Makati Cinema Square never lacked in surprises. Despite its enduring image of faded glamour, it continues to renew itself, attract the cool and the curious, and so 40 years after it opened for business, it’s still thriving and we’re still talking about it. Which might be the biggest surprise of all—possibly bigger than the fact that one of the hottest bars of the moment, Nokal, has made MCS, now Makati Central Square, one of Manila’s most popular night spots.
But the commercial center’s latest hangout seems more attuned to its image as a hobbyist’s haven: Fat Cat, a jazz bar where aficionados and late converts alike can listen to vinyl selections on hand while enjoying a cocktail or a cup of coffee. It’s just beside the mall entrance on Amorsolo Street, next to KFC. “The entrance to the bar is smack dab between a cellphone shop and Sakura restaurant,” explains Ron Cruz, a copywriter who runs the joint with his wife Felicia, a “non-practicing interior designer” who basically created the Fat Cat’s look. Ron happily responded to our questions about Fat Cat, silver linings, and the persistent allure of MCS.
Why Fat Cat?
My wife wanted to pay tribute to a bar with the same name in NYC, which unfortunately closed down during the pandemic. It's also because jazz musicians were called "cats" in the 1920s. And yes, we do have two fat cats who bring joy into our lives.
Why Makati Cinema Square? Do you guys have a personal attachment to the place?
We love MCS because it’s full of surprises. You turn a corner and there’s an art gallery. On the same floor, there was Pinoy Wrestling (back then). Then there’s a bonafide Japanese bookstore on one floor. It’s kitschy in the best way. Its charm is its randomness. My first copywriting/PR job was actually here in MCS, so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s nice to see how the stores have evolved over time. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Describe to us what Fat Cat the jazz bar is.
I think a friend described it perfectly when she said it was an extension of our home. It's everything we love all in one place--art, music, drinks, family, friends. The only things missing are our cats. It's inspired by Japanese kissatens, hole-in-the-wall bars where you can just go in by yourself and listen to records. But of course, being Filipinos, the social aspect is also very important, so we also want it to be a place where you feel comfortable catching up with friends or getting to know people.
Did you put the whole thing together?
The old space was actually a salon before. We spruced it up a bit. My wife is a non-practicing interior designer so it was mostly her who made it look the way it does right now. All of the art, records, and hi-fi equipment came from home (so our audio corner at our house is empty). The vintage stuff is from my dad, who is an avid audiophile so I was lucky. Even some of the sealed liquor bottles are from my personal collection.
The centerpiece of the bar is probably the speakers. It’s a vintage pair of Klipschorns that was supposedly found in a seminary in Tarlac and restored by Lin Gomez, one of the local authorities in vintage speaker restoration. I was supposed to use smaller, more affordable speakers for the space but when this pair was (reluctantly) put up for sale, I knew I had to grab it. Pikit-mata na lang.
Tell us about the record collection.
Fat Cat is dedicated to jazz music from the 50s and the 60s, particularly hard bop and modal jazz. I’m slowly building the collection which is heavily leaning into Blue Note, but of course great music can be found in every label. Personally, I’m a big fan of Art Blakey while my wife is partial to Thelonious Monk.
What kind of drinks/food do you serve?
We only serve coffee and cocktails. No food. The menu we have right now is a bit bare bones but it’s something we can confidently serve to everyone. We plan to expand it to cover more recipes as we go.
Is this like a dream for you, to put up a jazz bar? How does it feel that it’s finally here?
There’s a combined sense of excitement and dread if it’s the right decision. We’ve always dreamed of opening a low stakes coffee shop where we can just chill. Thinking about paying rent dampens those thoughts, though. I guess the silver lining with post-COVID is that it opened up opportunities or risks that you normally wouldn’t take. Since we’re childfree and not getting any younger, YOLO! Hahaha.
What kind of experience do you want people to have at Fat Cat?
Enjoyment is the biggest factor. Some cocktail bars tend to be intimidating, especially those that involve secret entrances and passwords. We want Fat Cat to be an unassuming venue where you can enjoy without any pressure. We want the silences in between changing records to never be awkward.
[Photographs courtesy of Ron Cruz]