Last week I took a whirlwind tour of Manila’s nightlife. It was my first trip to the Philippines despite the fact that it’s only an hour and a half away from Hong Kong by plane. Heading over for a week, I didn’t really know what to expect.
After the short flight, I was greeted at the airport by my friends, Borgy and Ornusa. These two are a power couple in Manila’s hipster scene. Ornusa is one of the top models in the Philippines and a fashion trend-setter. Borgy is involved in TV, radio, fashion and nightlife. The pair are united in their knack for surrounding themselves with creative people. Their friends are active in all aspects of media, nightlife, fashion, art, and entertainment. My one-week trip was a peek into their world and a chance to feel the pulse of what’s happening in Manila at this very moment.
The adventure began on Thursday when we went to a night called FLUXXE. FLUXXE featured an impressive selection of off-beat music and a friendly vibe. The crowd was composed of fashion industry insiders, photographers and artists. Steve Aoki recently visited and began a tradition of drawing on the walls, which seemed to catch on with the locals!
32nd Street, the bar where Fluxxe is currently held, is a hole-in-the wall type of joint with an intimate, alternative feel. In addition to a small bar room, there’s outdoor seating which is perfect if you want to sit near the street and talk.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s a rabbit? Flex at Fluxxe making shadow puppets.
Thursday nights after 10
Fort Bonifacio, Global City, Taguig City
(across the street from 7-Eleven)
99.5 HIT FM
Friday night I joined Borgy for his weekly radio show. On air we talked about d.j.ing and music in general. The show hosts set up a review segment by playing the work of local Philippino artists and then asking for my opinion on the tracks. Since I had no previous exposure to Philippino music it was interesting for all of us. One caller suggested that we don’t judge the artists by international standards, but rather, only consider them in the context of the Philippino music scene. We disagreed with that view. The general consensus was that good music can stand on its own, regardless of where it’s from.
Time and again during the week, the subject of local industry standards versus international levels kept coming up. The prevailing feeling seemed to be that there are talented people in the Philippines who can work on international levels, so why should the local industries settle for less? Part of what I saw during my trip was a commitment by those who have studied abroad, or traveled, to raise local standards. The people I met love their country and want to help make it a better place. It’s an admirable goal and inspiring to witness.
Saturday night I was scheduled to play at Alchemy, the newest edition to Manila’s high-end nightlife scene. I was excited to check this place out. The club is located on the North side of Manila, anchoring a shopping mall. Alchemy features three floors, each with a different theme. On the ground floor is O Lounge, which additionally serves as a restaurant. The second floor is Liquid, and the third floor is Vapor. The decor is different on each level.
Alchemy’s main entrance way
Vapor before guests arrived
Overall, the club has a sleek look and features an impressive sound and lighting system. Video screens are all over the club, which makes it a good spot for v.j.s as well as for branding during events. As you move to higher floors, the partying gets more intense. The third floor where I played was packed with people dancing. The diverse, upscale crowd included something that most clubs aspire to – more girls than guys!
The crowd responded well to the mixture of Old School Hip Hop and uptempo Dancehall music. A tight dance circle spontaneously formed and people were going crazy jumping in and battling each other in a friendly way. In contrast to certain places in Hong Kong, the people were there to dance and have fun, not pose and be seen. Depending on the night, different floors of the club are open. There is a smart-casual dress code, so wearing a collared shirt is a good idea. Alchemy has plans to bring more international d.j.s, which should help establish it as a top club in Asia. Special thanks to M.C. of Alchemy for the hospitality and the good conversations about Manila’s nightlife scene.
Silvercity, Frontera, Verde Drive corner of Julia Vargas, Pasig City
Sunrise shot from the car!
After Alchemy we drove two hours to a beach house where we chilled for a day. In the urban areas of Manila, as well as in the country-side, people stay in “villages” which are basically housing developments with security guards at the entry points. This system allows developers to build independent units with shared facilities that are self-sufficient, since the public infrastructure is somewhat lacking. Additionally, it helps to cut down on crime. The place we stayed was Punta Fuego, a development in the hills overlooking a cove. We arrived around 7am and hit the pool immediately, before crashing.
Since it rained, we hung out and played cards.
Look at all them chips! Beginner’s luck!
Nasugbu, Batangas, Philippines
HAPPY MONDAYS at EMBASSY
Monday night was the main event. We left Punta Fuego in the afternoon and drove back past scenic Tagaytay, which is high up in the hills overlooking an enormous active volcano. Borgy’s Happy Mondays is a famous night in Manila’s nightlife scene. It features a cool crowd and a loyal following. The fact that it’s on a Monday night gives it a special vibe. Without all the excess crowds you find on the weekend, people drop their guard and are more friendly and approachable.
The party seems orchestrated for people to have fun. There’s no cover charge, and the party usually features a few hours of open bar sponsored by different alcohol vendors. Occasionally, the night has a theme. Check out the MySpace page to have a look at the pics from previous events.
The venue for Happy Mondays is Embassy, the top club in the neighborhood called The Fort. Embassy is divided into three parts, Embassy Cafeteria (an informal restaurant open late;) Cuisine (an upscale restaurant / lounge,) and the Embassy Club. The club itself is again divided into three areas, a large main room which features a dancefloor and two long bars, the champagne room, and the VIP room located in back of the d.j.. Though already a large club, Embassy is in the process of expanding next door, taking over the former studios of MTV.
Normally Happy Mondays is held at Cuisine on the ground floor, however, since they brought in a special guest d.j. for the night, they decided to hold the party upstairs in the Embassy Club for the first time.
Arriving at Embassy I took a quick tour of the many rooms. The event began downstairs at the lounge, and would later move up to the club, once the crowd thickened at midnight. Malaya, part of Borgy’s crew, and a veteran of the Philippine’s nightlife scene, opened up for me.
I was told by my hosts that there’s a ritual for guests to do two shots of something called “the red drink”. I was scared! They were talking about this stuff all weekend! Futura reportedly did a few shots and started d.j.ing… who knows, maybe I’d try a few shots and start painting? What’s in it? The “special” recipe calls for a combination of several of the Philippine’s cheapest liquors mixed with Redbull. The combination? Deadly! No wonder they call it “Happy” Mondays! Luckily, my tolerance was up from the previous few nights and I had no trouble consuming the shots.
Finally, around 12:30 I came on. I started off with old Rock music, then jumped into a few Hip Hop party classics, before going into 90’s dance music. I worked in several different types of music including Hip House, Electro, and Baile Funk, before going into Reggae at around 3:30. The crowd was into the music and the dancefloor was just as packed as the weekend. D.J. Mulan came on after me and played some breakbeats for a circle who started breaking.
It was an excellent ending to an already amazing trip. Little did I know that there was still more yet to come!
The Fort Strip, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
We closed out Embassy at around 4:30 and decided to get some food. The plan was to go to a place called The Filling Station, which is located in Manila’s redlight district. But as we neared the restaurant, my hosts decided we should go for a quick detour.
It was 5 am on Tuesday morning when we made our way into Ringside. I had heard about this place before. It features a boxing ring with either midgets fighting, or girls boxing each other. Inside we were too late to catch the boxing matches. There were four girls dancing in the ring to trance music and a laser show.
We stayed for a drink just to soak up the ambiance, before we departed. It was daylight when we left! Ouch!
I managed to find a video of a boxing match from Ringside on YouTube. I think it’s more fun in theory, than in practice.
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4843 P. Burgos Street (on the corner of Kalayaan Ave. in Makati’s redlight district)
THE FILLING STATION
After Ringside, we crossed the street and made our way towards our original destination, The Filling Station, about a block away. Walking up a flight of steps, you enter a restaurant stuffed with Americana. The collection included a life-sized Superman, Batman, and Spiderman replica, in addition to countless smaller mementos. The Filling Station is an authentic American diner serving up a huge range of food and best of all, it’s open all night.
The Filling Station
P. Burgos in Makati 917 897-2053
Additional miscellaneous spots
I paid a visit to a secret store that may, or may not exist in a discreet apartment somewhere in Makati. If you’re into street fashion, stay tuned for more info on this place.
Power Plant Mall
Since crime is an issue, and the weather is hot, shopping malls serve as a place where people can hang out, eat, and go for entertainment in air-conditioned comfort. Much more so than in other cities, malls are important communal spaces in contemporary Manila.
Within the Power Plant Mall (named so because there actually was a power plant on the location previously,) there’s a small section of shops featuring local designers. I was planning on stopping back here to purchase some cool shirts and small custom bags before I left, but we ran out of time. Definitely worth a visit. Check for it nestled into a corner.
On the way to the airport Borgy pointed out a billboard for San Miguel beer featuring Jet Li. In the bottom of the photo you can see a jeepney. Jeepneys are totally tricked-out extended jeeps that are used as sort of mini-buses. They have them all over the Philippines, and they are individually customized. I didn’t have enough time to photograph them, but they’re a cool part of local culture.