Manila is a pretty crazy place. The traffic and chaos on the roadways, alone, will drive you batty, but in the wrong neighborhoods (or the right neighborhoods, depending on what you’re into!), the scene on the street ranges from Middle-East-Bizarre sensory overload to precarious or even damn dangerous. But once you make a local Filipino or Filipina friend who lives there, it’s a complete game changer.
That was the case when I found Belle and Dragon in Legaspi Village in Makati, Manila. (Yes, Manila is so big that there are sub cities and even sub-sub-cities within it). My buddy Mark Africa, a Filipino who grew up in San Diego, CA and now lives in Manila, is a professional DJ, working bars, clubs, and shows in Manila and the Philippines and also DJing the popular WAVE radio morning show.
I was in town for a couple of nights and Mark (he goes by DJ SkratchMark, but his real last name is Africa – cool!) was playing a gig so invited me to come hang out. Despite the fact that it took me 45 minutes to traverse about 2km because of traffic, I found the place to have a Brooklyn brownstone feel from the outside. Indoors, it was the same, with a rich and textured mix between a historical Irish Pub and a Soho art café.
There were plenty of 4-top tables spread out over its three front rooms, but they were still open enough so you could see everyone, and the space felt bigger. I sat down with Mark and took a gander at the menu, but this was no ordinary Southeast Asian bar. Instead of the usual San Miguel Light and such, they featured international and especially European beers. I saw Hoeegarden (great beer!), Heineken, Stella, Amstel, and a few other Belgian and German beers. I ordered a Sapporo and had to decide between a pint or a glass. I was a little confused what the difference was, but when my glass came I saw that it was almost as big as a pitcher – there were probably 2 ½ or even 3 regular beers in there.
If you’re into spirits, their alcohol menu is both comprehensive and hilarious, all with funny or sexually-charged titles. There’s the Happy Ending (Baileys and Kaluha), the Date Night (Absolut and stuff), the Zero Tolerance (Jameson), and The Friend Zone (Jagermeister and grapefruit).
We listened to some music and caught up before Mark had to set up, and ordered food. The chef actually came out and gave us recommendations, and I jumped at the roast beef sliders with horseradish and homemade pickles. Friggin’ yummm!
Mark started to play, but the crowd never really filtered in that night, even though it was Lady’s Night. In fact, it was about 80% dudes that had come right from work in there. But the vibe was still good, unpretentious, and friendly, and the waiters and waitresses actually added to the ambiance. As Mark played great old school hip hop, R&B, and soul music, they couldn’t help themselves but to sing along, dance, and pull their coworkers out onto the dance floor.
They didn’t miss a beat with service, but it was really fun to see them enjoy themselves, and after three “glasses” of beer, I was doing Michael Jackson dance move impersonations right along with the waiters.
Mark played for a couple of hours and after he was done, took me in back to show me the Secret Bar. I’ll tell you about that soon!