Elbow to Elbow is a series of across-the-bar conversations with bartenders from Manila’s drinking districts. Every month, The Neighborhood speaks with the guys and girls in back about the mix, the tipple, and our life in the city. It’s a collection of field notes and kind advice between bar regulars and the people that keep them inebriated.
The ability to drink as one pleases is a gift. It’s given to many, and like most gifts, it can sit unused for years at a time, only serving the occasional Friday night need, or coming alive during the holidays. Like most gifts, drinking is best enjoyed in good taste and limited quantities. I used to be of the opinion that it’s best left in able hands.
Here, a few bartenders from Poblacion remind us that understanding our drinks is second only to considering the stories that surround them. Becoming a regular at a bar is a story away, and drinkers will do themselves well to listen.Señor Pollo / Kath To
Take a simple drink and make it yours.
Kath To of Señor Pollo serves one of her regulars a glass of local beer filled to the brim, with a lemon slice perched on top of the lager. This guy, she says, can’t have it without the lemon. Kath’s most memorable regular disappears for months at a time to tend to a job that requires him to be in Mexico half the year. During the six months he is home, he waves hello to Kath, from the same bar stool, every night. He always asks for the lemon in his beer.
Kath recalls her regular warning her over his drink of choice one night of the dangers of going to sleep. It’s like burning precious hours of your life, he had said. Why sleep when you can live. It was a particularly breezy night in Señor Pollo’s al fresco setup, and Kath’s regular was keeping his stool warm.Alchemy Bistro Bar / Kevin Balbutin
To be remembered, drink in pairs.
Kevin never forgets an order. Names and faces will slip through the cracks of his bar at Alchemy, where he is head bartender, but never an order. Top of mind, he tells of a pair that populates his haunt. He refers to both of them by their drink of choice.
The first half of the pair orders the Cosmopolitan. “Cosmo,” as he calls her, is sharp and of the city. Like her drink, she is outspoken but never overbearing. She asks for what she wants if she doesn’t already have it. Kevin smiles as he tells me about the other half of the pair, a literary foil that’s too real to have been written.
Kevin works the bar at Alchemy most nights. Every night, Cosmo has her Cosmopolitan, and with her is another regular who always has hot tea, at the bar, day in and out. Tea and Cosmo are an unlikely pair, one that Kevin remembers fondly.Pura Vida Manila / Lucas Floyd
Ask for what you want, even if you don’t yet know what it’s called.
Lucas takes a lighter and singes the sprig of rosemary on top of Summer Melted, a passion fruit drink with hints of lemon grass, ginger, and an easy rum spike. Lucas has only been in the country for a few months, but already he has made fans of foreigners and locals alike with his signature cocktails. One such local, who leans more towards refreshment rather than intoxication when he drinks, is a big fan of the tropical Summer Melted.
Each sip brings Lucas’ regular to a new question, starting with why he chooses to burn the tips of his garnish (more fragrance) and ending with the origins of the drink (Summer Melted was created by Lucas exclusively for Pura Vida Manila). Even regulars don’t have all the answers, and those behind the bar are happy to illuminate.
Photos by Nikki Bonuel
SEÑOR POLLO IS LOCATED AT 5767 EBRO STREET, POBLACION, MAKATI CITY. FOLLOW THEM ON INSTAGRAM AT @SENORPOLLOPH.
ALCHEMY BISTRO BAR IS LOCATED AT POLARIS CORNER DURBAN STREET, POBLACION, MAKATI CITY. VISIT THEIR WEBSITE AT WWW.ALCHEMYBISTROBAR.COM.
PURA VIDA MANILA IS LOCATED ON DON PEDRO STREET, POBLACION, MAKATI CITY. FOLLOW THEM ON FACEBOOK AT PURA VIDA MANILA.