocktails, manned by some of the country’s top bartenders. 5880 Enriquez Street, Poblacion, Makati City, (02) 917-2510, IG: @oto.ph Photograph by @oto.ph on Instagram
THE CURATOR. This third wave coffee bar by day and cocktail bar by night has long perfected serving the best of both beverages since it opened in 2014. Its cocktail program is highly-regarded as the best in town. Thus no one is really surprised that it has been included on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for three consecutive years, starting with the inaugural list in 2016. 134 Legaspi Street corner C. Palanca Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City, IG: @thecurator_ Photograph by @thecurator_ on Instagram
YES PLEASE. This bar is known for its strong signature cocktail line, cool music sets, and somewhat funky 90’s interiors, featuring a competent team of bartenders led by Mark Herrera under the supervision of owner Erwan Heussaff. It boasts a good selection of bar chow that includes a to-die-for version of Spam musubi and good fried rice. Best to go before 10 pm if you’re not into the party scene and the crowd it brings, as its popularity attracts a long line on most weekends. 2/F Uptown Bonifacio, 11th Avenue corner 38th Street, Bonifacio Global City, (0917) 140-7777, IG: @yespleaseph Photograph by @yespleaseph on Instagram
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @cyrenedelarosa