Live in Manila: the city’s top music venues

    Music critic Eric Caruncho and musician/producer Francis Reyes pick the bars that crank out live music performances worthy of a Bourne-by-way-of-Manila soundtrack

    By Ces Rodriguez

    Full-room only at 19 East. Photo by Dane Soriano

    When director Tony Gilroy said he chose Manila to shoot The Bourne Legacy because “it felt so Bourne-ish,” he set off a teensy tempest when some objected to his description of the city as “colorful and ugly and gritty, raw and stinky and crowded.” If Gilroy were more laconic, he should’ve just said, “It’s so rock & roll,” and flashed two-fisted devil horns.

    Indeed, all that color and grit roost just as comfortably in Manila’s music scene, where the most exciting musical acts cram into bars and clubs the size of a thimble and blast music that’s nuclear, original, unkempt and never boring.

    Right here, we bring you music critic Eric Caruncho and RockMYX VJ Francis Reyes’ top seven bars and clubs in Manila with the best live music.

    19 East Bar and Grill

    Easily the live-music bar with the most space, best sound equipment, stage area, and parking. Pop shaman Ely Buendia — he of Eraserheads fame – agrees, describing 19 East in a blog post as “probably the best-sounding venue in the whole archipelago and a stone’s throw away from my place.”  The lineup of performers can be eclectic, but it’s always top-notch. It ranges from mainstream pop to folk to jazz to R&B to the usual indie. If you need a break from the music, you can have your dinner and drinks al fresco in the Garden Bar, where food is mostly Filipino.  Sample acts: Side A, Gloc 9, Urbandub, MYMP, Franco.

    Km. 19, East Service Road, Parañaque, Tel +632 837 6903,

    Indie band setting the mood for the crowd at Route 196. Photo by Dane Soriano

    Route 196

    As teensy as SaGUIJO but with a quieter lounge area. Peso Movement, Francis Reyes’ band with former Rivermaya bassist Japs Sergio, plays here, as do indie darlings like Up Dharma Down, Ciudad, Drip and a welter of bands of every rock or alternative persuasion. Plus, the pizza is delicious.

    196-A Katipunan Avenue Extension, Blue Ridge, Quezon City, Tel +632 439 1972,

    The Satellites Band at 70’s Bistro. Photo by Dane Soriano

    70s Bistro

    One of the oldest live-music venues in the city, the popular 70s Bistro is hidden away in a suburban residential QC neighborhood. Beginning as a folk bar, 70s Bistro has seen legends on its stage from Joey Ayala to the Eraserheads and the Jerks. Veteran folk and rock bands hold court almost daily in this much-beloved bar. Parokya Ni Edgar, popular in the Philippines for their novelty songs, still plays here on Mondays and there are occasional specials such as Beatles Nights.

    46 Anonas Street, Project 2, Quezon City, Tel +63927 214 0036,

    Ely Buendia with his Oktaves bandmates performing at Roadhouse. Photo by Abs Abando

    The Roadhouse Manila Bay

    Last September, 35 bands signed up for the first Philippine Blues Competition, the eliminations of which were held at the Roadhouse. Who knew there were that many blues bands in the country? It warms the cockles of rock roots fans. Roadhouse has an obvious biker theme, but the clientele is more than petrol heads. This is a proper venue for sitting down and eating with friends even if you don’t care for the blues. It’s got good food, ice-cold beers and nightly performances from some of the best bands in the country. Sample acts: Bleu Rascals, Brewed, The Dawn.

    SM By the Bay, Mall of Asia, Pasay City, Tel +632 836 7382,

    Indie band playing at SaGUIJO. Photo by Abs Abando


    Indie band haven smack bang in the middle of Makati’s glitzy yuppiedom. It’s oh-so-tiny, but that’s all the better for an authentic Pinoy in-your-face live experience — and anyway, the crowd may spill into the street if it’s a really big night. This is the club to squeeze into for anything grunge, down home, experimental, and avant-garde. Anything goes, with independent groups appearing alongside more established artists, but what’s always a given is that the music will be top-notch. Sample acts: Radioactive Sago Project, Taken By Cars, Paranoid City.

    7612 Guijo Street, San Antonio Village, Makati, Tel +632 897 8629,


    Eric Caruncho

    Eric Caruncho is a staff writer of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He is the author of Punks, Poets & Poseurs, an anthology of his articles on the Pinoy rock music scene of the late 80s and early 90s, a time of creative blossoming for artists like Joey Ayala and the Eraserheads. For more of Caruncho, visit

     Francis Brew

    Francis “Brew” Reyes plays guitar with Peso Movement, a new band formed by Japs Sergio of Rivermaya. He is also a VJ for the TV show RockMYX, a record producer, and a blogger for Yahoo! Philippines. Francis was a member of local rock band The Dawn for many years and worked as a DJ for the defunct seminal radio station NU107.

    Originally published in Inflight Traveller December to January 2013. Updated in July 2015