Once you get past the traffic Metro Manila is notoriously known for, you’ll realise just how magnetic the archipelago’s capital is. Amid endless malls and fast-food joints in every corner, there are pockets of culture and history that will resonate long after you’ve made your way back home — only if you know where to look. Plus, with the recent reopening of the city and its current efforts to acclimate itself with a global pandemic, there’s plenty to experience from day to night.
The following 48-hour guide is for night crawlers who also moonlight as broad-minded travellers ready to take on what this concrete jungle has to offer.
Located east of the capital, Pinto Art Museum is a contemporary exhibition space rich not only in its rotating shows and events but also in its flora and fauna. The artistic pilgrimage site, founded in 2010 by Filipino neurologist and patron of the arts, Dr. Joven Cuanang, sits on a two-hectare botanical garden that seamlessly brings together a showcase of contemporary Filipino art in entrancing Spanish-Mediterranean cubic architecture.
It's easy to spend hours exploring its white-washed walls steeped in national history. Fortunately, the museum houses its own café and restaurant. So, it’s best to replenish your energy before making your way to the next destination.
Built in 1976, Ali Mall was named after the infamous boxer who was in attendance during its inauguration. Skip the standard stalls and head straight to the upper ground floor where you’ll find Ali X: a hall lit with Turkish lanterns and dotted with vintage stores and record shops.
It’s a collector’s dream realised. From nifty collectibles and antique finds to Filipino comics and an extensive number of records for sale, there is no shortage of things to buy for yourself and your mates back home. Be sure to stop at Remnant’s Thrift Shop and Treskul Records & Café — the latter of which regularly hosts its very own Kagatan record fair, which attracts all kinds of vinyl vultures, Four Tet included.
Walk a few steps from Ali Mall and you’ll find retro hub, Cubao X. What started out as a string of leather shoes stores and vintage shops progressively became one of the capital’s go-to for local indie establishments.
It once housed artists’ enclave, Mogwai cinematheque and legendary subculture space, Today x Future. Now, a long stroll welcomes you with continued patronage for all things alternative and eccentric featuring the likes of minimalist flagship store, The Twelfth House and THE Clothing, plus speakeasy INT.bar and Italian household-name restaurant, Bellini’s, which has serviced generations of patrons since 1999.
If you’re up for an early evening of nursing a couple of cocktails and adoring a nearly ceiling-to-floor record collection, 78-53-86 is your best bet. It’s a snug, almost-hidden jazz bar somewhere on the northern side of the capital, reminiscent of speakeasies you can find along the bustling streets of Tokyo.
With a pair of Garrard 301 turntables and vintage Altec speakers, plus well-endowed bartenders who take their libations seriously, you’re in for something intimate — perhaps even a new friend or two to keep you company.
Born during the pandemic and disguised within the vicinity of Gravity Art Space, Dirty Kitchen is the latest addition to Metro Manila’s alt spaces. It’s recently hosted a slew of musicians and collectives hungry to perform in front of an equally long-deprived crowd.
Its bar is stocked with craft and classic cocktail, and its space can easily shift from a steady night to its own rave cave.
Pre-pandemic, the capital’s historic walled city attracts millions of visitors every year. Since its local administration’s efforts to revamp the Philippine landmark with augmented reality apps, increased events and promotional campaigns, Intramuros has attracted younger generations of both tourists and even nightlife spectators who were once lucky enough to watch HUNEE and Crazy P, along with a ton of local electronic talents.
It remains as the country’s sole district heavily amassed with Spanish influence, where you can spend almost a full day immersed in history. Whether you want to walk or hire a pedicab or tricycle to take you around, make it a point to visit sites such as Baluarte de San Diego, Casa Manila, Puerta Real Gardens, UNESCO world heritage site, San Agustin Church and National Historical Landmark, Fort Santiago. If you’re up for some day drinking, Destileria Limtuaco sits just around a corner.
A quick cab ride from Intramuros is The HUB. Similar to Cubao X’s raw and open-air atmosphere, it shelters a slew of indie stores representative of modern Filipino taste. From pre-loved books, stickers and mugs to locally made retail finds, there’s more than enough to fill your shopping bags with. You can even get a haircut while you’re at it.
If you fancy a quick pick-me-up or an hour of quiet in the middle of its surroundings’ charming chaos, The Den makes some mean iced coffee and homemade breads and pastas to keep your energy up.
A nocturnal animal’s trip to the capital isn’t complete without a long night in Poblacion, and it would be an ideal decision as you cap off your last night in Metro Manila. It’s quickly become the city’s nightlife centre, which allows locals and travellers to choose their own adventure. Whether you’re up for one round before the sun sets or aiming for a bender until the wee hours, here are some bars and clubs to include on your list:
A pop-up rooftop concept adorned in pistachio and purple flooring, Yours Truly, founded during the pandemic, is a pre-game place proud of its cocktails, bar bites and tasteful DJ selections. It crowns a small hotel building away from the area’s go-to spots.
A few floors down Yours Truly, Sweet Lucy is another hidden bar that turns into a café during the day. Its adorably low ceiling and mute walls welcome a post-work crowd eager to let loose and embrace the weekend with bespoke concoctions and nibbles — with the bar as its centerstage.
If it’s an urban vibe you’re aiming for your last night out, Boogie is one bar you need to hit up. With DJs playing funk, hip hop, r'n'b, world, and dips of house music, Boogie’s dimly lit interior and balcony eases you into a laid-back atmosphere. If you do feel a mid-night pang in your stomach, head downstairs and indulge in one of the city’s finest-tasting fried chicken, and a refreshing bowl of soba.
Save for a few lamps lighting its facade, it’s easy to miss The Spirits Library if you’re unaware of it. If you do happen to stumble upon this gem and have a good amount of cash to burn on nearly countless and meticulously-selected spirits, then you’re in for one fuzzy fun night.
A few steps away from The Spirits Library is Futur:st: one of the very few remaining subculture haunts in the metro. An ever-shifting creative safe space that nestles visual artists, DJs, bands, live performers, creatives, and local retail brands, it’s almost impossible to believe how much you can do in a tiny two-floor space. You can be walking into a night with experimental music playing while a pop-up store is happening upstairs or DJs playing heaving techno with the place packed to the brim.
A stark-striped spot with a Hi-Fi sound system, OTO is another Poblacion joint you can’t miss. Ranked as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2021, it’s a friendly neighbourhood coffee and cocktail dig that hosts turntablists and more recently, film screenings.
If you’re up for a night of tech grooves and house music, Kampai is one more to add to your list. Drenched in red lighting and a wall filled with Kabuki masks, it’s also loved for its Japanese-inspired bar nibbles, along with cocktails fit for an early or late-night debauchery.
[Images via ABS CBN, Araneta City, CNN, Lifestyle Asia, Wooden Canvas, Tripzilla, Wikimedia, Alyana Cabral, Javier Pimentel, and Arsenal Content]