The writer Krip Yuson once described it as “the epitome of Swing Scene Makati—as primary a meat market as its prime location.” The location being what was, at that time, Makati’s new prize corporate address: 6750 Ayala Avenue. The bar, its façade of tinted glass panels as minimally chic as the Optima typeface of its name above the entrance doors, stood right smack in the corner of the Glorietta area’s North and Office Drive, conveniently across the circular park where many a drunk expat would take temporary respite in the ungodly hours, and where the bar’s sexual hookups would move to be quickly consummated in the shadows, should the company privileges of the evening’s catch not include a room at the nearby Makati Shangri-La.
We are talking about Giraffe Bar and Grill, of course—or, because “grill” sounds a little too pedestrian in these post-Dencio’s years, simply Giraffe, the most iconic bar of the 1990s: the posh setting to many a high-profile catfight and headline-making brawl, romantic dalliance and sexual tryst, and some of the most unforgettable Saturday nights post-Faces Makati has known. “It was the best thing that came out of the Ramos administration,” wrote Teddy Boy Locsin then. However the inveterate opinion maker may have meant it, it was the FVR years and the economic climate they created—along with its bent on the era’s buzzword “globalization”—that allowed for, and fostered, the kind of sexy, swanky, cosmopolitan world that was Giraffe.
“I would go there seven days a week,” says the artist manager Joji Dingcong, as much a fixture at the bar as R.M. de Leon’s squiggly drawings of the towering spotted animal emblazoned on the establishment’s walls. Dingcong, then line producer for the concerts of Martin Nievera, was a bagong salta from Bacolod thrust into the Manila social scene. He found himself hanging out with a large group of partyphiles that favored the chichi, worldly environs of Giraffe. They were a spirited bunch that included pre-Tatler Anton San Diego, interior designer Anton Mendoza, actor Eric Quizon, man-about-town Pepper Teehankee, the realtor Johnny Velasquez and his partner Maripi Muscat, and a very young, new-in-the-scene Tim Yap who, in those days, would arrive in a serious suit jacket, sometimes bringing flyers for events he cooked up—to the raised eyebrows of the black-clad, snooty badings sipping their vodka tonics by the ramp.
On weekdays, the vibe would go from laidback happy hour to upbeat as the evening progressed, with suits from the nearby Stock Exchange buying each other rounds. But on weekends when the bar became everyone’s last stop, it was a different story altogether. Revelers from Blue Café, Joy, or Insomnia in Malate, from ABG’s in Pasong Tamo or Louie Ysmael’s Venezia around the corner, or from pre-night out cocktails at home or a Consortium rave in some out-of-the- way warehouse—they all converged at Giraffe, filling up a space that would normally only comfortably fit 150 bodies with, well, 150 more. As soon as the clock struck 10, you’d have to elbow your way in—straight ahead and keeping to the left for the gay half of the room, and toward the right for the heterosexual half. This famous divide just sort of happened organically, as they say; there was no formal, official demarcation between sexual preferences there. As the evening soldiered on and more drinks were consumed, everyone mingled with everyone, the entire place an orgy of air kisses and meaningful glances, unfinished drinks and clouds of cigarette smoke (remember smoker-friendly Makati?), touching, and cupping, and pulling of hands for a quick round of sex—or blow—inside its infamous bathrooms. At the bar proper, as the limits of space allowed only for mild swaying, brave souls climbed on top of tables to dance to Gypsy Kings’ “Bamboleo” or Hotdog’s “Annie Batungbakal,” played by the house DJ Eric Maniquis. “Ay, bawal ba, Fritz?” a stunned Erich Edralin would ask Fritz Weber when the latter approached him after alighting from a table by the huge circular pillar. “No,” the operations manager answered. “You should do it. In fact, we encourage you to do it.” The idea being that the table dancing emboldened the women on the other side of the room to do the same.
“For a place without a dance floor,” Larry Leviste once wrote, “Giraffe gyrated like a nervous call girl at 3 A.M.”
Giraffe’s image as Manila’s tony, scintillating nightspot, it must be noted, was already its second incarnation. It began as a fine dining restaurant in May of 1993, under the ownership of Perfecto “Bubut” Quicho; Bill Cammack; Al Tengco; the father and son Felicianos, Mundy and Ting; a couple of doctor friends from Makati Medical Center; and a few other partners. As it turned out, Makati wasn’t on the lookout for another fancy place to have power lunches, surrounded as it already was by a number of chichi dining choices and hotel restaurants with their own devoted following. That it had an inflexible chef—the Grand Hyatt Honolulu import Greg Montañes, a Mexican-American unwilling to compromise his five-star-hotel menu—didn’t help the business. “The food cost was, I believe, about 70 percent [of the menu price], so naturally you couldn’t survive. Since he wouldn’t compromise by using other ingredients, then he had to go,” recalls Weber, who would join Giraffe as operations manager shortly after it switched into a bar.
Faced with what might be a losing business, the owners had to regroup. Quiet dining attracted too small a crowd, and an after-office throng willing to burn some cash couldn’t be ignored, fired up as it was by the smell of prosperity in the air—imagined or not. Malate was having a revival as a party strip, confident in its carefree, bohemian allure. Makati, on the other hand, held on to its stiff, snooty persona. It needed a loosening up, a sense of fun. Or as one denizen graphically put it, “It needed to be fucked in the ass.”
Turning Giraffe into a bar would prove to be an inspired decision. The loosening up would be best illustrated by the old, cumbersome divider making way for a resplendent, gleaming oval bar that encouraged guests to go around it, make friends, form connections. The concept-change didn’t seem palatable to some of the partners, so those not keen on the bar business bowed out, leaving only the five mentioned above to usher the business into its new chapter. Quicho sought out friends willing to bring in fresh capital. He found a savior in Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco, then PLDT chair, who bought all the shares from the owners on their way out.
Almost at the same time it shifted gears, Louie Cruz joined Giraffe as its PR director upon Quicho’s invitation. Son of J.V., the former Philippine ambassador to Britain, Cruz, a lifestyle columnist of Lopez-era Manila Chronicle, he of the off-the-shoulder blouses, was then best remembered for his Halakhakan parties, a series of soirees he organized after the Aquino assassination in ’83.
“The first thing I did was invite the different groups within my circle of friends through a ‘leader’ of each group,” Cruz tells me. “And those groups represent different fields in society: the fashion designers, the business people, politics, people from entertainment.” Impressively connected, the mix of people on Cruz’s first night was any upscale bar’s dream crowd, among them the designer Budji Layug and socialite Eva Abesamis de Koenigswarter. The rest escapes Cruz now. By evening’s end, everyone had a fabulous time, and the owners present, giddy about the turnout, decided dinner and drinks would be on the house. The memorable evening would plant a seed that resulted in each guest returning the favor by patronizing the place over and over, bringing along with them their equally glamorous friends who would in turn spread the word about the new happening hangout.
While the boldfaced names were a necessary ingredient for the bar’s early success, so were the expats who frequented it. “The Philippines then was at its peak economically, so there were a lot of transient businessmen around the Peninsula, the Shangri-La. Most of them, after work, or after a meeting, eventually ended up in Giraffe,” says JR Isaac, a regular.
Their presence would become an essential ingredient in creating Giraffe’s seductive urbane, international vibe. Coupled with society’s crème de la crème—Baby Fores one night, Diana Jean Lopez the next, Cristina Valdez, Doody Tuason, and Menchu Soriano—it was a combination that attracted the rest of party-crazy Manila: yuppies, preppies, the beautiful people of the PMAP, or the Professional Models Association of the Philippines, Burgos girls and discreet call boys, tomboys and trannies, politicos and businessmen, cougars and DOMs, artistas and their cohorts. Cojuangco would bring Gretchen Barretto, who he was then still wooing. Melanie Marquez and Anna Bayle were at one time regulars. Pepe Smith would be seen partying with production designer Don Escudero. Rustan’s’ Nedy Tantoco would walk in with Mario Katigbak. “Where else do you see senators schmoozing with cross-dressers, expats with boy toys, debutantes with movie stars, and PR queen Louie Cruz doing his famous finger lickin’ dance?” wrote Leviste in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
While Giraffe did start its life as a fancy dining spot, only when it was transformed into a bar did the name eventually suit its own skin. “It finally made sense,” says Louie Cruz. “Because it was like a jungle, with all these predators and prey.” Indeed, no other animal could have symbolized the Giraffe world better, itself a creature of beauty, elegance and allure, but also forever sticking its neck out, the better for calling attention and for spotting the night’s would-be object of desire.
“There was really an undercurrent of sexual energy inside Giraffe,” says Dingcong, “so if you stayed late and drank until 3 A.M., or what we call hora de peligro [hour of peril], it was already kind of a free-for-all, choose your own target.” Even one of the bar’s signature songs expressed outright libidinous declaration. Remember Mousse T’s “Horny ’98”? That was a big hit at Giraffe.
Cruz would be the silent witness to the nightly hunter-and-hunted goings-on, watching the proceedings from his elevated corner by the kitchen, his bottle of Fundador conveniently at arm’s reach. Older men propositioning younger women, dusky women exiting the scene with white men, straight boys going home with gay boys. On some weeknights, when there wasn’t much of a crowd, Cruz would send the best-looking man in the room a drink, with the instruction for the waiter not to mention who sent it. The idea being one more drink would make the guy stay longer, encourage him to drink some more, get him going, and with his confidence boosted introduce himself to a lady, or a group of ladies, thinking one of them his secret admirer. Eventually, he would buy them drinks. And everyone, including the cash register, was happy.
“It was always happy in Giraffe,” says Alta Tan, the former model who worked as public relations officer at Faces before taking on the same hat at the 6750 haunt. “Kung may gulo man, naka-publish na ’yon agad, and it’s always talk of the town.”
Read the full story and see more pictures in Rogue’s 2015 Nightlife Issue (December 2015 – January 2016), now available in bookstores, newsstands, and digitally on Zinio.com/Rogue. Get immediate access to Rogue content every month for only $1.99 per issue by subscribing to Rogue Magazine for iPad, now available on Apple’s App Store.
Photos courtesy of Fritz Weber, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, and P.J. Exconde