Bar Mathilde Pulls Off Classics With Zero BullshitNovember 3, 2016
Makati is never short of options when it comes to the nightlife—and yet too many of them tend to be too loud, too obnoxious, too overwhelming. Bar Mathilde is the easygoing antithesis to the blaring excessiveness of other taverns in the area—a place where one can kick back, relax, and truly enjoy a good drink with good company.
Named after the street it’s nestled on in Poblacion, Bar Mathilde sits at the perfect midpoint—still close to, but isolated from, the contrived urban-ness of Rockwell. Entering its premises is much like stepping into a friend’s home—couches, low tables, wooden porches and shelves, indoor greenery. Drawing from the idea of porch living—the nature-abundant setup typical of the American South—it’s cozy, but in a sleek and composed fashion. Filled with warm shades, vintage knickknacks, and paper-cut artwork by Lala Gallardo, everything within the space goes easy on the eyes. Simply put: it’s so goddamn chill. You cannot help but immediately feel at home, even before the ever-friendly staff welcomes you themselves.
We met with co-owner Roy Murakami, who had moved to the Philippines just three years back. A serene, collected soul, Roy talks calmly, unhurriedly—but with sure conviction that demonstrates his passion and knowledge on the intricacies of booze and drinking culture. Having lived previously in the West Coast, Roy takes inspiration from his experiences going to bars in San Fransisco. “They were pretty straightforward, but still served up real good quality stuff.” Along with fellow co-owners Borgy Manotoc and Andrew Garcia, he toyed around with the idea of bringing in something similar to our shores. “It was a bit selfish to impose our ideals,” he admits. But those same ideals mirror exactly what this side of Makati needs: a laid-back watering hole that offers respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living.
Bar Mathilde takes a back-to-basics approach, with a selection that’s succinct but hits all the right bases. Their liquor shelf, though not the largest, comes well-stocked with a mix of mid- and top-shelf bottles, including Cazadores – a brand of 100% agave tequila popular in California but surprisingly underrated in these parts. “It’s an easy drinking tequila, a bit on the smoky side,” he tells us. Straight-up sippable, sans the need for salt or lemon, it goes down smooth and ends on a peppery note.
“San Francisco had such an explosion cocktail culture,” Roy shares. “But it was absurd. I’d be spending 20 bucks on a drink and wait half an hour for it ‘cause they’d be doing backflips or whatever”—he winces—“and I’d be like, ‘I’m getting thirsty here.’” Roy harkens back to the classics—the simpler, uncomplicated potations that have stood the test of time. With only ten drinks on the cocktail menu, choosing your poison cannot get any easier. “I don’t want things to have to be an ordeal; keep it simple and good, don’t make me think too much.” But by no means does this translate to settling for mediocrity. Rather, Mathilde puts emphasis on doing these classics well—serving up great drinks that satisfy with “absolutely no bullshit”. While each individual cocktail has its own personality, they all hit that right spot between top-notch and approachable.Straightforward, yes, but never lazy.
Keeping with the ways of the American South, Mathilde leans toward brown liquor-based drinks, using American bourbons and ryes to do justice to these classics. It matters. Consider the quintessential whiskey sour: a good ol’ reliable which, when done right, proves to be more than a sum of its parts. With few components and minimal preparation, good ingredients (and proportions) are key. Mathilde understands this. And they succeed with a beverage with the perfect balance of depth and tang, amusingly served in a glass that’s ‘gender-neutral’ (but nonetheless sexy).
Other spirits come well-represented, of course, for the vehement vixens who simply must have their vodka. The Mojito Mathilde, with Havana Club rum in the mix, carries a good amount of body—but with enough of a crispness and citrusy zest to maintain its vigor. A ‘Proper’ Margarita with Sauza tequila starts powerful and finishes on a clean note, the liquor finding stability in salt and acidity. Their Bloody Mary awakens, its savory complexity captured by an invigorating kiss of heat.
Beer is also treated with respect at Mathilde, with craft variants coming in from local brewery Joe’s Brew. While they currently offer only three options (which they’re looking to add on to once they expand the tap system), it’s their signature brew that catches our attention: a locally made take on California Commons, the first of its kind in the country.
California Commons has roots in steam beer, a style that originally used lager yeast but was made to ferment at warmer temperatures—a necessary adaptation to the warmer climate and rarity of refrigeration in the West Coast, where it originated. The resulting brew—a ‘hybrid’ of ale and lager—has just enough body and a fair amount of bitterness, but a distinctly high level of carbonation that keeps it refreshing and easy to drink. “I think it’s perfect. A lot of craft beers can be too complex or even syrupy at times,” Roy, who used to brew beer himself, confesses. “Or, people would tend to go for the IPA’s, which can be really overpowering.” California Commons, on the other hand, would always be his choice after a hard day of work. “I associate it with finding relief after a long, brutal shift,” he shares.
In choosing the accompanying bites, the Mathilde team wanted to keep things every bit as casual. “We didn’t want food that would be too much of a commitment to eat, like a heavy meal type of thing,” says Roy. But the food is no mere afterthought here, with Chef Inigo Castillo (of Papa Loa fame) at the helm of the kitchen. Combinations are approachable, but well-thought out. We find sustenance in a plate of crostini, zingy with cherry tomatoes, feta, arugula and smoked fish; and smoky pumpkin-chorizo arancini that sings when dipped in the accompanying neapolitana sauce. Perhaps more exceptional is their pizza, with dough that’s made in-house and baked in a brick oven, resulting in a crisp, paper-thin crust brimming with toppings—a breakfast-esque combination of mushrooms, bacon, eggs and arugula, in the case of the Forestiere variant on the table.
Toward the end of our visit, Roy brings out the real hooligan—it’s been hiding in the (liquor) cabinet all along. H.Walker & Sons’ Moonshine—a corn-based modern take on the notorious (and traditionally, illegal) spirit. “It always gets people curious,” says Roy—certainly true for us, but, apprehensions aside, we’ll try anything at least once. I’m surprised for a couple of reasons—1) the distilled spirit goes sweeter and smoother than expected, and 2) I’m still alive and breathing. But it goes beyond that. “Even if people don’t actually try it, it still makes for a great entry point to a good conversation—and that’s kind of the fun of it,” says Roy. “You get people interested, and they get to meet people who might like similar things.”
In the process, Mathilde is also fostering a sense of community but in the way that a teacher is to a student, or a parent is to a child. Which means going past spoonfeeding—e.g., simply going for what sells or what’s already popular. Instead they treat this as an opportunity to stoke our interest, cultivate our knowledge, and awaken the true spirit of drinking in everyone and anyone. Ultimately, what Mathilde represents is genuineness– a real dedication to keep the drinking culture alive.
A laid-back watering joint in Poblacion