The frenetic day closes with a blazing sunset that turns the city briefly to gold, and Manila gears up for another episode of its legendary nightlife. After dark, Manila is transformed from shabby leviathan to a massive carnival ride; as deep as their devotion to heavenly pursuits may be, the Manileños’ commitment to an earthly party runs just as deep.
Maybe it’s ironic that the rebels chose Makati City as ground zero for their abortive coup. They were hoping for a resurgence of the nonviolent “people power” movement of 1986, when masses of Manila’s frustrated and dispossessed swept Ferdinand Marcos from power. But Makati is the last place you’ll find Manila’s frustrated and dispossessed. Here among its gritless avenues, tony malls and trendy restaurants, upwardly mobile Filipinos, expats and tourists come to play. The elegant Greenbelt Mall (“the country’s first premier lifestyle center,” according to its PR) is home to high-end shops like Prada and Armani, and the Apple Store (I can’t resist an Apple Store) is not only better stocked than those in Honolulu; it’s more expensive. For many, Makati represents the model of what Manila might one day become: The Pearl of the Orient redux.
At the outdoor tables by Havana Café, young Filipinas in knee-high boots and miniskirts vie for the attentions of Kanos downing an alarming number of San Miguels, and Chinese businessmen take leisurely, reptilian pulls on Cuban cigars. The Starbucks and the Seattle’s Best (within twenty feet of one another) are full with decked-out tourists dosing up on fuel for their nocturnal missions. Most are headed to the clubs for drinking and dancing, others to the hostess bars along P. Burgos Street, but I want to scope out something a bit more under the radar, a little live music joint called Saguijo on the not-so-mean back streets of Makati.
In official terms, Saguijo qualifies as a dive. But it’s a popular venue for many of the city’s up-and-coming bands that are rarely if ever heard beyond the shores of the Philippines, but which nevertheless thoroughly rock. Even though most of the music derives from American alt-rock and grunge (much of it sung in Tagalog), it hasn’t yet become a victim of its own
success, prefabricated, overproduced and mass marketed. It was, to revive a tired cliché, really about the music. Impressed by the unpretentious musicianship, I close the place down. A first for me in years.
Back near my hotel in Malate at 3 a.m., the streets are still filled with revelers going in and out of the bars by Remedios Circle or trying their luck at the Casino Filipino. My plane leaves in a few hours, though, so I decide to pack it in. But the throb and noise of a city seeking temporary salvation keeps me up, and I head back out. Passing a hopping bar bright with neon at about 4 a.m., I hear strains of Sinatra. But it’s not a stereo system; it’s a videoke (i.e., video karaoke) parlor where an improbably short Filipino man in gingham pants and a fedora belts out a heartfelt and pitch-perfect finale to “My Way.”