Episode 25: Rediscovering Cafe Adriatico

Much have been said about cafés and the joys of hanging out in such places. Being a café lover myself, I’ve grown accustomed since my Baguio days to hanging out by myself or with friends in coffee shops. I’m particularly fond of places where one can dine or have a cup of coffee quietly while listening to music, have a conversation or two, and other stuff.
Such a pastime is something I rarely found time to do when I returned to Manila. I’m not sure if it was the crowd, the prices, or the ambience that’s stopping me. Or maybe it’s because I found drinking in bars more pleasurable during such stressful, lonely times.
In any case, it took a long time before I started appreciating cafes again. That started when Café Adriatico closed down for a short time.

Just so you know, Café Adriatico was damaged by fire last December. It was a sad day for the place’s patrons who thought another piece of history is gone. I for one thought I would miss out on dining in a famous spot like this. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, because it reopened just several weeks ago.
Café Adriatico is an old-style restaurant at the corner of the Remedios Circle in Malate. The café was founded by restaurateur Larry J. Cruz in 1979. This is one of the most well-known, if not legendary, landmarks in Manila.
Lonely Planet had the right words to describe Café Adriatico: “Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a small and informal restaurant; this Malate legend right on Remedios Circle has good Spanish and Italian food to go along with top-notch people-watching.”

 In the old days, the café was not only a restaurant; it was a meeting place for artists, writers, lovers, and members of the city’s elite, among others. It also housed an art gallery and antique collection.

Café Adriatico retained its old-world look and ambience despite the damage caused by the fire. The interior’s antique motif is still there, from the furniture to the walls. The paintings and photographs from old colonial times still adorn the walls. Classical music plays in the background, adding charm to the surroundings.
The place boasts of a variety of options such as salads, sandwiches, omelets, main courses, fondues and other desserts. Last time I checked, there were Mediterranean items in the menu too.

First on the chopping block is Squid Tactics, cuttlefish deep-fried with brown garlic, green onions, and coated in a sweet and spicy sauce. This, I hear, is one of Café Adriatico’s best sellers.
Next was a bowl of Garlic Soup Catalan, clear, light garlic soup with a piece of bread (instead of croutons) and raw egg.
The main course is Lola Ising’s Adobo Rice, another of their best-selling dishes. The meat is juicy, tender, and falls off the bone. The adobo rice is light and flavorful, and goes well with the atsara and adobo sauce.
Washing down the meal is their signature Tsokolate Eh, an authentic Spanish hot chocolate beverage made manually with a native batirol or wooden mixer. It’s thick, warm, and comforting to the stomach, a must have when you’re hanging out. That came with a slice of tiramisu.

Perhaps Café Adriatico is to the old Manilenos what Starbucks would be to the present generation, except that Café Adriatico has that charm that spans through generations. The nostalgia exuded by its food and surroundings inspire diners and cafe lovers to remember a bygone era in Manila’s history.

It reminds me that Malate was home to a strip of old restaurants, bars, and other night spots that made the district distinct from other places in Manila. (Most of these I might never be able to discover, sadly.)
Aside from the Malate Church, Malate was known for places like Anthology Bar, Library, and other hang-out spots of the rich, eccentric, and popular. Malate is also known as the center of gay night life, and it’s near Ermita, once known as the city’s red light district, but that’s another story.
Café Adriatico is one of the reminders of Manila’s laid-back, bohemian lifestyle. It was a favorite dining spot and meeting ground then as it is now. More importantly, the cafe reminds me of simpler times, days when spending quiet time for myself after a long day was a way of life, just like the Manilenos do.