This Bar is for Adults Only: 20/20 and XX XX
Anna Sobrepeña Ong gave me a run-down of the establishments they operate or are invested in—hipster hangouts Black Market and Finders Keepers; the cozy Legazpi Village gin outpost The Bonbon Club. Almost as an afterthought, Anna hesitantly mentions, "we also owned a small club in Libis before called Twilo."
Like your muscles remembering exactly how to balance your body on a bike, my brain releases all kinds of happy hormones inducing a natural, knowing smile. Anna and I exchange high-fives. She turns to the youngish photographer and says, "Don't ask us what we used to do there."
As we exchanged stories and I picked up numerical information about her, I attempted to compute for Anna's age and failed. Ironically, the endless partying—notorious for turning spritely rock gods into leathery, weather-beaten prunes—seems to have rendered her eternally youthful. The numbers and physical evidence refuse to add up. What gives away her age (or at least the generation of which she belongs), however, is this confession: "I just can't stand around in a sweaty club anymore."
When she and husband Erick Ong were conceptualizing their newest brainchild—fraternal twins 20/20 bar and XX XX club next door—she insisted that it had to cater to her age group. "I AM the target market," Anna told her husband. The stint in Shanghai (where Erick DJed at a club and Anna managed the bar beside it) seems to have done them a lot of good creatively; 20/20 has a natural global and urban feel to it. Early in the evening, the lamps shine bright, exposing frescoed walls evocative of voodoo symbols. Dark, yet pretty. Ventilation: tops.
The cuisine Anna could only describe as "easy" and "good with alcohol" would be downplaying it, although it is that. It's their first time to serve food and they called on Chef Mico Uy of Livestock, which is renowned for crispy pata so tender, it could be torn apart with a popsicle stick. The food at 20/20 is far from basic, and Anna admits that she did have to give much input. While we munched on the Popcorn with Manchego and Chorizo, cocktails are placed in front of us to try.
We spot moonshine, which Anna admits is lambanog made from "sasá" or nipa, distilled at a secret location in Quezon. Packaged for the city-living pirate, it's suddenly made upscale and drinkable next to gin concoctions. The moonshine cocktails are sold in medical-looking bottles and are potent, the distinct citrusy/grassy aftertaste of sasá still very much evident. I find myself going back for sips of it even with the refreshing and highly drinkable XX XX Mule and tropical Basterdized Pomelo Margarita in the line-up.
Pommes Frites with Oxtail Marmalade
Popcorn with Manchego and Chorizo
Pork Belly Tacos
Fully stocked with citrus wedges
Jerk Chicken Wings
Buffalo Chicken Skin
Basterdized Pomelo Margarita
However, as much as the cocktails are well-crafted (a fruit dehydrator is on hand to make sure that they have a constant supply of citrus slices) and strong, the objective is to last throughout the evening, not pass out in a pool of vomit in their bathrooms. Hence, the bar food. Made to match the intricate mixes by Russian mixologist Alyona Vinogradova and their array of obscure, small-batch spirits. Before we walked in, Anna was munching on the Buffalo Chicken Skin. The Pork Belly Tacos—topped with an extra dose of chorizo bits for good measure—is also a leading crowd favorite.
The Curry Pizza is one of those more remarkable bar pizzas: thin, crispy crust laden with spices, salami, and cheese. It's simply not acceptable to serve a straight-up poutine here—their Pommes Frites with Oxtail Marmalade topped with pico de gallo is rich and decadent, while showcasing the kitchen's grasp on technique and balance. Impressive show, we must admit.
Music is eclectic, although EDM is majorly frowned upon. Besides, with NBK DJs Nicky Jurado and Manolet Dario hanging around all the time with their crew of iconic DJs and retired ravers, you might want to explore deeper waters, so to speak. When the inspiration to bust out your dusty dance moves hits, the club next door beckons. While super clubs in BGC and Pasay are going for luxe, XX XX opted to go industrial. Literally, they kept the warehouse's bare concrete floors and exposed roofing, the DJ booth just the bare essentials to prop up the equipments. The loft is a little more stylized: Anna likes to call it "Grandma's room," that is, if grandma is into BDSM.
20/20 and XX XX might seem like a departure from how the modern Filipino likes to party, but if you were born before 1984, then you most probably have seen this before. It's looking like the resurgence of the underground party scene of the 1990s, but this time, with an appetite for fine food and drink. Surprisingly familiar yet on trend, it oddly feels like coming home.
20/20 and XX XX are at La Fuerza Plaza 1, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue, San Lorenzo, Makati City.