Perhaps the most serious sign that Polilya has been doing well is that they’re running out of glassware. “We started out with 100 glasses with our Engkanto branding on them,” says co-owner Ian Paradies. “We’re down to about 30.”
Polilya is a family affair. Paradies owns the bar with his sister Nina, wife Sandra, and his cousin Alex Colombo. But it’s no mom-and-pop shop. On a typical weekend night, the crowd spills out onto the street, and it becomes difficult to keep track of their inventory. Paradies doesn’t think that everyone who ended up taking home a glass did so maliciously. Perhaps, in the chaos of a raucous night of drinking, a customer may have placed his or her glass in their bag, intending to return it later on but forgetting to do so. But Paradies also confesses to surreptitiously bringing home glassware from his favorite bars. “I can’t really blame them,” he says.
Because Polilya isn’t a bar that simply wants to give people what they’re used to. It is welcoming, but not pandering, more willing to take a slight left turn into the unfamiliar.
Polilya is a place that inspires the kind of devotion that might lead to such petty theft. The glassware is nice, first of all, bearing the moth logo of the brewery that Paradies also runs. And they are filled with some of the best craft beers in Metro Manila. Engkanto Brewery has grown pretty quickly in the last year, becoming one of the most widely available craft brews in the country. Polilya doubles as their public tap room, giving customers a chance to taste all five of their standard styles, plus two or three seasonal experimental brews.
Beer broth mussels served with pita bread, Polilya’s beer sampler “Four O’Clock Flight”
The beer figures into everything else on their rather thoughtful menu. A lot of the bar chow uses it as an ingredient, and the six signature cocktails all employ beer in some way. It should feel like a novelty, but it doesn’t. It isn’t just some gimmick: there is palpable care in the way that all these elements come together, real thought put into how the beer fits into the dishes or the cocktails. It is what gives the lift to the broth in which the mussels are cooked, and substance to the batter used to fry the jalapeño pickles and the fish and chips. In the cocktails, the infusions give interesting dimension to drinks that are already pretty complex and compelling on their own.
Polilya Fire and Tigrita
The cocktail menu was put together by US-based mixologist Priscilla Young, and it’s just one of the best selections you’ll find anywhere. It offers real variety: one may go for the affordable but substantial Blame It on the Heat, a take on a frozen shandy given more heft by the addition of Engkanto’s stout; or one may prefer the wild, exotic flavors of the Tigrita, made with mezcal, tepache, pineapple juice, cilantro, and a dash of their double IPA. Those two drinks represent the ends of a spectrum of complexity (and price) on their cocktail menu. The former is that friendly, frozen drink you can sip on all night, fighting off the muggy oppressiveness of the city, while the latter is the drink you get when you’re ready for something more serious. Mezcal, a spirit still rarely seen on this side of the globe, forms the savory, smoky backbone for this eye-opening cocktail.
And everything between those ends is pretty interesting, too; there’s always something making it a little more special. They make their own blend of whiskies for their Old Fashioned, for example. Their Rum Coke is made with their own cola, and the sweetness is tamed with the addition of their house bitters. The spirits that line the back of the bar feel carefully curated, eschewing many of the popular bottles that people might be looking for. Because Polilya isn’t a bar that simply wants to give people what they’re used to. It is welcoming, but not pandering, more willing to take a slight left turn into the unfamiliar.
Polilya has a brashness to it, a palpable commitment to not just replicating the success of bars past.
And that’s the key difference. A lot of bars have opened up in Metro Manila in the last year, and many of them are good. But Polilya has a brashness to it, a palpable commitment to not just replicating the success of bars past. Everything they serve feels like a friendly invitation into something new, a call to adventure that might lead the thirsty patron into discovering what it is that he really wants in a drink. The answer might just be in the craft beers that they pour, or in the little twists they add to classic cocktails, or in the more out-there explorations present in their signature six. It is no wonder people are stealing their glassware. What’s an adventure without a souvenir?
Polilya is at 5658 Jacobo St., Poblacion, Makati; 0998-998-2017
This article was originally published in the December 2017-January 2018 issue of Rogue.