The Philippines’ capital has been battered by typhoons and bombings. It is an Asian megacity with a medieval Spanish walled town at its heart; it is chaotic and seedy in parts – with strip joints and dwarf-wrestling clubs – but steeped in old-world glamour. If you want to push the envelope, set your sights on Manila.
The arts scene is thriving and captured in the new Fringe Manila festival, which will run from 12 February to 1 March and showcase events including poetry and dance in pop-up venues across the city. Inside a restored colonial townhouse, 1335 Mabini is the newest art space, hosting exhibitions by emerging local and international contemporary artists.
Brooklyn diner Purple Yam puts a modern twist on Filipino classics, such as lechonk kawali (deep-fried pork belly served with pickled papaya). And now it has opened a sister restaurant in the owner’s ancestral Malate home.
The backstreets of Makati conceal a handful of speakeasy-style bars. Try Finders Keepers, if you can locate it. Hidden behind Joe’s Meat Shack diner in Warehouse 5, its entrance doesn’t have a light, or even a sign. Head through the rusting steel door ﬂanked by two inconspicuous bouncers for expertly crafted cocktails, DJ sets and a dressed-down crowd. The Curator is a coffee shop by day and cocktail den by night, where mixologists whip up the likes of the New Black: a heady combo of Hennessy Cognac, espresso and grapefruit juice. And behind a secret door at the Bugsy Restaurant in Salcedo, Red Rabbit is a glamorous drinking haven with 1920s decor.
Malate’s faded architecture and boho spirit were the inspiration for two just-opened hotels in the neighbourhood. The Luneta (doubles from about £60), built in belle-époque style during the pre-World War II boom, had closed after decades in decline. Now, following restoration, it’s an exquisite hark back to 1918. The Amélie (doubles from about £60) fuses modern and Art Decoinspired interiors designed by Anton Barretto. Plans are afoot to bring music and artwork by local creatives to the public spaces.
Explore the old walled city of Intramuros at wind-in-your-hair speed on a Bambike Eco Tour. The stylish and sustainable bamboo bicycles are handmade by craftsmen working with a community charity.
Quezon City’s vintage arcade, Cubao Expo, is a hotbed for home-grown designers. Coast Thru Life has everything an urbanite needs to escape to the waves for surf weekends (boardies, boards and branded T-shirts). The Four Strings is a musicians’ hangout that sells hand-painted ukuleles, and over at Makati’s LRI Design Plaza there’s a cluster of chic design stores. Heima is the creation of leading Manila interior designer Rossy YabutRojales and sells international brands alongside her own brightly coloured range. Stock up on the art books and vinyl records too.