Exploring Poblacion in a Sober Mood | Makati

Despite witnessing Poblacion's transformation from a seedy quarter to an exciting neighborhood, I mostly visit to get drunk and dine with friends. So when I heard that Meaningful Travels PH is organising a Poblacion Makati Discovery Tour, I jumped at the chance to discover the neighborhood's other hidden gems without the constraints of inebriation.

Ann Marie Cunanan  Meaningful Travels PH
See Poblacion from a different perspective by joining Meaningful Travels PH's Poblacion Discovery Tour

A Thriving Artist Community

"A lot of artists now live here," Ann, our guide and operator of Meaningful Travels PH, told our group. Looking around, I notice that the Poblacion neighborhood is changing. The secretive establishments where old men would select women from aquarium-like glass capsuled rooms to serve as escorts for the night are long gone. According to legend, the Z Boutique Hostel was built on the site of the infamous brothel Don Pedro Mansion. Today, it's a popular hostel for mostly backpackers from all over the world, doubling as a mock cultural melting pot.

Ann Marie Cunanan of Meaningful Travels PH
Ann Marie Cunanan of Meaningful Travels PH leads the Poblacion Discovery Tour

While there is still a strip of adult cabarets along P. Burgos Street, the surrounding area are now teeming with creative spaces like art galleries, quaint cafes and restaurants, speakeasy bars, and even Filipiniana clothing stores.

Poblacion Discovery Tour: Heritage Stops

Our tour started at our meeting place at Plaza Casa Hacienda Park. This small park by the banks of Pasig River hides a history dating back to the 18th century. A historical marker suggests that the name "Makati" was derived from a local who responded to then-Spanish Governor General Don Miguel de Legaspi's inquiry about the location with "Makati na, Kumakati na," referring to the rising level of the river.

Pasig River as seen from Plaza Casa Hacienda Park *

We then went across the street to the Museo ng Makati. The museum, distinguished by its large Capiz-shell window shutters, served as Makati's town hall from its construction in 1918 until 1961. It now houses historical Makati artifacts, various dioramas, and a "Living Exhibit" gallery with artworks from all over the country.

Inside the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

Our next stop took us to Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. Built by the Jesuits in 1620, it is one of the oldest churches in Metro Manila. While the original structure was damaged during the failed British invasion of Manila in 1762, the facade retained its pretty Baroque architecture. Inside, a Baroque-Rococo-styled carved altar-pieces adorn the interior.

Across the church is the former location of Pedro de Macati Cemetery—an 18th century cemetery—that is now Plaza Cristo Rey. At the time of our visit there was a small event being held at the plaza. As I watched the locals partake in a festive revelry, I can’t help but imagine how the lively vibe contrasted to the mournful setting it used to have before as one of Metro Manila’s oldest cemetery. 

Rajo Laurel’s House of Laurel

History and heritage check.  Now for some fashion and art. Walking through other Poblacion's hidden alleyways, we came across several interesting hole-in-the-wall establishments, such as Holy Carabao, a small organic grocer shop. Ann also directed us to the Poblacion market, where we could find high-quality tailored suits and dresses.

One of the many good side-street find in Poblacion, the Holy Carabao

After a few strides entering a maze of streets, we come across a clothing shop owned and named after one of the country’s finest fashion designers: Rajo Laurel. Inside is a fashion haven that would make every lady swoon.

Pineapple Lab and Glorious Dias

The eccentric art space and clothing store Pineapple Lab and Glorious Dias came as our next destination. Founded by local designer Jordinand Aguillon, Pineapple Lab is a platform for local artists to showcase their works and also functions as a gallery store—a backdoor leads to a secret lounge where poetry reading and performance art are held on some nights. While the next door Glorious Dias (named after 1969 Miss Universe Gloria Diaz) sells Filipiniana silk tops and barongs. Aguillon even showed us a Barong Tagalog from the 1950s which they redesigned to match current fashion styles while retaining its nostalgic appearance.

Coloful Filipinan clothes and Barongs for sale in Glorious Dias

The space of Glorius Dias would make every Titas and even Gen Z fashionistas swoon over its collection of vintage dresses and tops made from pineapple strands and silks.

Artisan drinks, vegan food and the Annex House

The atmosphere around Poblacion begins to buzz as night falls. Early diners can be seen walking the sidewalks in search of a sumptuous restaurant or a refreshing hole-in-the-wall, both of which are plentiful in Poblacion. I'd been to several restaurants and bars here before, including the craft beer haven Alamat Filipino Pub, Tambai, Kite, and El Chupacabra, to name a few, so Ann's announcement that we'd be stopping by Agimat Foraging Bar & Kitchen piqued my interest even more.

The ritual of serving drinks at Agimat *

After climbing a flight of stairs into the second floor, I instantly found the place oddly beautiful. Who wouldn't be? At the sight of a Balete Tree protruding in the middle of the bar that was built around it and the charming wooden fixture and furniture around. It turns out, Agimat was inspired by the Filipino folklore of the "agimat" (amulet) and their thirst-quenchers drew inspiration from this and other Pinoy supernatural tales.

A shot of "Ritual ng Agimat" is included in the tour

A mini-performance by the bartenders ensued; a ritual dance that accompany every serving of Agimat's signature cocktail, the "Ritual ng Agimat". Other quirky drinks on the menu includes "Anting-anting ni Malvar", "Gayuman ng Paraiso" and "Agimat ng Sawi" (probably, the perfect drink for myself). Agimat also serve a medley of Filipino cuisine but prepared with a twist.

A short walk away was the Annex House and the Ruins (located next to each other). These are old two-story house transformed into a bar that plays DJ sets on most nights. While during the day, it doubles as an artist co-working space where you can see unfinished canvass of paintings displayed around—if you’re lucky, you can even chance some artists working on their artworks. There is also a small event place where talks are regularly held.

Dee Jae Paeste sharing his stories of creating his art at the Ruins / Annex House *

Wrapping up our fascinating Poblacion Discovery Tour is healthy feast at Cosmic Vegan Restaurant. This is my second time here and each time I still swear about having the best kare-kare here—a vegan kare-kare that is.  We also ordered the vegan versions of the Isaw, Caldereta, a vegan pasta and a couple other dishes.

Vegan Foodtripping with friends at Cosmic Vegan Restaurant on a previous visit

After all that walking and learning additional tidbits about the neighborhood of Poblacion, I’d say we finished our dinner with gusto.  

About Meaningful Travels PH

Meaningful Travels Ph is a social enterprise specializing in organizing cultural and community immersions trip all over the Philippines. Aside from the Poblacion Discovery Tours, they also have a Marikina and Quiapo Muslim Town and Culture Tour. They also organize longer tours to Batanes, Batad, Lake Sebu, Bukidnon and more.

Click HERE to book Poblacion Discovery Tour and to HERE to read the tour Itinerary. 

The Photos with * are courtesy of Meaningful Travels PH