There are only three reasons I ever go to coffee shops – to catch up with friends, to get some quality alone time, or to get a nice iced black to go – and meeting new people just isn’t one of them. Isn’t it enough to have to engage in small talk with a barista? I mean, does anyone ever come to a café hoping to share an hour or two with a complete stranger?
It was late, maybe around 9PM, when my boyfriend and I popped into Commune to do some freelance work. I think “confused” described our initial reactions best – with a hidden door and almost no solo tables, we literally didn’t know where to place ourselves. After almost a minute of anxious glances, we finally chose to sit down at the nearest communal table, a ten-seater made of upcycled wood. For someone who is hyper-aware of other people’s personal space (I blame this on my germophobe sister), it was a harrowing experience—but hey, we kept coming back even after all that thanks to their damn good coffee and cookie cups a la mode.
Apparently, this stressful tango between should-I-sit-here and should-I-not isn’t all that uncommon when coming to Commune for the first time. If anything, the team behind Commune wants you to experience that initial discomfort. “People [tend to] like being sectioned off. Culturally, we aren’t comfortable sitting with strangers. I mean, up to now, we see it: groups of Filipinos put their bags on the chairs next to them so people who come in will have to sit at a different table or a few chairs away,” shares owner Ros Juan. “But if you’re in another country, Europe especially, it’s totally normal for us to be sitting here across a couple we don’t know, for example. It’s fine, there’s still respect for personal space without us being conscious or anything. That’s something we wanted to introduce here.”
Thankfully, the local community has started to warm up to the idea, with more and more people being open to the idea of sitting next to (and possibly even starting a conversation with) a bunch of strangers.
Commune has been serving locally grown coffee (and trying to force Filipinos to socialize) since 2013, originally opening shop along the busy streets of Salcedo. After two years of operations, however, Commune was forced to move out because their two-story home was being torn down to make way for a high-rise. While the team initially hoped to find a new venue within the area, the available spaces seemed to be getting smaller and smaller and rent started to skyrocket.
That’s what led to Commune’s exodus to the promised land of Poblacion – a homey neighborhood in the heart of Makati. The switch, it seems, has proven to be good both for business and the team’s own set of auras. “It’s never boring, even for us, we love just eating around the area. It still has that residential feel because you can do stuff like eat taho in the morning, have fishballs in the afternoon, and then you can find kakanin vendors and ambulant fruit stands, bingo, guys with styro boxes selling bread—but you’re still in Makati! It’s really interesting in comparison to Salcedo which was really in the business district,” Juan says. She adds, “Going there after a full day in Poblacion is kinda antiseptic. There’s so much character here.”
Their diverse customers—travellers, coffee enthusiasts, couch surfers, and start-up owners—come from all corners of the Metro just to get their fix of local goods and homegrown coffee. With beans from different parts of the Philippines, an array of artisanal pastries (you have to try their life-giving calamansi muffins) straight from the homes of local bakers, and pre-packaged snacks like Wit’s Granola on their menus and counters, Commune definitely makes its advocacy of “loving local” known.That advocacy extends way beyond the products that the café offers. From the rattan that hugs their counter to the lamps that hang overhead, Commune’s interiors are made up of locally sourced materials and repurposed objects as designed and curated by Tisha de Borja of E. Murio.
Commune is also a space for local production houses, start-ups, and organizations to host events. On most Tuesday nights, the café’s second floor is roaring with laughter as SPIT takes the stage. On any other day, events ranging from writing workshops to spoken word open mic nights to pop quiz battles take place upstairs.
So, if meeting someone you randomly sit next to in a coffee shop isn’t really your thing, you can always watch out for gatherings of like-minded people in the area. Either way, Ros & co. are fully dedicated to forcing some sort of socialization—and, by Jove, maybe that isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Photography by Renzo Navarro
COMMUNE IS LOCATED AT 36 POLARIS CORNER DURBAN STREET, POBLACION IN MAKATI CITY.