Ever since I began to pay close attention to the developments going around in the metropolis some 15-16 years ago, Malate was one of the areas that was close to my heart. I was a witness to how the district “boomed” in the early to mid-2000s with the vibrant Baywalk and the bustling nightlife in the area.
I also was witness to how Malate went through a slow and painful decline in the years with Baywalk being shut down and various establishments there either closing down or being taken over by businesses owned by and/or catering to Koreans, one by one. And now, the City of Manila (and Malate in particular) is at the cusp of what is hoped to be a new beginning under a new leadership.
Throughout the changes that have taken place in this storied neighborhood, (for the most part bad, unfortunately) it is comforting to know that there are a few establishments that have weathered these changes and have become constants and revered landmarks in a changing city. One of them is a subject of this particular post, the beloved Malate icon that is Cafe Adriatico.
At this time of writing, Cafe Adriatico is celebrating its 40th anniversary, a remarkable feat for a Filipino cafe-restaurant. Indeed, such longevity may have been far from the mind of its founder, Larry J. Cruz, who just wanted a place where he and his friends can have spirited conversations over good food and wine in a restaurant that reminded him of those in Paris. In fact, he was not a restaurateur or even remotely connected to the restaurant industry. He was actually a journalist by profession who just happened to love food.
It would not take long after the opening in 1979 that the subdued, French Mediterranean-inspired structure at the corner of Adriatico Street and Remedio Circle where Cafe Adriatico is located would become a hip destination of what was then a hip Malate of the 1970s and early 1980s. Part of its popularity was actually due it being a trendsetter. Cafe Adriatico is considered to be a pioneer in what is called the “bistro” dining experience, which is characterized by a small but cozy restaurant atmosphere, serving reasonably-priced food cooked slow or home-style. It is also said to have helped usher in the cafe culture in the country as well, though it took a long while before it would take off in the 1990s.
With the success of Cafe Adriatico, Cruz decided to fully get into the restaurant business with the LJC Group of Restaurants. Under this restaurant company, he would open two more restaurants in Malate: Bistro Remedios and Cafe Havana. Eventually more restaurants were opened outside Malate, including two branches of Cafe Adriatico.
Larry J. Cruz passed away in 2008, but his memory endures in the restaurants he and his company have put up over the past 40 years. His legacy more so endures right at the original Cafe Adriatico, which has largely remained unchanged both inside and out. While it has seen better days and in the midst of the changes and chaos affecting the city these days, it still remains a place to unwind and have spirited conversations over good food and wine, just as how he first envisioned it in 1979.
Indeed, going into Cafe Adriatico is like stepping into an old but familial neighborhood that makes you feel right at a home that you’ve known for so long, a feeling that perhaps resonates more with those who were fond of the Malate they knew 30-40 years ago. Still, the fact that Cafe Adriatico has lasted this long and still teeming with life in the midst of a radically-transformed landscape is a testament to its longevity and its virtual “elevation” as a prime destination in the district.
It goes without saying that Cafe Adriatico has defined the modern Malate landscape in such a way that people have come to associate the cafe with Malate and vice versa. Cafe Adriatico has remained a constant landmark in the midst of the ups and downs Malate has experienced over the past 40 years. Now, with a renewed sense of hope being felt in the city, here’s hoping this iconic cafe will continue to serve as a landmark for revitalized Malate and a revitalized Manila in general.