A nostalgic trip down the strip
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - November 15, 2003 - 12:00am
Driving up Roxas Boulevard from the airport recently sent me back in time. There’s nothing to see of the old Manila Bay along Parañaque and Pasay but on the opposite side, one can spy the remnants of nightclub and restaurant facades now lost amid the gaudy architecture of fast food and Korean karaoke joints. Stretches of the boulevard, except for the renovated Manila portion, now seem lost in urban limbo and destined to suffer the fate of most of our stripped-malled, billboard-infested roads. A pleasant drive, this is not.

Roxas Boulevard had its heyday when it was still called Dewey Boulevard. In the 1950s to the late 60s, this stretch was a picturesque seaside strip that rivaled North Shore Drive in Chicago and the Bund in Shanghai. Flashy Matorco double deckers plied the five-kilometer stretch from the Luneta to the end of Parañaque, where the road ended. But it was at dusk and into the night that Dewey came alive.

Before the era of adult shows and the rowdiness of pre-martial law Manila, Dewey was the place to go for excellent dining and entertainment. The great restaurants, nightclubs and cocktail lounges were found in a string all along the bay. Starting in Parañaque, you had a choice of the Amihan and Bulakeña for Filipino dishes, the Hi Ball for drinks, and the Las Vegas, if you wanted to take a chance on fun and food. All things Hawaiian were also in fashion and so you had places like the Luau and Hawaiian Eye. Finally, for those who wanted out-of-this-world treats, there was the Orbit and the Happy Landing restaurant near the airport.

Moving into Pasay and Manila, the choices increased with Spanish food at Casa Marcos, Patio Flamenco and La Parilla (Guernica’s and El Bodegon were found a block inside on M. H. Del Pilar). For European fare, one went to New Europe, the Swiss Inn. Filipino food was great at the New Selecta (the Old Selecta was located at Azcaraga).

One of the most popular spots on the strip was, of course, the Aristocrat, which was billed as a "restaurant and soda fountain" (though they had stopped serving soda from "fountains"). That palace of barbequed chicken has outlasted presidents, martial law, and the invasion of pre-processed burgers. The restaurant was so successful that it spawned a themed annex called the Safari, which served a "wilder" menu.

The strip also dished out great jazz, dancing and live entertainment to complement fine food. The names are vaguely familiar – Nile, Bayside, Viceroy, D’Wave, El Mundo, La Playa. The hotels on the strip also offered a fascinating array of entertainment as well as (slightly more expensive) culinary fare. Travel guides in the late ’50s boasted that one could get a satisfying lunch or dinner for just $ 2.50!

The hotels frequented in the 1950s were Bayside, Shellborne Arms, Aloha and Filipinas Hotel. In the 1960s came the most prestigious hotel in the Far East — the Sheraton. Built by the Lopezes and designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin, this hotel was the most expensive and best-designed hotel in Asia. It housed the legendary La Concha restaurant and the Calesa Bar, launching pad for a generation of lounge singers and musicians. On the older, established side, you had the Keg Room and the Sky Room at the Jai Alai, the Champagne Room at the Manila Hotel and the Top of the Hilton and 1571 at the Manila Hilton on Isaac Peral (United Nations).

The restaurants and nightclubs on the bay were not the only ones of note. Nearby were other landmarks of dining delight. The world’s best pizzas were offered at Di’ Marks on Menlo St. You could stuff yourself with a foot-long hotdog at the Brown Derby on Taft. There was a Max’s restaurant somewhere and a place called the Bungalow on San Marcelino Street. Nina’s Papagayo, Shelter, Ulog, Le Chevalier, Cucina Italiana, Jade Vine, Golden Lotus and Alba’s were also on many folks’ "A" list. There was something for everyone.

Writing this piece is getting me hungry. A good number of these restaurants are still around, but have migrated, like the rest of us, to the suburbs. The nightclubs devolved into flesh spots in the late ’60s to the early 1980s, before the Lim purge exiled them. What is missing is the complement of the water and sunset view to enhance the experience before and after a meal.

With the final decision on the Amari deal and the lull in real estate development on the rest of the reclaimed area, maybe it’s time for planners and government to look at reviving our bayside drive. This should extend what Manila has built – extending this public amenity along the edge of the CCP, in front of the Westin, and all along the several parcels of reclaimed PEA-sold land. Theoretically, this can extend to Cavite! Imagine how much more enjoyment we can get out of this millennium-old resource of water, sea air and sunset if only we plan early enough and implement consistently enough. Maybe our children will be able to, like we once did, enjoy our wonderful seaside.
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Feedback is welcome. E-mail the writer at citysensephilstar@hotmail.com.

ALOHA AND FILIPINAS HOTEL AMIHAN AND BULAKE ARCHITECTURE LEANDRO V BAYSIDE BROWN DERBY CALESA BAR CASA MARCOS CHAMPAGNE ROOM CHICAGO AND THE BUND ROXAS BOULEVARD
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