below is the MANO'S HELLENIC TAVERN review from best friend Dr. Honrado Palugod, whose 40th birthday we celebrated there (along with the 20th anniv of EDSA 1),
half a year ago this weekend.
It may be of help in your deciding to visit the place soon~~
in his inimitable style,
here's Hon's firsthand account of that night: The Dawning Of My 4th Decade:
HonHon's Odyssey to 40
It was but a thought running hide and seek in my mind, as the weeks counted down into days with the approach of my four-oh. In between schedules the consciousness of its arrival pokes into the psyche like a playful cat – uninspiring one moment, strong and beautiful in an instant. But I had no qualms. I was deadset at least to celebrate it with finality.
And with the same breath of conviction, I wanted to be with my closest family and friends on my 40 th birthday. Minor setbacks though. My wifey and a host of my good friends are in a far away continent, and it was midweek, which practically waters down the list considerably. So I scratched the plan and decided to wait for her return for a double celebration. But Elmo was arriving from the Bicol region to attend a medical convention, and Spanky had a hosting gig in far away Tagaytay. Why not have a mini celebration in this Greek Bar he saw up there, he suggested? And I agreed.
I picked up Elmo from where he was staying, the Hyatt. After a quick goodbye from his wife Ghie and daughter Angel, we were on our way to Cavite, my home province and where I practice my craft, medicine. We dragged on slowly through the traffic, coordinating once in a while with Spanky as we closed the gap to our destination, Manos Hellenic Tavern: a resto a little distance to the left of the famous Tagaytay rotunda, on the way to Picnic Grove.
At last we were in Tagaytay, and we turned left from the rotunda as we were told. Driving slowly, the streetlights disappeared and we were the only car on the road. And then the place hit us, a well-lit place to our left, yet we almost missed it! As Elmo and I entered the taverna, it felt good right away. It was that vibration that you get after leaving your car – this place was built for you, for this one special night it has been waiting for you to enter through the door. That was good omen number 1.
Manos Hellenic Tavern. Tonight, this tavern will be the tabernacle of your four decades, because it holds the sacred cup where the bitter sweet memories has been waiting for your lips, a drink to be brought close to your mouth again, to be enlivened once more and be invigorated by the color, drama, joys, bitterness, sorrows, failures, triumphs – call it what you may, it is the conundrum of the sport of life well played out. And you are going to share this drink with your friends!
Ian, the headwaiter for the night, welcomed us right at the door before we entered. We saw that we were the only customers. "Are you going to stay long?", he asked. We will see, we replied. "Because we're almost closing". Let us start then, we decreed.
We asked permission for Johnnie, a Black dude with a Scottish heart, another long time friend, whose soul we wish to liberate, to sit with us for the night. He said all right and no corkage. Good omen number 2.
There was a beseeching rhythmic song, dancing in the air, carried by guitars – probably sung by a fisherman pining for his love on an isolated white sand beach somewhere in the middle of the azure Mediterranean. Greek music. Good omen number 3.
And behind the kitchen door, the scuffle of activities. Of a kitchen being caressed by loving hands to give birth to homemade possibilities. The smell of freshly baked bread, from the nostrils, to the brain, then to the furnace of your belly. Good omen number 4.
Spanky, my brother and good friend, I feel the eyes of the Hellenic gods, looking down upon us tonight. May your car be Apollo's chariot, and let you fly thither with us, and please, bring not the sun. I wish for this night to tarry longer than its appointed hour!
As usual, Bro. Elmo, ever a trusted friend and ally in our drinking sessions, requested for the ceremonial opening of the bottle. I poured the first amount of the fiery liquid into the earth in commemoration of Bacchus.
Then I ordered the aperitif – SAGINAKI
, a concoction of shrimps baked in feta cheese, fresh tomato juice and olive oil, brought to the table with cuts of the freshly baked bread and yellow butter. Their menu and leaflets claim that they use only Greek Olive Oil. That their feta cheese is freshly made. That they use no preservatives, no sugar because they only use honey, not even MANTIKA, and absolutely no VETSIN
(their literature). I do not know what to say to this. But with the first morsel in our mouths, we were transported to a place by the sea with the kisses of the waves on the sand in our ears.
We wolfed down that first of many servings in the silence that only men satiating their hunger could understand. With each piece of the bread that we alternately dipped into the aperitif or coated with butter, we followed it down with sips of Johnnie the Traveler. Not a word was said in the midst of that early feast! This food is meant to energize us! And it did, in a multitude of means.
When the initial fires in our belly had died down a little, in comes the third party to this play. Spanky was his usual ebullient self. Describing his long 20-kilometer trek up the caldera from Nasugbu where he was billeted for the night.
We transferred to a table by the windows. Flung them all open and hastily, the fresh Tagaytay air skirted slowly into the room. It played mischievously with the white curtains, diaphanous like a lady's skirt in the middle of the Hellenic afternoon. We held them down with blue laces and settled down once more to start the travel together.
We poured the whiskey, clicked our glasses, and emptied our bags of stories into the table like treasures from a great adventure. In between, we picked on grilled favorites to enliven the palate – the pork chops, the chicken and the lamb shoulder were all lovingly cooked to a juicy finish and with a tasty Greek marinade. And surprisingly, it was served with a sliced kalamansi to complement the flavor! Laughter flowed out from us like mirth from some enchanted era. We were the Lost Boys reunited. Carefree, restless, unafraid. We were young again!
In the middle of this celebration, and perhaps, inspired by our company, Es
, gracious hostess and wife of the owner surprised us with a change in music. The first notes from a piano struck us like lightning. The Englishman who played it more than 35 years ago told of how Mother Mary spoke to him about words of wisdom. I raised up my glass, Spanky fell silent, and Elmo closed his eyes …" in my hours of darkness there is still a light that shines on me …"
Half a lifetime ago to this date, we were also together, celebrating the same occasion. On the radio, the sudden silence, and the voice of a revered cardinal calling us to EDSA. We welcomed the news like soldiers being given their marching orders. We were ecstatic. We were young and crazy enough to feel lucky to be given the chance to die for the country. Let It Be
That stoked more charcoal to the fire for that night. And the music kept on coming. And for a while we sang the music of a generation before us, as we enjoy all good music of whatever age. My Fair Share. Blowin In the Wind. Leaving on A Jet Plane. Eye In the Sky. The roller coaster ran on with unfailing energy.
Es rejoined us for a little conversation. She told us that she worked and lived in Crete (surprisingly, pronounced correctly as Kriti) for 25 years where she met her husband Emmanuel aka Manos. Had Manos been there, he would have sat down with us, she said. I like the guy already.
Then she gave each of us a jigger of OUZO
, the famous Greek anise brandy. As is our norm, we raised our glasses, clicked them together for the hostess, the night and our years of friendship, and drank the new liquid. It was sweet and refreshing and had an undercurrent of licorice! And for a change of tempo, she suggested a piece of BACLAVA which is a fillo pastry inundated with rich amounts of walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts sweetened with Greek Honey. Any drinker worth his salt knows too well that a sugary treat serves as a good complement to whiskey. And that BACLAVA – it was moist and succulent and opulent to the tongue, neither left nor right but deadcenter good.
The night wore on and the company stayed. To add luster to a night that we know is for the books, I received two overseas calls. From Agnes, the woman, the wife, My Wife. She, whose absence has felt like a lifetime of isolation. And bradder Ronnie Baylon, breaking all expectations with a serendipitous call from Toronto, finding us once more with a bond that distance and time cannot break. What a night it was. What a night it was.
In one of our breaks, we all stood outside of the tavern to breathe in the ambience of the place. The looming shadows of a church stood in front of us. The cool Tagaytay air blew constantly, making the leaves of the trees sing together in chorus, perhaps in consonance with the magic of the cloudless night, the silent stars, the heavenly food, the soulful music and the eternal spirit of the company.
Eventually, we poured the last amount of the Walker's bottle into our glasses. This was it. The drink that was borne out of four decades of living, of a travel of twenty five years in the company of brothers, of the near cancellation as we weaved through the traffic and up into the mountain, of the late hour of our coming.
As we raised our glasses for the final shot, I could not help but think of absent friends. They have a journey of their own now, but we travel the same road together, that I am certain. Because like this drink, our spirits were bonded in a cacophony of flavors strung into one by the fire of love and friendship. I look around me and they are there, young and unaging, singing and laughing through the musical strands of time.
So ends my time in Manos, so begins my journey into the flowing decades. A story that has not seen its finale, and Manos, a Hellenic tavern on top of a mountain overlooking a lake with a volcano, a trip worth its while for a promise of return and more good memories.