Live in Manila: The City’s Top Music Venues

Ces Rodriguez

Photos by Dane Soriano, Abs Abando and Peter Tolibas

When director Tony Gilroy said he chose Manila to shoot The Bourne Legacy because “it felt so Bourne-ish,” he set off a teensy tempest when some objected to his description of the city as “colorful and ugly and gritty, raw and stinky and crowded.” If Gilroy were more laconic, he should’ve just said, “It’s so rock & roll,” and flashed two-fisted devil horns.

Indeed, all that color and grit roost just as comfortably in Manila’s music scene, where the most exciting musical acts cram into bars and clubs the size of a thimble and blast music that’s nuclear, original, unkempt and never boring.

Right here, we bring you music critic Eric Caruncho and RockMYX VJ Francis Reyes’ top seven bars and clubs in Manila with the best live music.

19 East Bar & Grill

Easily the live-music bar with the most space, best sound equipment, stage area, and parking. Pop shaman Ely Buendia — he of Eraserheads fame – agrees, describing 19 East in a blog post as “probably the best-sounding venue in the whole archipelago and a stone’s throw away from my place.”  The lineup of performers can be eclectic, but it’s always top-notch. It ranges from mainstream pop to folk to jazz to R&B to the usual indie. If you need a break from the music, you can have your dinner and drinks al fresco in the Garden Bar, where food is mostly Filipino.  Sample acts: Side A, Gloc 9, Urbandub, MYMP

Km. 19, East Service Road, Parañaque City
Open from Mondays to Saturdays from 5pm to 2:30pm
Tel: +63 2/ 837 6903

Route 196

As teensy as SaGUIJO but with a quieter lounge area. Peso Movement, Francis Reyes’ band with former Rivermaya bassist Japs Sergio, plays here, as do indie darlings like Up Dharma Down, Ciudad, Drip and a welter of bands of every rock or alternative persuasion. Plus, the pizza is delicious.

196-A Katipunan Avenue Extension, Blue Ridge, Quezon City
Open from 6pm to 2am on Tuesday to Thursday, and extends till 3am on Fridays and Saturdays Tel: +632/ 439 1972
For schedules, visit Route 196 Bar on Facebook

The Hydra (formerly Skarlet Jazz Kitchen)

This low-ceilinged club lined with banquettes and outdoor tables for smokers hosts a slew of…everything, including heavy metal, reggae and punk. But it also livens up with performers showcasing the many variations of jazz and the blues, from big band to fusion. Sample acts: AMP Big Band and Unleashed. There are also open mike blues nights here.

Scout Ybardolaza corner Timog, Quezon City
Open daily from 6pm to 3am
Tel: +63927/ 626 4006
For schedules, visit The Hydra on Facebook

70s Bistro

One of the oldest live-music venues in the city, the popular 70s Bistro is hidden away in a suburban residential QC neighborhood. Beginning as a folk bar, 70s Bistro has seen legends on its stage from Joey Ayala to the Eraserheads and the Jerks. Veteran folk and rock bands hold court almost daily in this much-beloved bar. Parokya Ni Edgar, popular in the Philippines for their novelty songs, still plays here on Mondays and there are occasional specials such as Beatles Nights.

46 Anonas Street, Project 2, Quezon City
Open from Monday to Saturday from 7pm to 1:30am
Tel: +63927/ 214 0036, +63919/ 475 4136
For schedules visit 70s Bistro on Facebook

The Roadhouse Manila Bay

In September 2012, 35 bands signed up for the first Philippine Blues Competition, the eliminations of which were held at the Roadhouse. Who knew there were that many blues bands in the Philippines? It warms the cockles of rock roots fans. Roadhouse has an obvious biker theme, but the clientele is more than petrol heads. There’s a proper restaurant for sitting down and eating with friends even if you don’t care for the blues. It’s got good food, ice-cold beers and nightly performances from some of the best bands in Manila. Get warmed up with a bucket of beer and prawn crackers for P300. Unlimited draft beer is P350. Sample acts: Joe Bonamassa, Bleu Rascals, The Oktaves

SM By the Bay, Mall of Asia, Pasay City
Open daily from 5pm to 2am
Tel. +632/ 836 7632
For schedules visit The Roadhouse Manila Bay on Facebook

Malasimbo Arts Festival (Puerto Galera, Mindoro)

Not a music venue and not in Manila, but a three-day annual music and arts festival held every March at the foot of Mount Malasimbo near the beautiful beach town of Puerto Galera, Mindoro Island, Philippines. To get there, take the three-hour bus ride from Manila to the port of Batangas City and a 30- to 45-minute ferry ride to Puerto Galera. The performers are a mix of local artists and invited foreign guests. This year, the legendary Joe Bataan, who invented Afro-Latin funk in the 60s and eventually called it “salsoul,” was a guest performer at the music festival. There’s live music (pop, rock, ethnic), DJs, installation art and cultural workshops. Next year’s event is expected to attract some 6,000 people so preparations are underway to set up two stages 200 meters apart from each other. Usually, Malasimbo features a variety of bands and showcases new artists every year. 

Tel: +63917/ 878 6609 (Olive D’Aboville)


Indie band haven smack bang in the middle of Makati’s glitzy yuppiedom. It’s oh-so-tiny, but that’s all the better for an authentic Pinoy in-your-face live experience — and anyway, the crowd may spill into the street if it’s a really big night. This is the club to squeeze into for anything grunge, down home, experimental, and avant-garde. Anything goes, with independent groups appearing alongside more established artists, but what’s always a given is that the music will be top-notch. Sample acts: Radioactive Sago Project, Taken By Cars, Tarsius

7612 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City
Open from Tuesday to Saturday at 6pm. Gigs start at 10pm
Tel: +632/ 897 8629
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Eric Caruncho is a staff writer of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is the author of Punks, Poets & Poseurs, an anthology of his articles on the Pinoy rock music scene of the late 80s and early 90s, a time of creative blossoming for artists like Joey Ayala and the Eraserheads.

Francis “Brew” Reyes plays guitar with Peso Movement, a new band formed by Japs Sergio of Rivermaya. He is also a VJ for the TV show RockMYX, a record producer, and a blogger for Yahoo! Philippines. Francis was a member of local rock band The Dawn for many years and worked as a DJ for the defunct seminal radio station NU107.

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