MANILA -- It’s past five o’clock in the afternoon. This being December, the sun sets rather quickly. However, in Cubao Expo – or Cubao X, for short -- located between the concrete condominium towers that have sprouted near the old Manila C.O.D. area, life is beginning to stir.
This being the Christmas season, Cubao Expo attracts a different kind of clientele – those looking for thrift and second-hand buys or whether to hang out in the dives, cafes, and watering holes that have once made this an exclusively shoe haven into the equivalent of the East Village of New York City.
The Appraisery is one of those shops that is springing to life. People arrive in ones, twos, and then in bunches. Everyone seems to know one another as evidenced by the handshakes, backslaps and man hugs.
“Welcome to a tightly knit community,” warmly greets Vic Prieto, the shop’s owner, whose mobile phone is blaring hip-hop music.
The Appraisery is one of the successful board game cafés in the Philippines. Board games are tabletop matches that involve the movement of pieces or cards on a pre-marked surface or board. Matches are based on strategy with an element of chance. Popular board games among young adults and fans include among many others – Star Wars: Rebellion, A Game of Thrones, Suicide Squad Game Box, and others.
Put up in 2012 by the Olympia, Washington-raised Prieto, The Appraisery has become one of the more popular board game cafes. But more than board games, the café has become a hangout for those who also love comic books, poetry, art, video games, film, professional wrestling geek culture, and music.
“The way we envisioned it,” described Prieto, “people feel like they are in their best friend’s living room or basement -- something right out of an episode of ‘Stranger Things.’”
Weekdays are good, weeknights even better as the shop is packed all the way to the outside with its variegated clientele competing in up to 200 different types of board games.
“I essentially decided to stay here in Manila rather than go back home to Washington. For me, it was to chase not the American dream but the Filipino equivalent of it,” exclaimed Prieto who also studied college in Manila.
He obtained a degree in music production from De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. “I’m a musician,” he admitted. “I used to work for a progressive hip hop label before striking out on my own.”
Aside from running The Appraisery, Prieto also performs with his underground hip hop outfit, Shadow Moses, that recently released their self-titled extended play album and does color commentary for the growing Philippine Wrestling Revolution as Victor E. Manuel.
“The Appraisery though is home away from home,” succinctly sums up Prieto. “And we’re glad that many people feel that way.” The café closed around 2 a.m. every day and the place is still oft packed come closing time.
“Yeah, it’s the best of all geek worlds,” marvels Prieto while sipping some java. “And we love for more people to come over.”