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[Uncle Bob] Makati Cinema Square: Against all odds

Makati Cinema Square (MCS) was a modern mixed-use development with a mid-rise condo on the fringes of Manila’s financial district when I first went there in the 1980s.

My wife worked as a creative director in an ad agency near MCS and we lived with our young son in a two-story apartment with a garage just 10 to 15 minutes away by car. Rent in middle-class Makati was still cheap back then.

Family-owned MCS had a department store and a clever blend of retail shops and F&B establishments. It had apparel and audio stalls (records, CDs and stereo gear) in the basement.

I bought my first hi-fi (high fidelity) stereo system (Dual turntable, Hitachi amplifier and I don’t remember which speakers) from MCS shops, eventually adding a CD player (a very new technology then) bought during a US trip along with giant-killer Boston Acoustics  compact speakers.

In later years MCS became a center for pirated videos and software  (“DVD, DVD sir”).  Now the bored-looking cellphone shopgirls staring at their screens mumble “power bank, sir” as you walk past them.
Japanese restaurants long ago set up shop across the street in a cluster called Little Tokyo, which extended to the low-rise Creekside building whose ground floor is now lined with wall-to-wall bars catering to Japanese men.

MCS is a different place now, a psychedelic warren of shops and stalls with no decipherable planning logic.

The escalators don’t work but the air conditioning is brisk.

Little Tokyo has dramatically expanded, drawing a steady stream of Japanese expatriates, women for hire and Pinoy foodies. You want good Japanese food? Go where the Japanese dine.

Gun and ammo shops now dominate the basement, with names like Final Option, Casa Armas, West Point Gun Club, Lock and Load and Tactical Precision Trading.

SPECIALTY SHOP. A shop sells guns and bladed weapons beside a dress shop. Photo by Roberto Coloma

Shakey’s Pizza and Booksale, purveyor of cheap literature,  are still thriving.

Just a few audio shops remain, making money off oldies like me and young vinyl converts, some of them in school uniform.

Massage parlors operate openly at ground level, teasing customers with garish lighting and names like Grit Spa (that sounds painful).

I invested P90 ($1.60) in a bottle of extra-strong Red Horse beer for the right to occupy a table in a strategic section of a videoke bar called Globe.

In the dimly lit bar, chubby peroxide blondes in cutoff denim shorts flirted with comb-over senior citizens who sang ’60s hits with tremendous reassurance. When the host (probably the boss) sang, his minions burst into applause.

It’s a sad place.

But hey, they have a very clean toilet, which is hard currency in low-rent malls.

After sundown, Japanese expats descend upon MCS in vans and cars, emerging later in varied levels of inebriation, local girls in hand as they head for drunken sex, if they can manage to get it up.

But against all odds, MCS has a lot to offer.

My old vinyl dealer,  Bob de Leon at Bebop Records, in the basement, is still going strong. Emer’s upstairs still serves slurpable lomi noodles.

Aida’s Chicken, which serves Bacolod food, still has a vintage stereo and artworks left behind by its late owner Toto Tarrosa, a multi-talented collector who was a fixture in Manila’s bohemian circles.

Indoors, Restaurant, Adult
COOL DECOR. The interior of Aida’s Chicken. Photo by Roberto Coloma

There’s an uber cool walk-up bar called Fat Cat next to the KFC.

Fat Cat is a jazz joint that seems to be favored by gangs of attractive young women, for some reason. I’m not complaining.

The servers are cheerful and the analogue (vinyl) setup is authentic, particularly the chest-high Klipsch speakers in the corners. 

They serve interesting cocktails as well as neat shots of single malt whisky, including Japanese brands Yamazaki, Hibiki, Yakushu, Chita and Nikka, plus the usual Scottish suspects.

My close friend Edsel Tolentino, a creative guru and guitarist who used to work in the area, took me to a restaurant called Isaribi. Great sashimi and tempura, competent staff and a steady stream of Japanese customers. I went there alone for the same fix over the weekend.

Server Chloe, 41, has worked in the restaurant for seven years. Her husband Jun works in Dubai at the same kind of job and has not visited the Philippines since the COVID epidemic.

Chloe earns the minimum wage of P610 pesos ($11) a day and has four days off a month. They have two boys aged 23 and eight.

Elder son Justin is a graduate of marine services, hoping to serve food in cruise ships, and that’s how the cycle of Overseas Filipino Workers goes on. Justin will support his family in the future after his parents retire.

MCS reminds me of Shibuya (without the crazy crossing) and Roppongi in Tokyo, Patpong in Bangkok, and Itaewon in Seoul.

With the surrounding blocks already gentrified, one can only hope MCS survives as a middle- and lower-class haven for funky, cheap, and quirky goods and services. – Rappler.com

Roberto Coloma, better known as Bobby, retired in 2022 after 40 years as a foreign correspondent. He started his career as editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian, the student newspaper of the University of the Philippines.

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