Esquire's Best Bars of 2016
2016. What a great year for drinking.
It's easy to admit that the country's drinking culture boomed in 2015, what, with all the Japanese whiskey bars and hush-hush speakeasies, but this year was no slacker in the booze department either. We went out and about (hey, this was all for work) and these were the establishments that stood out. Or, rather, the places that were so good, we remembered them the day after.
Only bars that opened in 2016 were considered for this list.
How hush-hush is this bar? People who live in the village probably haven’t even heard of it. Amid the garden gnomes, koi ponds, and shrubbery on White Plains is this tiny hidden space with a name that reminds us of old Bayantel numbers. The cramped but efficient space is fundamentally a bar, an effortless arrangement of concrete, black wood tiles, and an entire wall of vinyl records. That’s the essence of 78-53-86—jazz and indie tunes playing on a Garrad 201 plus a range of whiskey at your disposal. You can even ask the bartender to match your mood/drink with a song.
78-53-86 is at White Plains West, 42 Katipunan Avenue, White Plains, Quezon City.
High balls anyone? Raintree’s bar takes its inspiration from Golden Gai, a neighborhood in Shinjuku that’s cramped with the tiniest, flashiest bars in Japan. Chotto Matte, which means “wait a moment,” is much less tawdry and much more spacious, but they do offer an insane catalogue on Suntory drinks, as well as Japanese beers and flavored sakes. The bar comes with its own menu, but should you need a little more to tide you over as you enjoy your cocktails, try sneaking a bite from its alter ego, Izakaya Sensu farther in.
Chotto Matte is at G/F Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Globial City, Taguig City.
Pink’s Hot Dogs may look like your typical family-friendly weekend habit, but it harbors a secret. Farther in, an elusive back door whisks you away from the jollity of chilidogs to a place for serious drinking. Still, Hotel Bar, despite the intimate lighting and speakeasy references, opts for a casual vibe. Their 11 cocktails, concocted by the folks behind The Curator, is a selection of classic drinks like Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned. The novelty is that you can pair them with Pink’s signature hotdogs for a seriously fun night out.
Hotel Bar is at Pink’s Hot Dogs, Shangri-La at the Fort, 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.
Raging Bull Chophouse & Bar
Someone is doing something right behind the bar. It’s not easy to compete with steak, but the buzz behind Raging Bull is on the cocktails. This Shangri-La at the Fort’s signature is the bar of the moment, thanks in no small part to their head mixologist Ulysse Jouanneaud who can whip up any drink you can think of (and then some). The theme is a throwback to the Prohibition, but rather than pretend to be a speakeasy, Raging Bull glorifies that forbidden thrill with a line of drinks that pay tribute to the era. Some of their signature cocktails are Monkey Business (with Monkey Shoulder pure malt, homemade rosemary syrup, whiskey barrel bitters, and Griote cherry juice) and Bonifacio Penicillin (Elijah Craig bourbon, fresh calamansi, homemade ginger jam, house Szechuan honey, and egg whites).
Raging Bull is at Shangri-La at the Fort, 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.
The Wild Poppy
This rooftop bar and restaurant is all about encouraging good times with friends. The small two-page chow menu composed by Chef Nicco Santos (Your Local, Hey Handsome) is backed by a legit four-page-strong cocktail list. They round up the essentials like rum, whiskey, bourbon, vodka, and liqueur, but it’s their refreshing handcrafted mixes that’ll have you in a giddy mood all night. Most of their drinks have zesty elements like basil, pineapple, lemon, and cucumber in keeping with their forever summer vibe.
The Wild Poppy is at 2/F 5666 Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati City.
We have to give credit to the bar that put sesame oil in a cocktail and made it successful—but then again, anything goes in this Japanese-slash-Caribbean hideaway. The restaurant itself follows an izakaya style, which makes the small plates perfect with a drink or three. (In fact, the food and beverage were designed to bring out each other’s flavors.) The six-page alcohol menu is heavy on whiskey, but it is mixologist Kath Eckstein Cornista’s vibrant compositions that truly make this place a treat. They’re all Hawaiian-inspired: Try the Woosah Your Noggin (brewed jasmine tea, vodka, calamansi juice, Angostura bitters), Avalance (calamansi-mangosteen syrup, guava juice, Kraken black-spiced rum, Havana rum, and Ungava gin in a fish bowl), and Little Grass Skirt (low-calorie with gluten-free vodka!).
Papa Loa is at 109 Forbeswood Heights, Rizal Drive, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.
Ace mixologist Lee Watson is back and he’s now busy with Bitters, a hot new bar that opened when a newer, more mature 2nd's relaunched in the middle of the year. With an operating table-inspired bar top, surgery mask coasters, and a medicine tray, Bitters goes for an apothecary look, honoring the good ol’ days when the alcohol we celebrate today, like gin and tonic, was medicinal. Bitters, the bar’s namesake, were used to relieve rheumatism and cold sores. Apart from just serving drinks, Lee trained his bartenders to have their own feel for liquor and concoct cocktails on the spot, depending on the guest’s mood and preference.
Bitters is at 2/F Burgos Parklane, Forbestown Road, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.
Alamat Filipino Pub & Deli
Co-owned by funny man Jun Sabayton, Alamat is yet another reason Poblacion is this year’s neighborhood go-to. The place itself is a conversation piece: murals inspired by local legends fill the walls and everything, from the jeepney bar top to the T’nalak-upholstered throw pillows, are proudly Filipino. Here, local craft beer and spirits shine. They use items like Barik lambanog, Don Papa rum, and salabat in their cocktails.
Alamat is at 5666 Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati City.
20/20 and XX XX
This enormous space is half club, half bar, a natural progression for the night owls of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. 20/20 is the calmer bar, where the yellow lights bounce off the skull-papered walls. There are small-batch gins, moonshines made with the local sasa, and cool new twists on classics (say, a pomelo margarita?). The drinks were crafted by Russian mixologist Alyona Vinogradova, tailored with a set of bar chow (by Mico Uy of Livestock) to keep you from passing out. You have to be awake. At 20/20, you’re meant to just chill and enjoy.
20/20 and XX XX are at La Fuerza Plaza 1, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue, San Lorenzo, Makati City.