the late malate


i knew i was at home the moment i set foot inside cafe adriatico in malate, an ancient (spanish era) two-storey house converted into a restaurant serving mostly home cooked filipino food and a coffee shop.
i luv the vibe, the old world ambiance. the cheerful staff. the helpful security guard.
the place has so much stories to tell, so many ghosts wandering around. in my case, so many memories.
i wouldn't exchange it for any starbucks shop anywhere in the world (except maybe in paris).
it was 3 o'clock this afternoon and it was raining hard.

**********
i sat outside to get a better feel of malate: the smell of dust as the rain gently washes the earth; the street urchins playing under the rain; the watch your car boys helping drivers park their cars; and the cacophony of noises: loud filipino rock music coming from a pedicab; sirens from an ambulance and a police patrol car; the ringing of the bells from the nearby malate church.

ahh, there is no place like it.
having found my table, i ordered my favourite pinatuyong adobo with steamed rice and brewed coffee. i had two.

with the comforting rhythm of the rain in the background, i started reading martin amis's coming-of-age tale set in the 70s (free luv, free dope, etc) in italy -- the pregnant widow.
for a while i was transported to a villa in italy, swimming with 20-year old literature major keith, his two lovely friends -- the promiscuous lily and the naive scheherazade -- plus the openly gay whittaker.


*******
the first time i personally met and shook hands with cafe adriatico was in the early 90s. i was fresh from school and chasing my dream of becoming a political journalist like teddy benigno.
this erstwhile famous tv personality wanted to talk to me about a possible job in her station. she asked me to join her for late lunch (around 2) here.
i have read and heard about it from seasoned journalists, but i was too intimidated to dine here because it was the favourite hang out of cabinet ministers, senators, congressmen, movie stars, models, artists, poets, fashion designers, beauty queens.

i was a cub reporter then assigned to cover the malacanang (FVR aka tabako was the president) beat reserved for veterans in the industry.

in those days (before the asian currency crisis), when the local stock market was on an upswing due to the surge in hot money pouring into emerging markets in the region, business reporters were hot commodities. we were like the IPOs and the local currencies. demand was rising while supply was dwindling. or so we thought.

cashing in on the renewed interest on the philippine economy (especially from foreign investors and wealthy filipinos overseas), most tv stations had their own business shows: channels two, seven, nine and four. and this tv personality was launching her own weekly business magazine show and she needed business journalists to help her out.
i immediately fell in luv with the place. the food. the ambiance. the jazzy music. the old black and white photographs on the wall, the shiny wooden floor, the well polished wooden tables and chairs.
it has not changed since then.
nothing happened on that tv project (i changed my mind about switching to tv), but my luv affair with cafe adriatico had continued.
it was here where i had dinner dates (only the serious ones, take note), where i would get drunk when heart broken, where i would celebrate my birthdays with my two bffs, where i would crash parties by famous celebrities.
i have seen and met a lot of famous people here: dolphy, rudy fernandez, hans montenegro (then the hottest model in town), alma moreno and her cousin isko moreno, to name a few.
i have witnessed a shoot out here while i was having coffee at 4 in the morning (the waiters asked us to hide under the table. but we did not. we preferred to see the action -- a police man firing shots at a criminal on the run.)
it was here where i met the son of a famous politician from the north (then enrolled in a top university) who became one of my fbs.

****
it all came back to me while i was sitting outside, sipping coffee, reading a book and watching the rain. like a 4D movie.
i could not help but long for those days, when even if i didn't have much (i was renting a very small room, eating at turo-turos, riding jeepneys and washing my clothes on weekends), i was truly happy.
the malate that i used to know is now gone. except for cafe adriatico and the nearby cafe havana and bistro remedios, the bars and restaurants that i used to hang out have been closed.
so are the boys who crashed my fragile heart.
but in my mind, they are all there.
all i need is a key to unlock the memories.

(note: third from the last photo was taken from resto's web site)

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