Located north of the central business district, Poblacion is the historic center of Makati City along the Pasig River. Its red-light strip along P Burgos Street has earned a seedy reputation for the neighborhood. Recent years, however, have seen a wave of hole-in-the-wall hostels, cafés and restobars draw in a cool and cosmopolitan crowd, who have nicknamed the area “Williamsburgos” — a portmanteau of the neon-lit drag and Brooklyn’s hipster haven. Makeup artist and Makati native Xeng Zulueta takes us to her top haunts tucked away around this buzz-worthy enclave.
12 noon: Feast on crunchy chicken and non-brownies at Bucky’s
Start off by hopping over to Bucky’s, a homey nook serving chewy blocks of flourless cake called “buckies” (not brownies, okay?!) “If you want to indulge on your cheat day, this is the place to be,” says Xeng. Throw your diet out the window with this sinful confection that’s best paired with coffee, or enjoyed as dessert, after munching on savory dishes like their crispy, double-fried boneless chicken smothered in gravy. “It’s a winner, winner, chicken dinner!” G/F 5666 Don Pedro St; +63 2 886 9955
3PM: Check out the local art scene at Dulo
One of the newest spots in the neighborhood, Dulo is a restobar and café serving coffee, cocktails and Filipino-Taiwanese comfort food. Inspired by the bohemian Malate hangouts of the ’70s, the place doubles as a creative space for emerging and established artists who host art exhibits and poetry sessions. Follow them on Facebook for updates on their latest events. 4992 P Guanzon St; +63 956 504 0739
5PM: Stop by Z Roof Deck Bar and The Social on Ebro
Head to the rooftop bar of Z Hostel (5660 Don Pedro St; +63 2 856 0851) for sundowners and panoramic views of the neighborhood lit up against shiny skyscrapers. It’s the perfect spot to mix and mingle. “I don’t know anyone who leaves this place without an NFF (newfound friend),” says Xeng. A pioneer of Poblacion’s recent gentrification, this flashpacker favorite was formerly a brothel. Before you go: how about a spin on the lobby’s stripper pole?
Another ideal late afternoon spot is The Social on Ebro (5770 Ebro St; +63 917 727 0072), a mini food park fashioned from container vans. Colorful murals, buntings and lanterns lend a festive atmosphere. Enjoy rounds of their best-selling Pimm’s Cup — a classic British summertime drink — with Costa’s brick-oven pizzas or Kashmir’s Indian and Middle Eastern plates.
7PM: Fill up on pad Thai, bulgogi or samgyupsal
From the creators of go-to Mexican joint El Chupacabra comes Crying Tiger (4986 P Guanzon St; +63 2 894 1769), a hidden gem serving up street-style Thai and Malaysian cuisine. “They have the best pad Thai,” declares Xeng. “It’s loaded with shrimp and egg.” Murals of the eponymous weeping feline color its interiors. “Oh, and I’m a sucker for anything with tigers and street art.”
If you’re craving some bulgogi or samgyupsal, look no further! With its sizeable community of Korean expats and students, Poblacion is also Metro Manila’s Koreatown. Top Dish (4890 Durban St; +63 2 758 1122) is a mainstay serving legit Korean food. “I’ve celebrated my last six birthdays here over my favorite plate of nakji-bokkeum (stir-fried octopus),” says Xeng.
9PM: Hang out over yakitori or Pinoy cocktails
Tambai (5779 Felipe St; +63 917 842 3725) is a yakitori bar that’s been converted from a sari-sari (sundry store). Its name is a Japanese take on the Filipino slang word tambay, which means “to hang out”. The laid-back spot, which has outdoor sidewalk seating, is great for pre-game drinks and small bites of grilled pork, chicken liver, zucchini and other veggies on sticks. “This is my non-negotiable.”
Right above Bucky’s is another chill-out corner: Alamat Filipino Pub & Deli (2/F 5666 Don Pedro St; +63 917 530 2580). “Most order local craft beer, but I come here for their Pinoy cocktails,” says Xeng while sipping on a spiked version of sago’t gulaman (tapioca and jelly drink). “I’m a rebel that way.” For unique bar chow, sample artisanal sausages inspired by classic Filipino dishes like sisig (sizzling pork jowl), bopis (minced pork lungs) and dinuguan (pork blood stew).
10PM: Cap off the evening at OTO
Coffee shop by day and listening room by night, OTO (which means ‘sound’ in Japanese) is a class act. “I love the low-key vibe and friendly staff,” says Xeng. Cap off your night with their signature cocktails, while tapping your feet to eclectic beats. Hungry again? Have some Japanese-inspired gourmet fare like wagyu beef donburi, a rice bowl topped by melt-in-your-mouth morsels of wagyu and garlic confit. 5880 Enriquez St; +63 2 728 2433
We chat with OTO’s David Ong
Xeng: Is OTO super new?
David: We’ve been around since January 2017.
Xeng: What’s the concept?
David: We serve up specialty coffee by day and craft cocktails by night. And, this always surprises people, we serve really good food — some people come just for the chocolate cookie.
Xeng: So what’s the best time to drop by?
David: If you like it really busy, turn up on a Friday or a Saturday 10pm onwards.
A quick buzz
Sweeten your day at Commune, a café that serves local coffee. Sit in for “purr-fect” cuppas that come with cute foam art. 36 Polaris St cor Durban St
Do the twist
For more Pinoy food with a twist, Lobo Filipino Tavern dishes out fresh takes on sisig, the quintessential bar chow that consists of sizzling minced pig’s jowl, ears and liver. Dig into sisig tacos, pork sisig nachos and chicken sisig pasta! 4898 Durban St; +63 2 805 9380
Budget stays in the city
Makati Junction Hostel offers free WiFi and private parking, and access to an on-site bar.
Lokal Hostel offers essential amenities and easy access to local nightlife.
MNL Boutique Hostel offers shared bathrooms in each room, as well as kitchen facilities.
This story first appeared in the December 2017 issue of Smile magazine.