Esquire’s Go-To List of Cocktail Bars
Our bar scene experienced a rebirth some time in the last five years. As a consequence, our weeknights and weekends have been reduced to breathlessly keeping up, always in pursuit of “that hot new bar.” More than speakeasies being all the rage, we’re happier to report that cocktails are now more craft than, um, crap, and that’s something we’re pretty thrilled about.
Clustered heavily in the mega developments of BGC and the boroughs of Makati, this is a shortlist that features those special discoveries where not only the vibe is conducive, but the drinks are tops. The takeaway from all this is unquestionable: there’s no shortage of drinking dens in Manila. And the crazy part is, we believe our capital is just getting started… again. So many bars, so little time. Get out there.
It probably doesn’t get any speakeas-ier than having a password, but that aside, Jupiter’s sexy little saloon is a lush magnet. The type that’ll make you want to keep lingering round, after round, after round. There’s a whole gamut of libations to be had here, so try not to be limited by what you see on the bar list. Behind the Gatsby-esque space that is ABV is a mixologist extraordinaire and cocktail geek by profession so by all means, indulge. There’s even a ‘bible’ you can ask for that offers a more in-depth look into what their mighty barmen do.
What to ask for: Sazerac, Moscow Mule
Here’s a great spot to day-drink your way from brunch onwards, no judgment. Part coffee shop, part drinkery, and part comfort food haunt, this chameleon of a place can almost be whatever you need it to be, potent beverages in tow. Their craft cocktails are not extensive, but those on their list raise the bar and provide a decent buzz. So hey if you want to order a Tom Collins with your grilled cheese lunch, you do you…
What to ask for: French Lavender
The O.G. of speakeasies, Blind Pig gave many of us our first taste of a proper cocktail years ago. Drinks don’t come cheap, but you pay for the craftsmanship, and that totally changed the game. No watered down booze, real fruits versus fruit juices, legit whisky ice cubes, the whole shebang. It’s black as night here—always—so brooding types, those who want to drink on the sly, and those in the mood for no-nonsense cocktails make up their regulars (whom they greet by name). Barkeeps are known to be generous with the pour so you’ll likely be done for the night after your second drink. Be warned, lightweight.
What to ask for: Strawberry Caipirinha, Aftershock
The Bonbon Club
This low-key Legazpi Village joint has a big proposition: all cocktails are gin only. They house dozens of premium gins from all over, which they mix with syrups made in-house plus fresh ingredients like oregano and lemongrass to create some of the most refreshing cocktails ever. The vibe is super chill, and all the snazzy decor makes you feel like it’s a Saturday night in an A-lister’s living room.
What to ask for: Earl of Milan, Madame Geneva
Not all hidden bars are worth finding, but this one is. You get a twofer at The Curator, it being one of the best spots to grab both a coffee and a cocktail. This is a playground to some pretty skilled barmen (the type that have ably represented us in regional competitions) and are arguably the friendliest in town. Hint at your mood and the type of alcohol your night requires—they’re good at stirring up stuff just the way you like and making conversation.
What to ask for: Negroni, or just let the barkeep surprise you
Quite the it place for expatriates, Hooch has happy hour seekers raving about their 60-plus cocktails put together with a lot of thought, not to mention a flair for flavor. They have a cheeky menu of staples, as well as a growing list of signature creations (you’ll find them on the blackboard) that changes every week. It’s an intimate, unfussy nook that gets pretty packed on weeknights but doesn’t ever get too loud. No it hasn’t been around that long, but it’s shaping up to be an institution.
What to ask for: Salcedo Avenue, Hooch Sours
Mandalay Whisky & Cigars
This Narnia of speakeasies is a whisky wonderland housing what is likely the largest selection in town. Definitely a choice destination for Whiskey Sours or Old Fashioneds done well, partly because they make it with your choice of top-shelf whiskey. Apart from the curated stock, the draw here is basking in a man cave that’s 007-worthy. The luxe oriental decor is a feast for the eyes, plus you’ll have leather lounge chairs and private rooms where you’re free to light up a cigar at your disposal. To get in, find the wooden “closet” at The Belle and Dragon.
What to ask for: Old Fashioned with Laphroaig
Emerging from Pasong Tamo’s no-frills neighborhood is this looker of a cocktail den, which happens to have a club next to it if you want to take your night out to a deeper level. Booze-guzzlers will urge you to head to 20:20 for a steady night cap during the workweek, or possibly, depending on your alcohol consumption, a roaring kind of night once the weekend rolls in. People come for that undeniable urban cool vibe, and for some, that very tasty Basterdized Pomelo Margarita.
What to ask for: 20:20 Mule, In Love With The Coco
Kakubin Highballs! Artisanal Sake! Shochu! If you’re a fan, you’ve come to the right place. Chotto Matte is a temple of Tokyo’s most coveted libations. Taking its cue from the taverns tucked in the dark alleys of the capital, this after-work haunt makes good on their menu of refreshing booze and kampai-friendly izakaya fare. It’s much swankier than the traditionally dark, unassuming izakayas of Japan, but still the space manages to be as laid-back as it is chic, offering an accessible sanctuary to off-duty yuppies.
What to ask for: Suntory Kakubin Highball, Sakura Smile
There’s no sign outside this up-and-comer but you’ll find it up the stairs inside the newly revamped 2nd’s. Mind you, this is by the same guys responsible for cocktail capitals ABV and Mandalay, so you can expect the same level of spirit-forwardness and swag. They have a whimsical apothecary theme going on so the ‘prescriptions’ (a.k.a. the bar list) come in the form of a doctor’s clipboard and beakers double as cocktail glasses. It also tries to be a ‘singles’ bar, as in, “walk in bitter, walk out taken.”
What to ask for: Satin & Saccharum