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Initiate, don’t appropriate

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It was a dusty, unpolished area (still is). When we announced our opening on our FB page, many (oh so many) millennials asked: “Saan ang Escolta?” What

How a person reacts to something new and audacious says a lot about their character.

We opened the second branch of our dive bar Fred’s Revolucion in Escolta in 2016, before all this hype about the Escolta Block Party and reviving the Queen of Manila Streets came about; we opened alongside The Den, arguably the best coffee shop that side of the Pasig, and creative makers’ space The Hub.

It was a dusty, unpolished area (still is). When we announced our opening on our FB page, many (oh so many) millennials asked: “Saan ang Escolta?” What. Now, Escolta is hip. It’s cool. It’s lit.

ONE of our barmen putting up décor before Fred’s in Escolta opened in 2016. JOSE ENRIQUE SORIANO

But then, people didn’t believe we could survive. “Does this earn?” said one Malate resident, who claims to be an advocate for the revival of Manila, yet chooses to invest in another city.

“You have to earn XXXXX every week or else you’ll have to close!” decried yet another business genius, who came by one night and sneered with disdain at the thin crowd.

And my favorite, from an aging Escolta habitue: “I’ve been telling people nga, this is my idea. I’ve been here since forever! May tambayan na ako. I want my own seat at the bar. Ako lang makakaupo diyan.”

I don’t much mind the doubts and put-downs, we’ve been in business two years and are full almost every night. When we say we believe in something—in this case, Old Manila, and all that can be rediscovered about her—we put our money where our mouths are.

What irks me more are those who believe they have a right to something, anything, just because they were there first.

It’s an irritating quirk, this rush to claim ownership or expertise over something or someone, because you experienced them (or so you think) before anyone else in the room.

It’s almost as irritating as people who, upon learning that you went to this or that store or restaurant, say, “Oh! I know the owner.” It’s right up there with people who give unsolicited travel advice. “You’re in San Francisco? You have to have tea at The Rotunda!” Uh, yeah, been there. I’ve been to Toronado, which is a cult destination even for locals. Everyone is just so eager to let you know how well-traveled they are.

HISTORIC east-west street of Escolta, Manila.

If we were to follow this guy’s reasoning, then we owed special seats to everyone who’s been hanging out at Escolta since the 16th century. My father, who worked in the PNB headquarters in the ‘70s, would have a leather-lined couch and his own bartender, if dives were still his thing. His memories certainly go beyond the idea-appropriating fellow’s. Papa recounts Marquina, with its giant crabs from Sorsogon and M.Y. San restaurant, right beside PNB, that offered “good breakfast food a la Pancake House now.” He also remembers “a hidden resto behind PNB, same alley as Smart, (called) Kentucky, where dining cubicles were curtained. Draw-the-curtains-dessert with your date,” he says, with a small laugh. “Stock and customs brokers, movie producers, businessman etc. were Escolta-based so they’d have their afternoon delight there.” There were after-work drinks at Wah Yuen and Savory, now burnt down, at the foot of Jones Bridge. Deals made with movie producer Jun Dominguez, whose CTD Productions was located in Burke Building.

DETAIL of the wall behind the bar in Fred’s Revolucion in Escolta. JOSE ENRIQUE SORIANO

It’s an irritating quirk, this rush to claim ownership or expertise over something or someone, because you experienced them (or so you think) before anyone else in the room.

Why does this sort of appropriation offend me so? Because memories, presence, nor proximity to the said place or person holds no worth in the bigger, progressive scheme of things. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, yes and so are good intentions. You can record yourself saying “save the Pasig!” or “save El Hogar!” ad nauseum, but until you’re willing to plunk down time, money and energy—and yes, a bit of fight—into building more value for the place and community you claim to love so much, then shut it.

Lesser minds appropriate, greater minds and braver hearts initiate. This is why I’m so fiercely protective of The Den, The Hub and the people behind it. People may still question why we do what we do, but that’s just it. We’re doing. Not just “thinking about it,” or retreating back in the safety of our memories and demanding a seat at the table.
Erratum: Consuelo David—not Constancia Conde, as I mentioned in last week’s column—was Sen. Arturo Tolentino’s first wife and my landlady’s grandmother. Apologies.

The crowd during a recent Escolta Block Party, usually held every May and November of each year.  Jose Enrique Soriano

Feedback is welcome at [email protected].

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