The little bar that could.
Before the first band comes on, most gig nights have to slouch through a momentary pre-set period of quiet, in which the people come half an hour after the gates open and the general mood is sobriety. This isn’t the case for this particular Saturday night. The basement of Kowloon House Matalino street is already teeming with life and faithful fans have parked their keisters on the floor of Mow’s for the set of the first band, Ourselves the Elves. Because on this night, Mow’s, the little bar that could, celebrates two years in existence.
Tim Ng, the owner of Mow’s and now known as the dude to drink with after the music dies down, remembers how the idea for the bar came to be. “I was drunk in a pub in Ortigas with a friend,” he recalls. “And we were just, like, thinking about stuff to do that time, so we were like, ‘We should open a bar.’ Something like that scene in How I Met Your Mother?”
Mow’s was initially intended to be a jazz and standup comedy place. The bar was named after Tim’s granddad, the jazz aficionado of the family. Comedy nights would eventually come their way, but for the first few months, it was tough. Roy Macasaet, the bar manager and sound guy of Mow’s, remembers the days when they’d have to get showbands for weekdays, and for a time could only pay their acts with food and beer and gas money. “I remember, uso rin yung John Legend song, All of Me. ‘Tas parang, dito ako araw-araw since I do the sound, [and] parang four days a week, sunod-sunod na John Legend. It was not fun.”
It’s weird to imagine Mow’s that way, this bar that students in the north now know as the place where emerging prods can flex, where the beer is cheaper than in most places, where the old Angel’s Burger used to be. I ask Tim at what point Mow’s became a local music oasis. “Salad Days,” he says, without missing a beat.
Salad Days is a production that has been organizing gigs since 2015, and the first Salad Days show happened here. Both Tim and Mariah Reodica, guitarist and vocalist for The Buildings and one of the brains behind Salad Days, remember the night as being different than the usual, and pivotal to the bar’s ongoing narrative. “It was the first time Mow’s had to bring out their tables to make room for the crowd,” Mariah remembers. For those who may have missed the renovations, Mow’s used to be half the size of a classroom and still not too suited for gigs, but a packed event was still a big f***ing deal. “The crowd just kept on growing, and a lot of people who I rarely see at gigs showed up. Aside from it being the first prod we organized, it was The Gory Orgies’ first gig, and The Buildings’ first time to have a moshpit.”
See, it’s stories like this that make a space feel historic before age turns it into a monument. I remember when Words Anonymous held a show here back when the spoken word boom was at its peak — now the group is set to hold a show at the PETA Theater. Preceding the influx of bands and prods, UP students would showcase their thesis films here. Tim recounts an event that might go down as a subcultural memory. “I was drunk here one time, and I remember it was Boldstar playing. They had a song called Pork Siomai. And before they started playing that song, the drummer Marie Jamora,” — yes, that Marie Jamora — “took out a paper bag, she bought a s***load of siomai from upstairs, and started throwing it to the crowd. And there was a moshpit of like, people holding siomai. I’m standing there, I’m really drunk out of my mind, I’m like, ‘What is happening?’” It’s the sort of anecdote you tell your grandkids, in a future where all the cars are floating and you’re listening to Boldstar on a rocking chair.
It’s a nice image that inspires a sense of pride, the notion that Mow’s, whether by way of lucky timing or crazy happenstance, became a bar a certain crowd of kids could call their own. “Mow’s was the first bar that felt like it belongs to our generation of college kids,” Mariah shares. “It was affordable and near our universities, and we’re always excited to play there because the right crowd shows up, and there’s no judgment or any snobbiness. It feels like home.” Other places like Route 196, Saguijo, B-Side at The Collective, they’ve got their own legacies. Mow’s feels like a legacy-in-the-making, its usual crowd the bar’s unofficial historians.