Located in the courtyard of Maria Orosa in Malate, Manila, Destination: Heaven is said to be bringing the beats back in what used to be the center of the LGBTQ partying in the Philippines.
For many, the courtyard is reminiscent of countless events BED Bar, the previous and the longest occupant of the area, used to hold. After BED closed its doors, the so-called “lost boys of Malate” were left with nothing but an abandoned space.
But it wasn’t long before a group of entrepreneurs, collectively called the Rainbow Group Entertainment Ventures Incorporation, decided to bring Malate back to life. With the help of Che’lu, one of the longest running LGBTQ clubs in Malate, and The Library, largely considered as the pioneer in stand-up comedy, Andrew de Real and Paolo Alimagno resurrected the nightlife in Malate. Thus, Destination: Heaven was born.
It has been operating for more than six months and for a “newly” opened bar, it has been gaining so much traction.
“It’s a big struggle to prosper, especially for a newly opened establishment, but as far as we see things, the (response) of the customers has been satisfactory. And we’re starting to gain new regulars and new faces,” Alimagno, co-owner and operations manager of Red Banana, said.
Destination: Heaven is divided into four different sections: Red Banana, Mint, Zinc, and Azzul.
RED BANANA: RE-IGNITING THE PAST
Twelve years ago, the original Red Banana opened at the corner of Maria Orosa and Nakpil streets. It started a different trend during its time, becoming one of Malate’s memorable clubs.
In its reincarnated state, Red Banana brings back its nostalgic red velvet curtains and its pulsating beats and lights. The interior, on the other hand, differs from the one 12 years ago and from other existing bars in the metro; the finish gives the illusion of being in an ancient Greek establishment and the entire place is illuminated with accent lights.
Aside from the usual cocktail selection and the pulsating dance music played, Red Banana stages production numbers and entertainment spectacles like no other.
“I want our customers to see a well-tailored show. I don’t want them to watch a half-baked show na parang sinalang lang. The other bars and clubs are producing very fabulous shows, we don’t want to be left behind,” Alimagno explained.
Their performers, The Muses, each came from the roster of veteran drag entertainers Malate had during its glory days.
“We didn’t focus on having a lot of go-go boys. It’s all about the performers; our crazy and friendly performers. We always want to have a beautiful show, a different show than the other bars. We see to it that its always a production,” Alimagno said.
And in between sets, patrons can dance to familiar chart-topping music and unforgettable anthems – surprisingly, the memorable thumpa thumpa feel the venue produces before (when it was still BED) is still alive. Though the acoustics and sound system have changed, it’s still present.
MINT: BRINGING BACK NOSTALGIC MEMORIES
The main floor of Red Banana is divided into two, separated by a moving partition – the other side is Mint. For clubgoers who want to lounge for a while before they hit the dance floor, this is the place for them.
“Mint used to stand in front of the alley of the courtyard. The place was small, but it was always full. Mamu Andrew de Real, the owner of Mint, is a very laid back person, and he wants a place where people can just sit and catch-up – and that’s one of the reasons why Mint evolved to a lounge bar,” Alimagno explained.
The décor of Mint dons hexagonal shapes, from its ceiling to its cocktail tables. The interior palette features striking green, black, and white colors.
“This is really a lounge bar, so when you just want to sit down and talk to your friends, or when you’re a bit tired of dancing in Red Banana, you can just stay in Mint,” Alimagno explained. “Red Banana and Mint, they’re beside each other, so they’re counted as one, they just have different branding.”
As the night progresses, after all the drag performances conclude, they open the partition between the two bars – giving the patrons in both areas the same experience.
ZINC: SHOWCASING ONE’S SINGING PROWESS
Zinc is located on the second level of Heaven. It offers a different experience to anyone who wants to showcase their singing talent.
“It’s a music bar. You can also watch live performances of the singers and sometimes some stand-up shows from different people,” Alimagno said.
Aside from being a music bar, Zinc can also host parties to anyone who has an event. Whether it’s a big party or something intimate, the place can accommodate all your needs.
AZZUL: AN OASIS IN MALATE
And on the topmost floor of Heaven is a restobar.
Azzul is nothing like the usual restaurants in Malate, with its blue and white finish, open air dining. It gives foodies an experience like they’re in a “mini-oasis”.
Their menu offers a decent selection of Filipino cuisine for an affordable price.
“We have mostly Filipino fusion dishes, we have Filipino-Spanish, Filipino-Italian… it all depends on what we have for a certain day,” Alimagno explained.
Azzul has also been named as of one of the best rooftop bars in Metro Manila.
MALATE SLOWLY COMING BACK TO LIFE
“When it comes to sustainability, we can sustain this 100%. We are not afraid. We know that we are considered as a new player in this business, but if we will dwell on fear, we will not succeed,” Alimagno said.
He also hinted that they’re in the process of opening a fifth section, so that Heaven continues to get more attention.
It was during its first few weeks when Heaven first attracted the attention of the LGBTQ community when it offered its venue and services to host the annual Pride event free of charge.
“If people, organizations, or anyone who wants to use our place for an event, as long as it’s for the community, we’re all for it. To begin with, we brought back these bars and this place, so Malate will not die, we love this place so much,” Alimagno ended.
Destination: Heaven is located at the Orosa Courtyard in Malate, City of Manila. For more information, visit its Facebook page.