Travelers to the Philippines invariably have to spend a night or two in Manila on their way to and from the outer islands, the tourist destinations and the eco-adventure destinations within the archipelago. Most globe trekkers and lonely planetoids spend this layover time in Malate.
Malate is a bayside district of Manila with a reputation of being a Bohemian enclave. In the 60’s at Los Indios Bravos, a café-cum-art gallery-cum-music venue, poets, painters, film people, musicians, writers and moonlight philosophers would gather regularly. Los Indios, located at the heart of Malate, was where the avant-garde set of Manila would hang out. Nearly half a century later, Malate is still the place where the fringe and artsy milieu like to congregate. One finds budget-friendly hostels and B&B’s in Malate; everything worth seeing or doing here is within walking distance from the accommodations.
The bayside promenade called Baywalk stretches from Rizal Park to the north all the way to the Cultural Center/Folk Arts Complex. This is a great spot to catch the world-famous Manila Bay sunset. Grabbing a bite to eat and/or a cold San Miguel beer is no problem in Malate-cruising along Adriatico, Nakpil, Mabini or Remedios Streets, one finds an array of bars, bistros, clubs, al fresco eateries & rectos. In the mood for Korean, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Continental, American, Filipino and, yes, even Cuban fare? You will find it within a 4-square block area within the heart of Malate at the streets mentioned above. Of note, on the corner of Remedios and Adriatico, is Café Havana, a cigar bar bistro with excellent Cuban fusion cuisine and live Latin music – oh, and a cigar bar with, yes, real Cohibas and other fine cigars from Cuba. And they serve the best mojitos in town.
Across the street is Bistro Adriatico, with its elegant 19th-century ambience and its fine Filipino/Spanish/European cuisine, and a creamy, thick old-style hot chocolate to die for. Around the corner on Mabini St., is the Hobbit House – a live music bar that has dwarfs for servers, a rather endearing touch. The Hobbit has live blues, rock or folk music, depending on the day of the week. Beware the karaoke bars and Top 40 clubs that have started to proliferate in Malate, unless of course you’re into that sort of thing.
A Malate institution is the Penguin Café and Gallery. Although it has changed its name a few times over the decades, people will always call it Penguin. On any given night, one may find an eclectic mix of Manila’s artists, intelligentsia, filmmakers, culture vultures, neo-tribal’s and whatnot hanging out and slamming down Penguin’s notorious lambanog(coconut liquor)/Red Horse(strong beer) concoction. There is always live music at least a few nights a week – jazz, world, blues, tribal, fusion etc. – and there are always interesting photographs or works of art on exhibit. While the ultra-cool Malate hangs of the 90’s – Blue Café, Iguana, Caribana, Insomnia et al – are now a fond hazy memory, Penguin continues to survive well into the new millennium against the odds.
It is a Malate tradition (on weekends anyway, but sometimes weekdays too) to party till the sun comes up. One can witness al fresco tables full of raucous revelers at 7 am, all ready for breakfast. And sometimes, some of them head half-a-block towards the sea, right to the 400-year-old church, Our Lady of Remedies, before plunging into bed.