Ermita and Malate
The bohemian side of the metro
The City of Manila is the capital of the Philippines—and the capital of its nightlife scene are the adjacent districts of Ermita and Malate. Granted, these two districts may not have the upscale clubs of Makati or BGC, and both have a reputation for being red light districts. But dig deeper and you’ll discover their distinct bohemian character that’s hard to find in other parts of the metro.
First is Malate, which has numerous options for a great evening, whether you’re looking for a relaxed, sit-down dinner or a rip-roaring night out. Top restaurants in the area include Casa Armas, Korean Village, Café Adriatico, the reservations-only Purple Yam, and Tanabe—the Japanese restaurant where Anthony Bourdain ate on his last visit to Manila. Then there are the area’s popular bars: The Library, which hosts comedy performances regularly; right beside it is FAB, a KTV joint popular among the gay community. If you’re looking to just knock down a few beers, go to Silya Restobar. And for good ramen on a budget (think: USD2 for a bowl), head on to Erra’s—which began as a humble roadside stall. Meanwhile, Ermita may not have the same amount of options as Malate, but it does have its own interesting spots. These include Hobbit House, which is staffed by an all-midget crew (hence the name); and G-Point Smorgasbord and Bar, which has a buffet for only PHP 299 (roughly USD 6 to 7). In between these two districts is the 24-hour Shawarma Snack Center, serving up an authentic Middle Eastern fare.
Admittedly, both Ermita and Malate are not the cleanest nor the neatest sides of the city; the specter of gentrification has not touched these areas yet. And in some areas, both Ermita and Malate look like red light districts from other parts of Southeast Asia—full of flashing neon lights, a number of seedy bars, and the occasional massage parlor. But don’t let that intimidate you. Many of the establishments listed above have withstood the test of time and are patronized by all kinds of people.
If you’re not staying around Ermita or Malate, there are still many ways to reach the area. Of course, the fastest way is by taking a taxi. However, you can also take a jeepney that passes through Mabini Street or ride the LRT-1 train and alights at United Nations or Pedro Gil stations. Then just walk—the area is best experienced on foot. And while the best time to hit the area is on weekends, many establishments are also open on weekday nights.