We know where the best bars in Manila are at, but where do the bartenders themselves go for a nightcap?

ABV Cocktail and Absinthe Bar isn’t exactly Manila’s best kept secret. It is inside hotdog and burger joint Lazy Bastard, its elevator entrance is fronted by a maitre d’ and a monthly change of passwords for entry – a gimmick for first-timers – but it also ranks 14th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016. Its general manager and head mixologist Kenneth Bandivas is last year’s Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year.

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Where most modern-day speakeasies represent a new breed of sanctum sanctorum resulting in snobbery, ABV differentiates itself as a time warp, bare brick and quilted leather-laden décor aside. Jazz plays on, the lights are dimmed low, and just like in the blind pigs of the Prohibition Era, the bartenders are engaged in conversations with the drinkers.

“Cocktail bars are not where you kneel down to your drink. It’s all about the conversations you have with your friends as you enjoy your drink,” Bandivas says.

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And the bartenders become newfound friends; with your conversations come ideas. Those inundated with the mojitos that lubricated Manila’s cocktail bar scene in its infancy are opting for the gin basil smash, a non-minty modern classic composed of Tanqueray gin, lemon, and muddled basil, served on the rocks. Señorita Marquesa is Bandivas’ best-selling signature drink, a mix of Gran Centenario Reposado tequila, ginger liqueur, lime, agave nectar, orange bitters, and smoked up rosemary – the process requiring presentation – served on the rocks. (Perhaps a prelude to the tiki cocktails they’ll roll out soon, going further down the classics.)

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Bandivas and his team will be more than happy to walk you through the effervescent or the spirit-forward category aside from classic drink of the moment negroni (which they do have), like whiskey sour and old fashioned.

Or tell the bartender how you feel and order off the menu. “We have the largest selection as per variety in the Philippines,” Bandivas notes. Displayed behind glass are about 600 bottles of whiskeys and scotch of every kind and origin, cognacs, armagnacs, over 40 labels of gin, vodka, rum, and tequila. Behind a banquette is liqueur. The absinthe collection, the largest in Manila with 30 labels and a fountain, is kept at the top shelf. The total bottle count is about 800.

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ABV is taking the education game a step further with a masterclass every Saturday afternoon. Participants can learn how to craft cocktails and get discounts for the price of one too many drinks.

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But for those who prefer to enjoy their drinks the old fashioned way – that is drinking ‘til you drop – fret not. They don’t turn on all the lights and move the chairs until the last customer leaves. It’s that kind of place. —Marbbie Tagabucba

Photos by Sonny Thakur

ABV Cocktail and Absinthe Bar is located behind Lazy Bastard, 22 Jupiter Street corner Galaxy Street, Makati.

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