As a traveler, visiting the most beautiful tourist destinations is just one of the things that I like to do. Among other things, I like to immerse myself in the experience of being in a new place by researching the region’s culture and enjoying as much of the local nuances that I can. Simple walks to the spots where the locals go about their daily lives, like a market or a village square remains one of the most interesting ways that a curious traveler can experience, if only for a day, what it feels like to be roaming the streets like a native resident.
In urban areas, I also check out different bars and restaurants not just for the food, but also to have a good drink (you know, for my research.) Indeed, drinking has also been a huge part of my travels; I like sampling and tasting liquors from different parts of the world, especially cocktails and beer.
Even so, it all depends on my mood. I tend to not want to go if I know that the place would be loud and crowded. I prefer going to quiet or lesser touristy watering holes where I know I can enjoy my drink in peace. Funny that I mention this because recently, I discovered a bar right here in my city that fits the bill. It just so happened that I was recently invited by a gracious friend to a single malt scotch tasting (read the separate article for that event.) and that epic night served as my introduction to this hidden gem called, “Mandalay Whiskey and Cigars” located smack dab in the central business district of Makati.
Finding this bar is a bit of a challenge because it is tucked inside another bar and restaurant called, Belle and Dragon Gastro Pub in Carlos Palanca Street, Legaspi Village. This pub is quite popular in itself. It’s packed with a decent crowd for a weeknight, frequented by the yuppies who go there to dine and drink. I went up the stairs and momentarily got distracted by the people who were seated outside in the open area. As I entered the door, I was politely greeted by one of the staff who I then told that I wanted to go to Mandalay. She led me to the corner of the restaurant, thru a narrow hallway. I followed her, curious about the whole thing. There was no sign of any bar ahead, not even a door.
When we reached the entrance, the staff turned to me and said, “Enjoy your night.” I looked at her wondering if she took me to the right place. Before me stood an unassuming wooden closet. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I opened the closet anyway.
The door was heavy and hanging inside were a line of coats and dresses. It’s dark and quiet and behind the clothes was a thick red curtain.
I stepped in and parted the curtains, revealing a gorgeous bar beyond the closet (cue angel choir singing as background music in my head).
Upon emerging from the veiled entrance, there are two imposing statues of mythical guardian lions standing side by side which quickly caught my attention.
All around the bar, display cases boasted a vast array of single malts and top shelf liquor.
And there are also humidors for cigars. (Former president FVR would be happy!)
It made me feel like that closet was a portal and as I went thru it, I stepped back in time as the interior and the decor is distinguished and vintage in style.
I find the bar to be exceptional and luxuriously well stocked, frequented by Expats and people with discerning taste. The relaxing music, the elegant ambiance, definitely different from the usual pub.
There’s even a back door that leads to a quick exit to the parking lot. I later learned that this is also an alternative entrance for those who don’t want to go through the front.
More than the drinks, what I truly loved about this experience is the atmosphere this whimsical place creates and meeting friendly new people in this secret realm. It was a night of classy drinks and engaging conversations. It was refreshing for me to be in a bar that is free from the noise and the usual crowd and I certainly like the air of mystery behind the concept. I have never been in a speakeasy, thus making this rendezvous all the more exciting for me.
I loved everything about it, the smooth drinks, the feeling that I’ve been transported back in time, and the wardrobe that hides all this; just like entering Diagon Alley.
Mandalay Whiskey and Cigar Bar is a classy secret spot and well worth the effort to find.
History of the Speakeasy:
At the mention of a Speakeasy, I can’t help but imagine the gangster era of the early 20’s and can even visualize the image of Al Capone and his gang in a secret saloon called a “speakeasy”, laughing it up and having a good time drinking their bootlegged liquor while making a load of money at the same time.
The term “bootleg” was believed to have been coined way back during the American Civil War, when soldiers would sneak liquor into army camps by concealing bottles within their boots or beneath their trouser legs. Later in the 1920’s the term was popularized again during the prohibition era in the United States as people sold liquor from flasks they kept in their boot leg all across major cities and rural areas. Nowadays, bootlegging is more than often associated with the production of illegal copies of music or movies.
The National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act was enacted to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition meant the nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages and came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920 until it was repealed on December 5, 1933, with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment.
As all of us who have watched The Untouchables know, crime rates soared under Prohibition as gangsters, such as Chicago’s Al Capone, became rich from a profitable, often violent black market for alcohol. It is estimated that he earned $60 million annually from the bootlegging and speakeasy operations he controlled.
A speakeasy during the prohibition era likely meant that it was a concealed illicit saloon for illegal alcohol distribution and consumption. (a gin joint to get your rot gut, see mister?!) These were hidden sections of an establishment and to enter, one would need to say a password to the doorman so that he would be let inside the clandestine club. The word “speakeasy” came from a bartender’s term: people were supposed to “speak easy” when at a bar, meaning not to draw any suspicion towards buying alcoholic beverages by looking nervous or talking quickly.
Since a lot of people still found the need to indulge in their alcoholic vices even though prohibition was in effect all throughout the country, many citizens were sympathetic to bootleggers, and respectable citizens were lured by the temptation of illegal speakeasies.
Speakeasies were found everywhere in America and Canada. Either established underground, or hidden within stores and other businesses, in every urban establishment you entered, you were most likely not far off from an illegal party. They were most common in New York, especially in between 45th and 52nd street on 5th and 6th avenues, where almost every single building contained illegal liquor. By 1925, in New York City alone, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs. The “21” club in Manhattan, which still stands today, was one of the most famous and secure clubs which could transform into an ordinary looking “dry” place with just one press of a button.
The prohibition era is just a memory now, and so are the illicit Speakeasies. Just as with how other terms of the past like “bootleg” have changed to mean a different thing for us in 2018, The term “speakeasy” is now used to describe legal retro style bars.