Tag Archives: Pinoy

Wine-ing on TV Part 1

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Granted, my video editing skills are terrible, but I FINALLY managed to fix the video and upload it to YouTube.

At the risk of sounding too full of myself, here’s my first TV interview talking about my passion, wine.

Part 2 coming soon. Cheers!

 

*Extra special thanks to the fabulous Consul Annette Ablan for the interview, and the wonderful crew of GNN for making me feel right at home. 

Home, Jetlagged, and Procrastinating

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Finally home in Manila. I’m a little exhausted from the flight and forcing myself to adapt to the time difference.

I promise to be coherent enough and come out with something by next week.

Admittedly, some days, I just want to delegate blogging to our Yorkie, Schrumpf.

Oh well. 😉 Cheers!

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Schrumpf tries to blog about wine and fails

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin – Part 2

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“Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning.” 

 

This is a continuation of my conversation with Francis Balbarin, stylish bartender extraordinaire and master of the bun (I mean burgers!).

 

What makes your cocktails yours?

I’m constantly evolving as a bartender. Everyone has different tastes and preferences so I tend to make it up as I go. I try to talk to people at first and ask what their preferences are, whether it’s vodka, gin, whiskey, etc., then

I go from there.

I’ve had so many signature drinks over the years that I’ve forgotten most of them. What I do hate are pretentious establishments. For example, a while ago there was a sudden boom in speakeasies. I’m all for it and the sudden interest in craft cocktails. But (I feel that) it’s more important to try reading guests first, seeing what kind of drinks they could be interested in, and it doesn’t mean the usual, “so what do you feel like having tonight/what are you in the mood for” opening line with a hand flourish and overly theatrical tone. I think this is better instead of pushing drinks down guest’s throats without consulting and asking what their preferences are.

That is part of being a bartender. It’s a skill that’s learned over time. Yes, we are salesmen, but we’re also friends, comedians, entertainers… Or if the situation calls for it, therapists.

Lately though, there’s one drink that I’ve been making where I work that people ask for. It’s fresh muddled ginger, muddled blueberries, vodka, a little bit of spiced rum, and topped off with cider beer. Or sometimes if I see an unusual ingredient that I think can work, I’ll play around with it. I have been playing around with infused spirits for a little bit though. From bacon bourbon, chili infused tequila, ginger vodka to cinnamon and chili whiskey and so on.

 

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Francis behind the bar, and in front of some of his Infused Spirits (available in Burgers and Brewskies)

 

What prompted you to pursue becoming a restaurateur? What’s on the horizon for your culinary career?

I’ve always wanted to own a bar. There were a few times where it almost happened but just fell through at the last minute.

In 2000, I wanted to take a short business management course in Manila while I had a brief bartending stint in the now defunct Club Spoon in Alabang. Unfortunately, all the classes were full and I had to pick another course. There was an opening for a certificate course in culinary arts. I figured, I know how to handle the FOH (edit: FOH stands for Front of the House, or everything a guest can see in a restaurant/bar), I should learn the BOH (Back of the House, most commonly the kitchen, storeroom… Areas in a bar or restaurant a guest wouldn’t see) aspect of things.

I DID NOT know how to cook. AT ALL. Prior to that course I was even scared to hold a kitchen knife.

Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning. Maybe in the future I can finally go to culinary school.

 

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Francis’ Dirty Palmer

 

Based from your experiences, what do you think is the correlation between food and drinks?

They complement each other. The flavor of the drink can both enhance and bring out other flavors in food. It can cool down the spiciness of a dish, or cut down the richness of gooey cheese.

Given that, as a bartender/chef/business owner, it’s our duty to offer that to guests so they can fully enjoy the dining experience. One should not be complacent with the idea of just serving food and alcohol and hope for the best. It is our job to sort of educate them as well in a way, and guide them in what works best with what. We as restaurateurs and bartenders should continue to push the envelope to improve and enhance the guest experience.

 

“I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family.”

 

What have you learned from your experiences, both as a bartender and as a restaurateur?

I’m constantly learning in this industry. From new recipes and ingredients, to different types of people. Not all places are the same, not all people act the same. I’ve seen and served people from all walks of life. I’ve dealt with the 1% and the masses.

The bottom line is the guest experience. As a bartender, you’re pushing drinks based on their personality, sometimes even personalizing drinks for them. I’ve met some really awesome people while bartending and some of those people became really good friends of mine. I made pretty good money while I was at it too.

As a restaurateur, everything is still pretty new to me. Sort of surreal, still. Everything is still a learning experience. At this moment in my career, I’m very fortunate to have met some very talented chefs, restaurateurs, and craft brewers, whom I have been learning a lot from. They have given me precious and priceless advice and continue to do so.

What I can say though is that it’s very important as someone from the BOH to sometimes go out and talk to guests and get their feedback, whether it’s negative or positive. Get to know the guests. They are the reason we are in this business.

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Francis, his beautiful wife (renowned makeup artist Mayone Bakunawa-Balbarin), and their lovely children (photo used with permission from Francis Balbarin, photo by ProudRad)

 

How does your becoming a dad translate to your work as a bartender/restaurateur?

I guess the obvious answer would be motivation. I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family. I became more responsible and more conscientious of what I say to people now, believe it or not. Being a father has given me some sort of “filter” when I talk to rude guests. Anything I say may have repercussions and cost me my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still give a little jab of snarkiness here and there, but nothing compared to what I would’ve said a few years prior.

As far as being a restaurateur, I don’t know. Everything happened after I had my kids. I can tell you that my wife and kids are and always will be my good luck charms.

What I do want to teach my kids, though, are the value of hard work and work ethic. We have, on occasion, had our eldest work at the restaurant as a server. We’ve gone as far as to instruct the staff and management to not give him any kind of special treatment. No phones, no dilly-dallying, he goes on break when they go on break, etc. I even told my supervisors that they’d get into more trouble if they treated him any differently. We would also do this to our youngest son when he’s of age. It’s about instilling and drilling hard work in them.

It doesn’t matter what line of work they get into in the future, I’ve made my peace with the fact that they might not continue what we’ve started. But learning how to deal with guests, coworkers, bosses, will translate into whatever job one might get into in the future. The sense of working hard for what little money that you’ll get at the end of the day and learning how to value that amount is priceless.

Sadly, nowadays, these qualities have been lost on the new generation. They feel like the world owes them something.


I admit that one of the reasons I decided to feature Francis’ story for Father’s Day because his story is what it is: The adventures of a talented mixologist, a promising and creative restaurateur… But above all else, a wonderful, doting (and unbelievably dapper!) father.

To Francis and all other amazing fathers out there, may you and your family be continually surrounded by an overflow of love on Father’s Day. Cheers!

 

 

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin (Part 1 – NSFW)

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“People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?”

 

Snarky people get along well.

Snarky people who enjoy a good drink get along better.

That’s what I thought when I met one of my favorite people, Francis Balbarin: Co-owner of the legendary Burgers and Brewskies (Capitol Commons and Burgos Circle) by day (or 6 months of the year, depending on how his schedule is), talented NYC bartender by night… And an awesomely stylish dad all day long (yes, we even bonded over kicks).

I met him during our Baguio trip where we drank the week away did research on farming and Baguio Craft Brewery.

During the ride to get to a hillside farm, we got to talk… First, about how his fancy orange Nikes would survive the slightly muddy hike (#priorities)… Then, about what he does for a living (both here and abroad).

We got to compare how things are done in the Philippines and in NYC, and his particular disdain (which I share) with the current crop of fresh grads looking to find jobs bartending. This struck a chord with me… After all, I was once upon a time a university professor in one of the best hotel schools in the country.

Here’s the thing: Most kids fresh out of hotel school would boldly go and try to get employment in a bar, boasting about bartending skills when they couldn’t even tell potential employers the alcohol bases of basic cocktails.

But they can flair.

This bothered me.

After the trip, I decided to ask one of my other favorite people for his opinion: Internationally acclaimed, multi award-winning, proudly Filipino flairtender Paul Ceron (also a former colleague of mine in University) his opinion.

Knowing how to mix is the most important (thing), as well as the service procedure and customer relations. Flairing is not a requirement, but there are some bars that require entertainment. I always mention in my seminars that mixology comes first, then bar knowledge and set up… All of that comes first before flairing.”

 

Given that even one of the best flairtenders in the country share our “sentiment”, I decided to really see what’s going on at the other side of the world and get a more detailed insight from Francis himself.

 

How did you get from Bartending to becoming a restaurateur?

It (started with) the typical “move overseas for a chance at a better life” story: The whole family migrated to the States in April ’91 when I was 13 years old.

At 18 I eventually started working at this Filipino club in Astoria, NY as a club promoter/occasional waiter. One day, the owner asked me if I wanted to bartend and of course I said yes.

Little did I know I was going to start that very night because he just fired the resident bartender for theft. Talk about trial by fire. A sea full of people asking an 18 year old for drinks left and right with no experience and knowledge of drinks whatsoever!

*Side note: I actually learned how to pour a shot when I was 9 or 10 years old. We went to a house party with a few of my altar boy friends (yes, I used to be an altar boy) and one of the older ones was a bartender at the Hyatt Hotel. He had set up a mini bar in the backyard where he would make cocktails for people. Curiosity ensued and after a few questions, I was making drinks for people. He also taught me how to pour a proper shot. Naturally, I forgot most of the things he taught me with the exception of the usual Cuba Libres, gin tonics, cape codders, and how to pour from the bottle.

If there were drinks that I didn’t know how to make, I’d ask the guest if they knew what was in them and if I had the ingredients, I’d make them.

On my days off, I took the time to buy books and read about cocktails and proper procedure. Eventually, I got my act together and became very proficient at it.

I’ve tended bar on and off at different places for over 18 years now. I presently work at Dave & Busters in Times Square (whenever I’m in the states). I even won the Stemmon’s Bar Showdown bartending regional championship in 2012, and went on to compete for nationals.

Unfortunately, I lost the competition due to a terrible case of stage fright. At least, I can say that of the 6 competitors, I was the only one that did not know how to flairtend but came close to winning with sheer speed, accuracy, and creativity.

Given all my experience working in bars, it just all made sense that I open one of my own. Two things that I love: a good burger to go along with a really cold one.

So, through numerous R&D and using my friends as guinea pigs, I finally tried (making burgers) during a Manny Pacquiao PPV that my friend hosted in New Jersey in 2007. I decided to do bleu cheese stuffed sliders topped with caramelized onions and granny smith apples and they were a hit. I knew then and there that I had something.

A really good friend of mine asked me to sell them with her at her stall in Salcedo market for a day. She then featured me in her food blog, and eventually a feature in The Philippine Inquirer. That’s when I thought to myself that it could be a pretty solid product and concept: Beer and burgers.

After a few years and few failed attempts at pitching the idea in the hopes of getting investors to finance the project, I finally found a couple of partners who thought the idea could be feasible.

 

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Francis in New York (used with permission from Chris Ordas and Baguio Craft Brewery)

Please share stories about your bartending experiences in NYC.

Where to start? Haha! I could write a book about it (I’m seriously thinking about it!). I’ve been known to post my funny encounters behind the bar. I admit, most of the time I’m snarky with guests, which they actually love. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love being behind the bar: (having the) freedom to get away with saying or doing certain things. It’s part of the bar culture, part of entertaining your guests.

Here’s one: A 6’4” tall, middle aged man that’s about 250lbs went up to the bar and ordered 2 strawberry daiquiris for his wife and himself and proceeded to pay for it. After I made it and handed it to him, he thanked me and said, “Do me a favor, on the next one, can you give it to me in a ‘Man Glass’?” I said, “Sure, dude. No problem. But next time, how about you order a ‘Man Drink’ so I can put it in a ‘Man Glass’ for you”. He looked at me dumbfounded while the people around the bar started laughing. He shook his head and smiled, and gave me a nod that said, “aight, you got me there”.

Here’s another one: Another middle-aged guy arrived with a bunch of other dads and their kids bearing a trophy of some sort. They looked like their kids just won a football tournament or something. So while the kids were playing in the arcade (Dave & Busters is a huge arcade with a big restaurant and a couple of full bars inside), the dads were hanging out at my bar drinking Bud Lights and shots of Jameson. My bar manager and all the other managers were trying to get us to push these alcoholic snow cone type cocktails with a plastic glowing ice cube called “Glo Cones”.

Now, I’m all for selling novelty drinks, but to try and sell to those pretty chill dads was a no-go. One can try, but you still have to pick and gauge whom you can sell it to.

So, my manager asked me if I tried, and I said, “not yet, still trying to feel them out”. He jokingly told me that I “sucked” and proceeded to talk to one of the men and try to sell a “Glo Cone”. I think out of politeness, the guy obliged and bought one. My manager gave me a look of defiance as if to say, “I told you so”.

In turn, I went up to the man holding this ridiculous cocktail while the other dads were double fisting, holding their Bud Lights and shots of Jameson, and sarcastically asked him (within earshot of the manager of my bar manager who sold him the drink), “So, sir, how do you like that girly glowing cocktail of yours?” He said, “It’s pretty good. I tell you my vagina feels a lot better now, thank you very much.”

With a smug look on my face, I looked at my manager, who was sort of embarrassed; I looked at the man then proceeded to give him a high five.

From that moment on, whenever I would sell one of those Glo Cones, they were referred to as “Vagina Cones”.

It really is a fun and interesting profession. I constantly get to meet and know all personalities, all races. Some are nice, some not so nice. (There are) those that tip… Some are more generous than others, some not at all. Some sadly fit the stereotype, while some of them break the stereotype. Over time, I’ve been able to gauge if people will “take care” of me or not. There are even a few guests that will do anything to try and get stuff “comped” (industry speak for not paying at all).

Some of the easiest and best guests to have are those that work in the same industry. They understand the value of your work and are usually pretty chill and low maintenance as long as you do your job and do it well.

 

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Francis in Action

What would you say are the differences in the bartending scene in NYC and in the Philippines?

There are a ton of differences… From the practices to the way things are run.

The goal obviously is to make money and maximize profits. I’ve worked in both the states and here in Manila and I have to say hands down bartending in NYC is much better. Not only is it more fun, you have more freedom, and it gives the bartender and the proprietor a chance to make more money.

For example, bartenders in the States have certain privileges that they can use to make some money for themselves and possibly the company. One of those is called a buyback. Basically, we have the power to buy someone a drink after they’ve bought and paid for several ones. It’s as if to say, “thank you” (to the guest). This makes guests feel welcome and appreciated and in turn, they spend more on drinks in the hopes of possibly getting another buyback. Not only do they tip well, the company makes more revenue because instead of the 1 or 2 drinks that they initially planned on consuming, guests end up buying about 6 to 8 (and get 2 for free). It really doesn’t cost the company a lot of money to give one or two away, and the added sales and revenue for that particular transaction and the possible future transactions from guests who’ll most likely return to the establishment is priceless.

Here’s a suggestion: Most purveyors will give a case or two of free beer (or a couple of free bottles of liquor) with a big alcohol purchase. Instead of just thinking they’re freebies and just sell them as is (totally nothing wrong with that), use those freebies for buybacks or a happy hour specials on slow days. It’s a great way to market the establishment.

People nowadays forget the culture behind the bar. Being a bartender, we not only serve drinks to our guests, but we also make sure that they have fun and enjoy their experience.

I guess that goes for both bartenders and servers, but working behind the bar has certain perks. We have to talk to our guests and try to entertain them. First, the profit margin for alcohol is much higher than food.

That being said, bartenders actually have the power and should have the skills to upsell and/or make them order more. As long as people are having a good time, they wouldn’t mind spending money (or they’re too drunk to keep track of the tab J). Either way, it’s killing 2 birds with one stone: The establishment is making money, and at the same time the bartender is ensuring future sales… Because the more fun guests have, the likelier they’ll be back (and spend more).

Bartenders don’t even have to know how to “flairtend” or anything like that. For me that is so passé. A bartender could be the greatest flairtender in the world but if he can’t hold a conversation, he is useless to me. I’d take a really fast bartender or a really good conversationalist any day.

Then again, to each his own, right?

Think about it: It takes around 5-10 minutes to get a drink in the Philippines.

Bartender gets order. Bartender writes it down. Bartender gives it to the cashier. Cashier rings it up. Cashier puts the receipt in a bill jacket.

Cashier hands it to the bartender. Bartender hands it to guests. Guest pays for it. Guest gets his change. Bartender cracks open guest’s beer, or crappy mojito, or what have you.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the reason for the process: Bartenders want to be as accurate as possible, with the paper trail to back it up. It also keeps theft at bay. But playing with all that process and doing everything by the book sacrifices speed of service and quantity, and more importantly, guest experience. The faster drinks are sold, the more money the bar makes.

This is how we do things overseas: Guest sits at the bar, then orders from the bartender with his credit card or cash in hand. The bartender makes the drink, and then hands it to the guest while taking the payment. The bartender rings it up, then gives the change.

At this point, the guest is enjoying his beer or whiskey on the rocks (or both) in about a minute, tops, depending on how busy the bartender is.

A bartender can do that with maybe 34 customers: take orders and payments, and multi task. At this rate, he could help out about 710 people in about 25 minutes.

Compare that to 1 customer in 5 minutes.

Imagine the really busy clubs here in Manila where people have to go through the same thing. For one thing, the establishments here are overstaffed (editor’s note: I completely agree… Bistros in Europe that could seat 40 people are usually run by an average of 2 people). There are 3 or 4 people behind the bar when all that’s needed are 2 good ones.

The constant backlog of orders due to unnecessary waiting at any given night amounts to thousands of pesos in lost revenue.

People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?

I get that the bar culture here is different. People’s mentality here is different. People see bartenders, servers, or anyone serving them anything and what they see are people that are beneath them. It’s generations and generations of that old colonial thinking. I’m sure there are places here that think like me or are trying to do the same thing and break the mold. But as of now, that’s just my observation.


 

End of part one. Will return for more of Francis in the next installment of this article. Cheers! 🙂

The End is the Beginning…

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“Here I sit halfway to somewhere, thinking about what’s in front of me and what I left behind”

Mr. Big, Goin’ Where The Wind Blows

 

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…is not the end 😉

This song, perhaps, sums up the melancholy I felt when we hung out one last time in Cyrano’s old location.

I know I’m breaking one of my old rules by talking about an establishment instead of the drinks, but I think I’ve covered some of Cyrano’s drinks in a previous entry.

It’s just that I realized, as I looked at all the old familiar faces of the bar’s regulars, that no other place has been such a part of my “wine life” than Cyrano.

Just to give readers an idea on how the place is to regulars like myself, think Cheers… Everybody literally knows your name.

I started going to Cyrano in the middle of 2008, when I was working for a wine company. My then landlord and I decided to hang out, and since his office was in Legaspi Village, he took me to Cyrano.

It was then that I met Cyrano’s resident snarky bartender, Alex, who introduced me to the art of wine. See, I knew a little bit about wine before I met Alex, but he was instrumental in changing my perspective. I would have never perceived wine as a lifestyle without him. To this day, I owe coming up with the conclusion that wine involves gastronomy, culture, geography, and science to him.

Since then, Alex has become such a part of our lives; we even got him to attend our wedding (in his Wallace and Grommet tie).

Here are other things I will never forget from the ultimate neighborhood wine bar:

  • Imogen Heap – I’ve never heard of Imogen Heap before I started hanging out in Cyrano… Alex’s sister was playing it during one of my visits around October/November 2008. Heap’s album Speak for Yourself was still in my head when I met Chad in December 2008, so I will always equate Imogen with good memories (Alex, since then, has disallowed Imogen Heap to be played in the bar).
  • Wine Books – One of the proprietors loaned me a wine encyclopedia when I started to study wine. Unfortunately, the books (along with about 75% of my stuff) were damaged by Ondoy in 2009. The books, however, started me on the path of collecting wine literature (admittedly one of my favorite guilty pleasures).
  • Appreciation for Live Music –We got to watch Nino Alejandro and Lee Grane in Cyrano as they got really famous. It was also great to hear one of our friends, Aia De Leon, play in Cyrano’s “smoking lounge” (which is where Curator is now).
  • Victoria’s Secret – I theoretically knew about Victoria’s Secret’s legendary fashion shows, but Alex started a tradition of watching it in Cyrano since 2012. It then became our equivalent of the Super Bowl.
  • Eurovision – It’s so campy, it’s good. As with Victoria’s Secret, Alex held “public screenings” in the bar for a couple of years.
  • Anthony Bourdain – People reading this blog know about my “hero worship” of Bourdain for his no-nonsense take on food, drink, people, culture, and travel. I actually discovered him during one of Alex’s “film showing” evenings… I remember the first episode I ever saw: It was No Reservations in Naples (still one of my all time favorites).
  • Cyrano’s grassy patch – People have smoked there, passed out drunk on it (and were woken up by the barangay police in the morning), thrown up on it, and even brought dogs there (yep, Schrumpf was there!).
  • The glassware – Here’s a bit of trivia: Alex gets so anal about his glasses that he refuses to use them without extensively wiping off the watermarks. I can honestly say that he has some of the cleanest glassware in Makati.
  • The back of the bar – I felt so at home that I actually served drinks on occasion, and even helped myself to the wines in the refrigerator when Alex got too busy (before they hired Fiona, Alex’s equally catty bartender).
  • The PEOPLE – The moment guests walk in the door, they get introduced to everyone. I’ve met a German wino with a penchant for sweet wines, a woman who loaned me her glass with “Bitch” engraved on it (because it totally suited me), law students studying for the bar exams (yes, over wine), runners, musicians, comedians, businessmen, radio personalities, and Mr. S (a Japanese regular who, unfortunately, drowned earlier this year, RIP).

 

Old regulars marveling at how much our lives have changed made Cyrano’s last night in Legaspi Village particularly sentimental. We realized we don’t hang out until 4am anymore, we don’t drink like fish the way we used to, and we’re in bed by 12 midnight… Totally titos and titas of manila.

To further drive home our age, we decided to play power ballads of the 90s (which is the reason why Mr. Big is stuck in my head). After all, is there a better way to end an era than with lots of food, wine, friends, and belting out songs we grew up to?

Much as we titos and titas will miss the old place, we are also very excited to see it re-open in a different location: Cordova Building along Valero street in Salcedo Village. This should happen in a couple of months, so hey… We are totally looking forward to that. 😉

Cheers!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

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Change in Schedule for our La Vigne de Provence event!

Event is rescheduled on 18 June 2016, 1830, in Le Jardin Manila.

Tickets at PHP 5,000.00+ inclusive of a five course meal prepared by celebrity chef Jonas Ng, paired with gorgeous wines from Provence.

See you there!

*event brought to you by 2shotsandapint.com, Le Jardin Manila, and 2 Big Guys Productions

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Photo courtesy of authenticflavours.tours

Visita Iglesia 2016

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“Pineapple” (juice) and “Chocolate” sold amongst Pinoy street food near San Agustin Church in Intramuros

In the spirit of Holy Week, we are not posting the usual hardcore (and slightly snarky) drink post in our blog.

Instead, in respect to the religious tradition in a predominantly Catholic country, we will refrain from doing so. We will definitely post something after Easter, though. 🙂

That being said, as we are also participating in the traditional Visita Iglesia (a Filipino Catholic tradition of visiting seven churches) and Stations of the Cross in this scorching Manila heat, we would like to remind everyone to keep yourselves hydrated.

See you after Easter! Cheers!