I must admit that at first, I was like most tourists in Dumaguete in that I always hung out on “The Boulevard,” as they call it, which is a 1.5 km strip along Rizal Boulevard with the sea wall on one side and a row of bars, restaurants, cafes, and other businesses on the other. This area from the Bethel Hotel to Silliman University is definitely the center of community life in Duma, as people walk and exercise there in the early morning, backpackers walk it after getting off the ferry from Bohol or Sijiour Islands, and the whole town comes out to hang out and enjoy the sunset and evening once it cools down and gets dark.
But there’s another area in Dumaguete that’s getting more popular and has caught my attention – and for a good reason. About 2km north of the main Rizal Blvd. area in Dumaguete is another little social hot spot, still along the water. The big landmark is Hayahay, with the Filipino restaurant Lab-As next door, and the respectable nightclub Tikki down the street. But between them is a street running east-west that dead ends into the sea wall. Go inland up there only 50 meters or so and you’ll discover Café Racer.
I saw it almost daily before I first went in, as it was along the route I took with my bicycle into Dumaguete (that street is called EJ Blanco Street). And it’s also hard to miss because of the décor – there is a huge outdoor sitting area with wooden tables that’s at least as big as a football field or two. The seats for the tables are brightly colored steel barrels that have been cut out for the seat area. You’ll also notice several brick walls with the big Café Racer logo of an old-school motorbike. But the fun décor doesn’t stop there because are several old automobiles gutted out and displayed around the inside and outside of the café. From the carcass of an orange VW bus to several old choppers and vintage motorbikes to chopped up hoods or tails of rusted blue Chevys and other cars.
The food, too, is in that same motif – the American highway diner spread with black and white checkered table clothes and place mats like raceway flags. But don’t expect anything nearly as exciting as the decorations in Café Racer, because the food can best be described as a clunky old Ford, not a slick modern Porsche. You can’t go wrong with serviceable pizzas or dependable hamburgers and fries, but don’t deviate far from that menu because there is a big fall off with the less popular items. They do have some barely-running Filipino food like sisig that will fill you up and won’t get you sick (which is a victory on the culinary scene in Dumaguete!)
But, of course, the main reason to go to Café Racer is to sit and hangout with friends and enjoy some food and beers or drinks. I haven’t spent much time inside because half of the appeal is to see and be seen as you people watch in their outdoor seating area, and they even have bands some night. Just get ready to sweat unless you get a lucky seat near the huge industrial fan, don’t count on their wi-fi working, and be ready to flag down a frazzled waiter – but you’ll still have a great time and appreciate the change from the usual Duma bar scene.