By Joseph L. Garcia Reporter
“YOUR CONCERN is human rights, mine is human lives,” said the President during his State of The Nation Address on Monday, despite the extrajudicial killings that have come to identify his administration. Earlier that day, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, herself mired with the scandals of her nine-year term, took her seat as the House of Representatives’ new Speaker. Don’t these two events just make you want to take a long, hard drink of democracy?
This reporter trooped to a bar called Demokrasya in Quezon City’s Maginhawa Street as the rains raged and the demonstrators began to pack up. The bar only has an inverted sun as a sign, the same sun depicted in the first official Filipino flag used by the Katipuneros in 1897. The word “Demokrasya” is curiously missing from the bar’s entrance.
Jio Capinpin, the bar’s Operations Manager, welcomed BusinessWorld with three drinks: the Maginoo, the Watawat, and Mi Ultimo Adios. On the side, Mr. Capinpin served homemade longanisa (sausage) poppers which had a pronounced flavor of black pepper and just a tiny hint of aniseed. Mr. Capinpin’s kitchen doesn’t offer much in terms of meals and the bar chow list is quite spartan with the longanisa poppers being the heftiest item. Chicharon (pork cracklings), a streetfood platter, and other such items can also be found on the menu. “Our kitchen is quite small, so for us to make a bigger menu could… be a bit difficult,” he said. The whole bar can fit maybe 30 people, standing up.
Mr. Capinpin is one of the partners behind the bar, which opened just a month ago. He shares the bar’s responsibilities with brothers Ryan and Martti Uy (himself the CEO of, among others. The whole bunch are all below 30 years old.
“Initially, what Martti thought of was, he wanted a place where people can gather and talk… basically have discussions, share ideas,” said Mr. Capinpin.
If one takes a sip of the Maginoo cocktail, a scotch and soda and then some, Mr. Uy’s vision of flowing conversations can certainly come true. The drink has the ease and refreshment of a polished bon vivant, yet has a brooding vein of darkness with the underlying note of whisky.
Speaking of whisky, the bar boasts of its house-blended whiskies: think of it as a second-blended whisky. The Uy brothers are apparently fans of the spirt, and played around with the blended whiskies they had on hand. The result is a drink that tastes familiar, yet conceals several layers of flavor from the different blends that slowly unfold with each sip. It’s quite an experience, and while this reporter tried to play a guessing game with Mr. Capinpin on which whiskies were present in the blend, he coyly refused to name any that went into the mix.
After that, BusinessWorld took a sip from Mi Ultimo Adios, named after the poem national hero Jose Rizal wrote right before his execution in 1896. This one’s a killer with lambanog (coconut vodka), gin, tequila, and rum, with chili peppers as a garnish. The drink’s earthy taste brings to mind parched, cracked earth slowly being revived by a summer rain. However, the worst isn’t over: as you keep sipping, the chilies slowly release their oils, gradually adding heat to the drink until the very last drop, and by then you’re panting for something sweeter.
BusinessWorld then got to work on the Watawat, a drink which has all the colors of the Philippine flag, thanks to dashes of grenadine, then blue curacao. A slice of lemon is used as a garnish to serve as the sun on the flag. As if a commentary on Philippine politics, Mr. Capinpin bade me to stir the drink, which turned the whole thing black. And yet, despite the darkness in the glass, the drink still tasted quite sweet — we’ll hope that’s what it means for the country also.
While this reporter had reservations about the Watawat’s taste, this drink seems to summarize the bar’s concept. The bar is smart and Filipino: not the idealized Filipino in a barong Tagalog, but the real Filipinos out there working and making a name for themselves, with the dignity of the nation’s past propping them up.
Quiet music from Filipino alternative bands of this decade is piped in from speakers, making it easy for me to hear Mr. Capinpin’s next words. “That’s the whole idea,” he said about the bar. “Let’s engage in conversations.” Conversations, he said, are a way of getting ideas, passing information, and gaining new knowledge. With the proliferation of fake news in the country, and even in the world, a long, honest conversation between well-informed people becomes a weapon. “What we really want here is for people to just come here and have conversations that we’re supposed to have.”