The 2010s will always be remembered as a defining era for the food and drinks scene in the Philippines. It was the decade that Filipino cuisine started to be noticed outside the country and we also gained some much-deserved international acclaim, not just for our restaurants but for our bars as well. (Kudos to our Filipino bartenders who are now globally recognized as among the best in the world.)
While it has been customary to honor the best of the best in Manila dining over the years, I think it’s high time to recognize the best of the best in the Manila drinks scene. Here’s my selection of the best bars, drinks, and events in the past year.
THE BEST OF THE BEST BARS
134 Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City, Instagram @thecurator_
This landmark bar has long been considered the best of the best in the Philippines by the local and international bar community. At six years old, it is the epitome of what a good bar should be, while brewing some of the best coffee, too (they call it “dark matter theory”). Thus, it comes as no surprise that it has been ranked as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars and the Best Bar in the Philippines by the World’s 50 Best since the awards started in 2016.
5883 Enriquez Street, Poblacion, Makati, City, Instagram @oto.ph
The year 2019 can be considered truly as OTO’s year, after it debuted on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list in 2019 at number 47. It experienced a setback in mid-2019 when the lease at its Poblacion location wasn’t renewed. Thankfully, it staged a mighty comeback in a new location right across its old one before the end of 2019. It’s currently drawing a full house crowd, among them regulars who had missed their favorite Poblacion home away from home.
The Back Room
30th Street corner 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Instagram @backroomph
After being heralded as Manila’s best new bar of 2018, The Back Room continued its winning streak by debuting at number 50 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list in 2019. This proved that this relatively new kid on the block means business and is here to stay.
THE BEST NEW BARS
The Spirits Library
4963 Guerrero Street, Poblacion, Makati City, Instagram @thespiritslibrary
This “purveyor of rare bottles, books, and paraphernalia” is Poblacion’s not-so-hidden secret. It boasts not just one of the coolest bar interiors in town, but also one of the best line-ups of award-winning bartenders under one roof.
1 Raffles Drive, Makati City, Instagram @mistral.rooftopbar
The former bar of Mireio, Raffles Makati’s French restaurant, morphed into its own with a major rebranding that didn’t only see a change of name and identity but also had a major upgrade of its cocktail program. The change soon established Mistral’s “sunset happy hours promo” as one of the best happy hour deals in town. The bar combines cool cocktails with one of the best views of the Manila sunset from its deck.
5668 Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati City, Instagram @buccaneers_ph
Beyond the playful pirate’s theme is a bar with Manila’s best rum selection as well as what I consider the best piña colada in town. It’s an ideal haunt for those looking for something a bit different.
4/F C3 Annex Building, 7th Avenue corner 30th Street, Bonifacio Global City, www.idarts.com.ph
You do not need to play darts (although it’s a good place to learn) to enjoy the overall fun vibe at this first electronic darts bar in the Philippines. It comes complete with a fun selection of drinks and good bar chow, too. Extra points for the bar staying open past 2 am, perfect for those who want to avoid fast food fare after 10 pm.
THE BEST NEW BOOZE
Since last year, there are now a slew of good spirit brands that have come to the Philippines, helping improve the quality of the bars’ output as well. Here’s a handful of what was most quaff-worthy:
Sorgin Gin (France) available at Wine Depot branches
Four Pillars Gin (Australia) available at Wine Depot branches
Roku Gin (Japan) available at S&R branches
Buffalo Trace Bourbon (USA) available at boozeshop.ph
Derrumbes Mezcal (Mexico) available at boozeshop.ph
Clairin Rum (Haiti) available at boozeshop.ph
Haku Vodka (Japan) available at at S&R branches
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Scotland), pictured here with SMWS ambassador John McCheyne, available by membership c/o Grand Cru Wines & Spirits (02) 8518-0131
The Glenrothes Soleo Collection (Scotland) (Edrington Group PH)
THE BEST BAR EVENTS
Spirits Event: Whisky Live
On its 4th year, Whisky Live remains the biggest spirits event in Manila, where guests were able to try 180-plus types of whisky and other spirits. A tough act to follow.
Guest Shift: Giorgio Bargiani at the Baccarat Room and Bar
The Roku Gin and Maker’s Mark sponsored Bar Takeover of Solaire’s Baccarat Room and Bar featured top bartender and head mixologist Giorgio Bargiani of The Connaught Bar London.
Spirits Launch: The Glenrothes Soleo Collection
The Glenrothes Soleo Collection launch featured an Up Dharma Down mini concert held at The Brewery. It was where this award-winning Speyside distillery unveiled its new range of single malt whiskies, marking its return to Edrington ownership. The new line is comprised of an entirely new set of whiskies that includes the 12 Year Old, Whisky Maker’s Cut (my favorite), 18 Year Old, and 25 Year Old. It’s an exciting new collection that marks the brand’s move to predominantly age statement single malts, compared to its existing Vintage and Reserve portfolio.
Bar Takeover Series: The Back Room
The Back Room hosted a good number of the best takeovers in 2019. The series combined a good selection of guest bartenders with an equally good selection of spirit sponsors. It doesn’t hurt that this bar inside Shangri-La The Fort has one of the best stocked bars (spirits wise), is centrally located, and has abundant parking, too. Gin lovers must not miss its ever-expanding gin portfolio.
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @cyrenedelarosa