Design duo Wilmer Lopez and Thor Balanon takes us around the underrated neighborhood
Design duo Wilmer Lopez and Thor Balanon have lived in Manila‘s Ortigas area for almost 15 years. It’s also where they’ve put up Space Encounters, a haven of mid-century modern furniture and interior design inspiration that also houses an art gallery. They know better than anybody how the streets here transform from a bustling center for commerce and finance during the week to a friendly, family-oriented neighborhood over the weekend.
As true-blue locals of this underrated area at the Philippines capital, they know that the surprisingly relaxed Ortigas business district, adjoined by the hip residential neighborhood of Kapitolyo, is chock-full of small restaurants and bars, plus some offbeat places to check out interesting art, culture and, of course, shopping.
10.00am: Have a freestyle brunch at Kanto
If you want to take your time getting out of bed — it is the weekend, after all, and you want to make it till late into the evening — don’t worry: Kanto Freestyle Breakfast is open 24 hours, and is completely no-frills. Don’t be surprised if some of the diners look like they literally rolled out of bed to go to this popular neighborhood haunt. The place is known for pancakes and chicken — served with gourmet flourishes, but at bargain-basement prices. “Some people might go for ube and white chocolate ganache pancakes, which is also on their menu, but for me, it’s all about the comfort food,” Wilmer says. fb.com/kantofreestylebreakfast
11.30am: Browse through the Ortigas Foundation Library
The Ortigas Foundation Library is a small library that is part of a research and conservation program funded by the Ortigas Foundation to promote Philippine history, art and culture. The library helps researchers and students with conservation, preservation and research projects. “It’s a lovely Filipiniana library, with some wonderful artworks by Arturo Luz and other masters on display,” Thor explains. ortigasfoundationlibrary.com.ph
12.30pm: Time travel at the Meralco Museum and Archives
Few locals even know of this interesting little museum, tucked away at the Technical Services Building within the Meralco headquarters complex. The Museum of Meralco History is exactly what it claims to be: a visual history of the company that has supplied electricity to the country for more than a century, starting from its forgotten beginnings as the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company. “It’s an interesting look at a small slice of Philippine history,” Wilmer says. “There’s even a tram on display, with its perfectly preserved signboards and advertising.”
1.30pm: Have a late lunch at Sentro 1771
Land softly back in the present at Sentro 1771, where the menu of classic Filipino dishes, served
up with a gentle, modern twist, makes for a nice, long, lingering lunch. Thor’s recommendation: “Corned beef sinigang — yes, please! As a bonus, this is the only restaurant I know that has a carefully chosen wine list designed to pair with Filipino cuisine.” sentro1771.com
3.00pm: Envision all-new arrangements at Space Encounters Gallery
The organic offshoot of Thor and Wilmer’s Space Encounters furniture and design studio was born simply because they collected too much art. But then the concept grew to be more than a straightforward gallery. “We wanted to showcase [the talents of] our interior design staff and our point of view, because people don’t usually know how to display art in their homes. So we make vignettes,” Thor explains. “During the first show in 2017, someone got the entire vignette — the chair, the painting, the exact setup — put in his house. So since then, that became our trademark: We always mix in interiors with furniture and art. And sometimes we make specific furniture depending on the art on display.” gallery.spaceencounters.net
5.30pm: Get a buzz from Cafe Juanita
Cafe Juanita has been a landmark restaurant in the Kapitolyo area for over 20 years. Many residents around the area take long weekend family lunches in this most eclectic of places, found on West Capitol Drive. To say that the décor is “multi-faceted” is putting it mildly. At first glance, it’s romantic; at another, kitschy. By the time you look again, you’ll have changed your mind once more. “Everything you order is good. And there’s enough distraction and always something to look at to escape conversation,” Thor jokes. fb.com/cafejuanitaph
7.00pm: Dinner and drinks at Tittos Latin BBQ & Brew
Smack in the middle of Kapitolyo’s burgeoning restaurant row on East Capitol Drive, Tittos Latin BBQ & Brew offers Filipinized Latino food in a convivial setting. “Don’t expect ‘authentic’ Latin cuisine, and just enjoy the melting pot of food cultures,” Wilmer says. After you’ve had a proper dinner, go round back and see if you can find RM-16, a speakeasy on the premises. fb.com/tittosmnl
9.00pm: Vu’s Sky Bar and Lounge
Take in the cityscape from a perch on the 45th floor of the Marco Polo Ortigas Manila hotel, which has live music in the evenings. There’s a shisha lounge in the outdoor section, which also offers the best views. “There’s nothing like winding down with a cocktail and the city’s blinking lights right below you,” Wilmer says. marcopolohotels.com
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Late, late night kicks
The Ortigas CW Home Depot area is another lively section of town that is totally transformed in the evening, highlighted by the popular O Bar, one of the best drag nightclubs in Manila. The drag shows at O Bar are always current — if you see Ariana Grande busting out a new move on TV, you can count on seeing it in the show in a few days. It’s funny, it’s great comedy, it’s great costumes, it’s glorious. Look for the pink neon “O” sign, and snag the best seats by 11pm for the midnight show. fb.com/obarphilippines
This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Smile magazine.