Looks can be deceiving, especially if you’re looking at a building that was built in the 1930s. History will tell you that the Pérez Samanillo Building was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro (the son of painter Juan Luna) and that the ground floor used to be Berg’s Department Store, a once-bustling shopping center. It will also tell you that the structure was damaged during the 1945 Battle of Manila, along with the other buildings on Escolta. But these days, the building now known as First United Building is more than the sum of its parts — so much more.
Located a stone’s throw away from the university belt in Manila, Escolta is actually a pretty interesting place to explore during a long break between classes. Instead of killing time in a coffee shop, why not walk the streets of old Manila instead? You don’t need to know much to be able to make your trip worthwhile. A quick tour of the First United Building is enough to convince you to stay awhile and maybe even plan your next visit, too.
1/0 Design Collective is mostly known for winning the Clark Podscapes Building Accessible and Livable Ecologies competition and for transforming First United’s first floor into a shopper’s heaven. But we know them as the tenants of one of the coolest office spaces in Escolta. Their office at the top of the building is truly Pinterest-worthy and it is said to be the late comedy legend Dolphy’s former office. If you can, visit their office and ask them yourselves. They’re pretty friendly and if there’s anyone who knows the secrets of Escolta, it’s probably those who go there every day. Say hi to the Dolphy standee for us.
While there are many more museums and establishments to visit when in Escolta, you don’t need to look further than the First United Building to find little details to help you fall in love with the Old Manila charm. If you’re up for the cardio, the spiral staircase is already an Insta-favorite on its own. But a quick elevator trip up to the fifth floor can also lead you to the other non-functioning lift that’s straight out of a Wes Anderson film. There’s not much besides the brown panels, green floors, metal stool and speakers playing music that’s probably older than most of us, but it’s the kind of retro look we never really see much of these days. The fifth floor balcony has a great view of both the Sta. Cruz streets and skyline as well.
Admittedly “a home for serious drinkers,” this famous bar in Cubao X finally opens a second branch and interestingly, they choose to do so in Escolta. Besides the quaint design, cozy atmosphere and punchy character (the copies plastered all over the place literally say it all), Fred’s Revolucion actually does drinks well. They have everything from craft beers and whiskeys to their signature cocktails. But there’s really a lot more to its expansion in the southern part of Manila. Fred’s Revolucion easily attracts and becomes a second home for the kinds of creatives that frequent the revived Escolta. Because if there’s anything that can consistently bring people together to this side of town, you can bet it’s something straight from the bar.
The HUB: Make Lab at the ground floor at First United Building is one of the newest curated bazaars in the metro. It houses a lot of local independent shops and is becoming known as a good starting point for young entrepreneurs. From statement tote bags to rare vintage treasures, The HUB is another destination to include in your shopping itinerary.
Gen. Mdse. is like Muji, but so much cooler and craftier. The quaint space is maximized with racks and racks of tea imported from Japan, homegrown barako coffee and plants fit for your next Instagram mission. Local art is also a big influencer on the store’s aesthetic, as they carry zines and postcards from local talents.
It seems that toting a leather item is now a new essential for your sleek Everyday Carry (or EDC, as they call it nowadays). From leather journals to cardholders, Raqsified is a little leather haven in the middle of HUB. They also offer weekend workshops for those who are interested in learning how to make their own leather items at home.
It’s hard to miss Forever Ugly’s store. As soon as you enter HUB, you’re greeted by kitschy totes that say silly things like “Stuffs” and “Pagod na beh.” It’s Internet culture in a tote bag and we’re definitely buying it. They also sell a variety of zines and canvas pouches for your Chickenjoy money.