Esquire Party of Four: The Inaugural Circle
Party of Four, the invite-only club, is a gathering of some of the most engaging minds in the country, from cultural insiders and business leaders, to indie artists and social purveyors—in other words, those most interesting, and most interested in our culture. We're just here to hash things out, drink and eat, and occasionally be the first to experience all the new things that the city offers. Join the party.
As a man who is nearer to his end than his beginning, I don’t like to go out as much as I used to, which was never really a lot to begin with. It’s not that people like us get lazier; in fact, most of my going out these days involves me lugging a laptop, with all the associated cables and trimmings, in the hopes of squeezing in an hour or two of writing between meetings, or even between drinks and dinner—an indulgence my very close friends and I use as a way of showing each other signs of life.
But a week ago, I couldn’t resist the idea presented to me by the team at Esquire, which an was after-dinner cocktails-and-cigars session at the Cigar Bar & Poker Room at Solaire Resort and Casino. It was irresistible because of many reasons, but since I’m imagining I’m smoking a cigar while I’m writing this (and I invite readers to imagine themselves doing the same—I swear it will calm your nerves and help you get through this article), I’ll name a few: I could invite any three people I liked; we could drink as much as we wanted; and we could all smoke as many cigars as we could.
There’s something immediately sketchy about cigars: people think only old, wealthy men smoke them, that they’re a vestige of imperialism and quite possibly a looming, monolithic, self-destructive shadow of late-stage capitalism, and that they stink and stay lit longer than they should.
All of the above is true. But it’s also true that Filipino women have smoked cigars since as far as we can remember, and kapres probably even since before that, and that our venerable cigar industry put us on the world stage as early as the 1500s. And that it’s not just the old and wealthy who might like cigars. I’m neither old nor wealthy (yet!—there is a glimmer of hope for both achievements to materialize), and the last time I had smoked one was when I was in my twenties, back when people still really cared about the stock market and thought the next twenty years were going to be really fantastic.
Appropriately enough, for the company we had chosen, there was a lot difficulty about getting that night sorted. Not only was it a week after elections—a couple of days after the final counts had sunk in—but the folks I had invited for Esquire’s Inaugural Party of Four were pretty challenging to get hold of. Thankfully, my jitters blew away as soon as I saw Moira Lang in a beautiful green number, and Quintin Pastrana had assured me early on that he’d go straight to Solaire as soon as his flight came in from Palawan that evening. Quark Henares was running late—but he was giving me cheerful updates about which flyover exit he had missed and how he was continuously on his way.
The conversation started with a simple question: How do you describe yourself to people since you’re so many things at once?
If you have never been to Solaire, and don’t know how to get there, don’t worry—it’s in that general direction and you can’t miss it. Once you’re inside the massive complex, though, it will be next to impossible to find the Cigar Bar. And that’s a good thing. Because the Cigar Bar is really one of those things you need to work hard for. You may have to ask around for it, or as I did, ask any one of their lovely and helpful staff to take you there, just past a bank of blinking and ringing slot machines announcing a 96 million peso jackpot in bright scrolling LED letters, and down two flights of stairs into a suddenly quiet and welcoming space filled with cozy corners and clusters of club chairs, spread out across multiple rooms.
Once we had all assembled in a particularly bright and cheery corner, I dutifully turned on my voice recorder to capture our conversation. That was the only useless thing I did that night, because as soon as we had settled, with our cocktails and our cigars of choice, what also settled over our rolling, laughing, intense, bawdy conversation was the blanket called “off the record.”
In fact, they would allow very few things to penetrate the thick Cuban smokescreen we had created that night. I had only managed to ask them one thing—who are you and how do you represent yourself?—a media-friendly question to which our guests responded with a lot of healthy self-deprecation: Quark referred to his Twitter profile, in which he describes himself as a one who “makes films, some of them porn; corrupts children in various schools; writes garbage for publications; tries to sing in rock bands,” and “not gay; no, really”—because apparently some people actually thought he was. But his Twitter bio, at best, only bears a shadow of an echo of the ring of truth; what he really is, besides the writer and director of a film (Keka) that I dearly love, is one of the most powerful creative figures in media right now, with a huge Thanos-like hand in the future of the entertainment industry.
Moira is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer and art collector who is currently doing a pseudo historical film and a digital series, and who possesses a magic touch in all the areas she is involved in. But perhaps the best way anyone ever introduced themselves is the way she did, through the origin of her name.
“That was 2011 or 2012. First it was just Moira, without the Lang. I was about to go to a party with my friend—a party full of men. So as we were dolling up for the party, I asked my friend, ‘how will you introduce me?’ Let’s think of a name! We finally thought of Moira because phonetically, it’s the inverse of my former name—”
“Raymond,” she finally said after a pause, as if she had needed a moment to remember it—and it is met with a round of cackling laughter. The story of her last name is another thing entirely. “I was attending a film festival in France, and I was getting my festival ID. The guy at the secretariat asked me what my name was. But it won’t print out without a last name. I didn’t want to give the name of my father, and I wasn’t married yet—so I said, impromptu, ‘Moira Lang’!”
And I knew Quintin as a fellow media person and a library advocate, but I didn’t know he was into energy now—like running a real renewable energy company.
Quintin Pastrana runs a renewable energy company, hosts a news program, and builds libraries all over the country.
Quark Henares "makes films. some of them porn. corrupts children in various schools. writes garbage for publications. tries to sing in rock bands."
“We went to all these pensioners in the Netherlands and we’re building a power plant here,” he said, and talked about all the pent-up energy in our islands—one of which he had just literally flown in from—and enumerated the various forms of energy he was involved in developing: tidal, solar, and storage systems. But there was more to him than that, so I pressed, and I was made aware, for the first time, of his scintillating education in both international relations (Cambridge) and literature (Oxford) (which made me wonder which crew team he rooted for)—and that he had two books coming out soon.
But after that round of credentials catch-up, nothing came out of our discussion that was directly about ourselves: no subtle breast-beating, no self-insertion into random national events, not even a single name dropped. What quickly unfolded was a night of refreshing candor and lightness, much needed at the end of what must have been a long workweek for the high achievers in attendance.
Just in the other room a few steps away, a spread of poker tables featured antes from the tens of thousands to the terrifyingly described “unlimited,” the names of the players helpfully displayed on a screen by the threshold. But most of the Cigar Bar & Poker Room was thoughtfully devoted to folks like us—people who, momentarily stripped of maniacal motivation, simply sought a relaxing drink and a good smoke and a bit of lofty conversation, in the order of their choosing, or all together, as our party naturally discovered was the best way forward. Soon, our hands were completely and continuously full—a classic Cohiba or Montecristo lodged in one hand, and in the other a cocktail of choice, which as the night advanced increasingly became “Purple Skies,” a whiskey sour startlingly topped with a generous scarlet layer of Malbec.
These indulgences, small but certainly significant, quickly allowed our mouths to find themselves occupied as well. Unexpectedly, we didn’t talk about the elections. We didn’t talk about populism. We didn’t talk about our “passions” and our “projects” (or worse, “passion projects”)—we knew each other well enough, but perhaps more to the point, we knew well enough to get past those picturesque depictions of ourselves to get to the real opportunities that rare evenings like this granted: to talk about people we loved and admired, among them the girl Quark was marrying soon; to remember places that changed us, such as the Berlin club Moira had spent an entire uninterrupted weekend once; and to share things we never forgot, such as the things Quintin had picked up from enviable lectures in school.
We only broke up briefly to head to the wide counter a few steps from our table for another round of cigars, chosen with great consideration from the great selection on display, the Cuban and the Honduran shoulder to shoulder with the Filipino. By the second or third trip to the counter, I could tell that we had made quite a home out of our company and out of the cigar bar itself, without any pressure to stay, or indeed participate. In other words, our small party afforded us the pleasure of talking about the sort of things about which people have discussions with themselves, deep into the night, when they are alone and unattended, and unencumbered by issues of social optics—or worse, social media optics. The conversation took its time, through twists and turns, about the funny and curious things we had lived through, about what we observed and what preoccupied us.
Sarge Lacuesta with Moira Lang, an award-winning screenwriter, film producer and art collector who is currently doing a pseudo historical film and a digital series
The funny and banal thing about cigars is that by smelling them you can tell how delicious they’ll taste in the mouth, and just by looking at them you can kind of tell how long they’ll last—about 45 minutes for a basic corona. In other words, you can tell by the number of cigar ends in your ashtray how long you’ve been around and how well you’ve made your decisions. There’s a trite metaphor for life there somewhere of course, and the cigar bar is actually the sort of place where you are encouraged to contemplate even the most basic of things, where the antisocial person can feel alone in a crowd, or, as our party did, feel safe and secure in a small circle of four.
It was in this manner that what had been forecast to be a quick meet-and-greet-and-godspeed ended up spiraling and thickening, layer by smoky layer, into a spirited and contemplative conversation lasting all of four-and-a-half hours, quite beyond what any of us had expected. It helped that our very gracious hosts from Solaire had informed us that we had tucked ourselves into the arms of one of the longest happy hours in the world—60 uninterrupted hours, from 5pm on Friday to 5am on Sunday, featuring two full selections of beverage offers and other exclusive treats. In fact, this was a place that, like the casino upstairs, it never closed.
When we finally called it a night, it was only because we had appointments the next day. We walked up the stairs and reemerged into the perennial buzz of the casino floors, at past midnight livelier than a department store on a Sunday. We passed the bank of slots again and we were a bit disappointed to find out that no one had won the 96 million pesos yet, and we were quite tempted to give the machines a try. That’s what casinos are supposed to make you feel, of course. But I was quite sure it was our party and the warm surroundings we had just left that had made us feel that we were the lucky ones that night, and that maybe time had not moved at all.