In the middle of Serendra sits a nondescript, inconspicuous bar. It’s devoid of any flashy markings or noisy surroundings that places of inebriation often carry. This is Lit, adorned with nothing but a couple of signs—one to indicate operating hours, the other whether they’re open or closed—and a huge wooden door, serving as an entrance to another world, one that revolves around Japanese whisky.

Inside, Francis Hasegawa, co-owner and the establishment’s whisky and spirits concierge, can often be found standing behind a long wooden bar. A thin-framed and serene bartender, he, too, could also be considered inconspicuous. Nevertheless, what he and Lit bring to the table is an opportunity to appreciate Japanese whisky in its entirety.

Visit Lit for fine Japanese Whisky

This small, cozy watering hole has a very organic feel to it, deviating from the often found contemporary look that bars have while avoiding an old fashioned milieu. Lit, strangely enough, is not that well lit, which adds to the intimacy of the space. Most of the lighting comes from the elegant display shelves behind the counter, shedding light on what is truly important about the place: the whisky. “I feel that the bar is the best spot. It’s easier to talk to the bartender and, of course, you get to see the bottles more closely,” Hasegawa says.

There are familiar Japanese whiskys up on the shelf, those that have become commonplace thanks to high global demand; those Hibikis and the Hakushus housed in their well known vessels are right up there. But then there are also the unique, special editions housed in promotional bottles. Some are cultural, coming in the form of Japanese masks, while others are more playful, like the one shaped like a guitar. Lit perhaps has the biggest collection of Japanese whiskys in Manila right now, which also includes prized possessions such as the Ichiro’s Malt “The Joker,” the last ever made in a series of 53 bottles (all of which were named after playing cards). It is currently valued somewhere between $2,800 to $3,000.

Francis Hasegawa of Lit

Despite such a wide array, Hasegawa treats each one with utmost respect. It’s obvious right off the bat. Crystal glasses and top of the line bar accessories can be seen over the bar. The water, which is used to enhance certain whisky, is filtered through Japanese coal, ensuring the proper hardness and ph level. The ice, they hand carve daily. Here, he stresses the importance of having one’s customer sit at the bar. “The bartender has to be confident. You are naked. There’s nothing to hide because the customer can see everything.” Similar to ramen, tempura, and sushi bars, this is a common trait in specialized Japanese restaurants.

Hasegawa is a staunch follower of authentic Japanese bartending, which means that they don’t simply serve drinks but also gauge and converse with the customers. And conversations often revolve around the drink. He and his bartenders have an encyclopedic knowledge of whisky, so much so that Lit gives lessons on it each month. “It is educational but not looking down. It’s more of sharing information. If we don’t know the background story, our appreciation diminishes.”

Inconspicuous as they may be, both Lit and Hasegawa are great examples of how looks can be deceiving. In their simplicity, however, they are able to elevate their customer’s experience with whisky. Everything else is just noise.

— Miguel Ortega

Photos by JL Javier

Lit is located in G/F Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

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