A combination of artistic renaissance and economic boom has given the capital of the Philippines a new lease of life, with plenty to see, do and taste
“Never give up”, a slogan seen on the T-shirts of many a Filipino, truly sums up the heart of Manila. Before the Second World War, the city was known as “Pearl of the Orient” because of its fortified wide cobbled streets and Spanish colonial townhouses.
After US forces secured the Philippines as a key position against the Japanese, Manila fell and became one of the greatest tragedies of the era. The city was reduced to ash and the epoque of glamour dissipated.
However, over the past few years the dusty pearl is finally recovering its shine with the help of an artistic renaissance and economic boom.
Among the buzz of activity lie bubbles of decadent luxury, burgeoning artistic kernels and a jet stream of sumptuous restaurants. Head down from the clouds and duck through the backstreets of Makati, in between the glitz of Rockwell’s elite residential area towards the authentic and vibrant pocket of Poblacion.
The oldest quarter in Makati, Poblacion, serves up tasty, cheap, exotic menus from bustling joints such as the Mexican El Chupacabra and the Pinoy oyster bar Wantusawa. After hours the hidden speakeasy ABV offers masterclasses in crafting classic and signature cocktails.
Over the past five years, art festivals such as Fringe Manila have sprung up over the capital while the lack of red tape has permitted eye-popping murals to decorate sleek towers, buildings along the Pasig River and “holes in the wall”.
Recently, cultural aficionado and performing artist Carlos Celdran staged an impressive biennale in the walled city of Intramuros, putting Manila’s arts scene firmly on the map.
Over the past few years the dusty pearl is finally recovering its shine
Celdran is not the only one demanding that Manila be seen on the main stage. Entrepreneur Jam Acuzar has harnessed her cultural heritage to create the non-commercial art space, Bellas Artes Outpostin Chino Roces Avenue, which hosts a diverse programme fascinating talks, workshops and performances.
Despite the chug of traffic, Chino Roces is fast becoming a must-visit strip with eclectic art venues such as Vinyl on Vinyl, Silverlens Gallery and a swathe of independent lifestyle boutiques at Karrivin Place.
Consumerism has taken a firm hold of Makati, Ortigas and Bonifacio Global City (which sprung up from scrubland within the decade). A boom of global brands anchor these business districts, offering luxury retail, bargain hunting and well-being.
Malls are part of Manila’s fabric as somewhere to cool off, shop, dine, work out and be pampered. Within their confines shoppers can choose from a plethora of restaurants and dessert kitchens, drop into trendy fitness hubs such as Saddle Row, The Bar and Beyond Yoga, and restore balance at the spa. For a real luxury mall experience, head to Greenbelt Mall. Comprising five buildings, this is the place to go for high-end boutiques, branded shops and top quality restaurants.
Hot on the heels of these global brands have come creative hubs offering local goods, upcycled furniture, clothing, experimental culinary experiences and pop-art-inspired toys. The Escolta Hub/Make Lab is blazing a trail for inspired collaborations. This “collaboratory”, nestled next to the vibrant mish-mash of the world’s oldest Chinatown, is a multidisciplinary convergence of artists, activists, educators, researchers, cultural workers, architects, students and the public. The space hosts talks, special events, and film screenings, and is well worth a visit for the culturally curious.
And there’s good news for bibliophiles too. As well as the National Library of the Philippines and numerous major museums, there are plenty of charming bookshops and second-hand stores tucked away among Manila’s streets. Books from Underground for example, on Taft Avenue at the middle of Manila City Hall underpass, has teetering stacks of classics and modern titles just waiting to be explored by those in the know. Reward yourself post-scavenger hunt by beginning those opening pages over lunch at nearby hidden gem, Barbara's Heritage Restaurant.
Source: The Telegraph.co.uk