One of Asia's best bars comes out of the dark in Makati

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Landing a spot on the top 20 of the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016, The Curator was once humbly tucked behind a wine shop. Now, taking pride in their coffee and cocktails, the bar comes out with a new wing, bigger and brighter than before. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I’m sitting inside The Curator with owner David Ong, sipping on an impressive cold brew as he points to the large logo sitting behind the bar, an amalgamation of a coffee cup and a coupe glass.

The logo represents the essence of a bar — coffee and cocktails. “But it’s also an ampersand, which means we also add value for our customers,” Ong explains. The logo is old, but a recent addition to the wall. The bar in front of it is new as well. And somehow, this windowless and dimly-lit establishment dedicated to caffeine and libations seems awfully bright now.

The Curator-5.jpg The Curator's expansion took three months, as it took over the floor space of what used to be the Cyrano Wine Shop. Photo by JL JAVIER

From its lengthy renovation, The Curator has expanded, taking over the floor space of the Cyrano Wine Shop which was gracious enough to give them the place after their departure. Several months ago, the expansion began. “It should have taken two weeks but it became three months … As is always the case,” mentions Ong. They are, however, back in business, although, it did raise the question regarding their status as a speakeasy, since the original location was hidden past the wine shop. “We were never a speakeasy in the first place,” he replies with a confused look.

The Curator-17.jpg The ampersand logo of The Curator graces the wall of the new space. Photo by JL JAVIER

Ong describes the new area as something that’s different and familiar. It’s a description that fits: “The feel of it hasn’t really changed. It’s the same feeling as if you’re in someone’s living room and that person’s making you a drink.” Wood and concrete are still the main elements of the interior with bare floor space, taking on the design of an espresso bar. With tables and chairs absent, customers can find comfort in the surrounding barstools or a cozy corner together with a bench.

As opposed to the inside space, which Ong describes as a cave, the new area takes full advantage of natural light. Glass windows illuminate the entire room without diminishing the intimacy of the place. The walls, which still resemble concrete, are actually Venetian plaster which helps reflect light inside. Despite this difference, its design aesthetics still feel coherent.

The Curator-2.jpg The coffee service has been moved to the front but The Curator's owner David Ong assures that the bar isn’t being divided. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Curator-4.jpg “We were never a speakeasy in the first place,” says Ong. Photo by JL JAVIER

With coffee service moving to the front, Ong says that the bar isn’t being divided. The move is more of a multiplication. “Groups of three or more can make their way inside where the bigger tables are. At night, if we’re full inside, we can also accommodate people out here. If it’s really full, we can make the drinks out here. It goes both ways,” he explains. With more space, the Curator’s customers — specifically their regulars — are probably rejoicing. And as we’re talking, Ong introduces me to one such regular who quickly exclaims, “They’re the best bar in the world!”

With the renovations over, Ong still has additions to make. The first and most obvious one is signage. “A sign will be out there eventually because we’re not a speakeasy,” he stresses. Aside from the additional artworks headed for the bare walls, he’s also including a pay-it-forward system. Inspired by their pay-what-you-want event, he plans to dedicate a wall to list down the names of do-gooders, which will begin with Ong himself.

The Curator 3.1.jpg The bar plans to adopt a pay-it-forward system inspired by their pay-what-you-want event, dedicating a wall to a list of names of do-gooders. Photos by JL JAVIER

It’s one of the things that make The Curator what it is. “It’s relationship building. Barista. Bar owner,” he says. “No matter where they are on the floor, behind the bar or with the guest, it’s really that talaga, that interaction, making a genuine impact on somebody’s day as opposed to just serving coffee and food.”