The time is a quarter before midnight as I enter a convenience store at the foot of a corporate building somewhere in the city. Vision hazy from a few too many beers, I am there solely for the purpose of hydration and, possibly, cheap dim sum. A man standing next to the Employees Only door opens it up and points a hand into the dark space. I embrace the invitation to this could-be kidnapping and, three steps later, I’m in what seems like the 7/11 stock room, with piles of instant noodles and Spam cans towering over me. There is music blazing behind the corner curtain, which opens up into a grand semblance of modern ruins.
This is Bank Bar, which is located—where else—in a bank building. The reason for its existence was the desire for the owners to create something, foremost, for themselves. “We broke a rule with the bank in that they say you shouldn’t create something for yourself,” co-owner Abba Napa goes. “That can be a slippery slope and you can run the risk of losing sight of objectivity.” It was a gamble to create a place that might possibly not resonate with other people, but those at Bank have gotten off on the right foot.
While other places have outfitted their interiors and their menu in an orderly and thematic fashion, Bank’s inner workings thrive on organized chaos. There are 10 things happening all at once; overhead, a maze of pipes and wires snake the ceiling, while over at the far end of the room, a low, glass-roofed atrium nests an eruption of smoke within (for the cigarette-wielders). The walls on either side have frames that rise and fall like cathedral arcs, and projected up on one are images that range from Queen Elizabeth II to street art.
The crowd tonight is marinated in a mix of Harlan + Holden and Fred Perry, and those that aren’t seasoned accordingly—myself included—retreat to the bar. Truth be told, this is where the best seats of the house are. Here, you’re in the scene of a movie. Think Stanley Kubrick’s seminal horror film, where you’re Jack Torrance, taking up residence at the Overlook Hotel. The bar assimilates, to a considerable degree, the saloon in which Jack spills out his woes. “You set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em back,” he goes. This is exactly what anyone will want to do after flipping through Bank’s drink list. Cocktails here are as sprightly as the place that houses them. Surprisingly savory drinks are marked by gin with an echo of duck confit or Bloody Mary spiked with a bite of chili vodka. Right next to it, the spirits list reads like a Haruki Murakami novel, long and dreamy with its expanse of gin, vodka, rum, and tequila.
The food list blurs the line between bar and restaurant. Bar chow comes in the form of things like salted egg rock shrimp or lamb and pickings shawarma. Past midnight there are hot meals in anticipation of the next day’s hangover, from tapsilog to pork belly chahan. The winning course is a gloriously greasy yakisoba served ornately in a Chinese takeout box. If you know what’s good for you, order it with the pork barrel chicharon, and dump the pork floss on the noodles.
I find my way out, through stockroom, brightly-lit storefront, then yellow lamp-tinted street corner, and feel instantly removed. From just outside, it’s as if the place never existed. Bank, in the state of its eclectic nature, is the place to be without trying to be, leading the movement that is Manila’s midnight secrets.
Bank Bar is located at G/F RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center, 26th and 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.
This article first appeared in Rogue’s 2015 Design Issue, now available on newsstands and digitally on Zinio.com/Rogue. Get immediate access every month to intelligent storytelling, world-class photography, and in-depth profiles on the country’s influencers for $1 less per issue by subscribing now to Rogue Magazine for iPad, now available on Apple’s App Store.