Ramblings about food, cooking, recipes, travels, history and walking around Manila.
October 7th, 2018
Our heritage group Chinoylife just finished our annual Mid-Autumn Dice Game held at The Great Buddha Cafe in Binondo. We deliberately scheduled the dice game a little later than usual due to schedule conflicts. After a fun and successful event, my co-founder Mike Lu suggested a little detour before going home (I live in the area)… visit the site of the old HSBC building.
Photo credit: Mike Lu
The old HSBC building went through some restoration and retrofitting the previous year. We initially thought it was going to be demolished, but was relieved to hear about the news that it was set for adaptive reuse. We didn’t really know what the plan was, but waited patiently to see the building restored back to its former glory.
Photo credit: Inquirer.net
The neoclassical building was known in prewar Manila as the first office of HSBC in the country. Before it became the concrete building you see today, HSBC first held office in the former wooden building in 1875.
Photo not mine
The Neoclassic Revival Style structure is located in Juan Luna St. cor. Callejon San Gabriel (now Valentin St.), Binondo, Manila, situated just before El Hogar Filipino Building going towards Pasig River. Built circa 1921-22, the building was inaugurated on September 22nd, 1922 by Acting Governor General of the Philippines Charles Emmett Yeater. The five-storey concrete encased steel structure was designed by Architect G.H. Hayward and built by contractor Oscar F. Campbell. It is said that the bank’s treasury vaults had 40-inch thick walls reinforced by twisted steel bars. The ground floor ceiling is 23 feet high, while the upper floors are six-feet high.
Its unique double finial architectural feature, which highlights its corner main entrance, has been compared by Paulo Alcazaren to Sir Edward Lutyens’ British Colonial Era buildings in the Indian Subcontinent. The lower floors were occupied by HSBC with upper floors leased out to Smith Bell & Co. Ltd., representative of Sun Life Insurance of Canada, among others.
It has been said that Dr. Jose Rizal recommended HSBC for its remittance service in a letter to his brother in 1886. HSBC was also the bank where the Pact of Biak na Bato settlement was deposited.
Photo credit: David Montasco
Fast forward to today, after visiting the site for a year, it’s now finished! We initially thought it would be a hotel, but we’re happy to find out it’s a massive cafe!
So after our dice game, Mike and I asked fellow players, Tommy Tan and Rose Lacson to go with us and check the place out. We realized that the cafe wasn’t really open yet, but I spoked to the manager about opening dates, and their current situation. Not sure if this is an international franchise, I’m not sure what 1919 stands for either… unless they’re referring to the year Jones Bridge was built to replace the old Puente Grande (Grand Bridge).
See the high ceiling?
I met the cafe’s manager Ms. Roselle, andwe were informed that they weren’t really supposed to be accepting walk-in guests. Most especially since the road towards the entrance was dug up without prior notice. (They notified the brgy, but the brgy did not inform the cafe). I saw a post online without further details. The online page didn’t say the cafe was already open (manager told me the person was a companion of one of the guests from a private function), but the fact that he posted photos of the interiors prompted people to walk in.
One of the VIP Rooms
She ushered us to the mezzanine as I asked her about the menu. There are five VIP rooms (named after coffee beans) that can seat 10 people. One of the 5 rooms can be used as a conference room. The mezzanine floor can accomodate around 100 people comfortably, same as the ground floor. She allowed me to take photos of the interiors, except for the altar. As sign of respect, if you ever visit the place, please refrain from photographing the altar on your way to the bathroom.
As it turns out, they don’t have a menu yet. They just go by some set menus, coffee and wine (per bottle) for the meantime. Most of the reservations they get is mostly for the venue (shooting, wedding, dice game?), and the set meals they offer temporarily work for now. But I was told that the cafe will serve fine dining fare.
They’re aiming to focus on developing their menu. The cafe is leaning towards fine dining selections. Steaks and Salmon are some of the mains included in their set menus.
For those who plan to drop by, the management is requesting to avoid walk-ins. They prefer you guys to do reservations (there’s a list, you need to wait for your turn) via WeChat. You have to understand that their service will be affected since everything is not ready, plus the fact they still don’t have a menu to offer will affect ypur overall experience during your visit. After all, we’ve waited this long for a new player in Binondo, let’s give their management a chance to get ready.
Just type their WeChat ID: wxid_19vgg2cqtb2v12
or you could scan this QR Code:
As we went back to Mike’s car, I can’t help but take one last photo of the heritage building… despite the dug up road.
UPDATE: (as of October 31, 2018)
GRAND CAFE 1919 is now open without reservations. 🙂
For now, the cafe is open from 11am to 11pm.
117 Juan Luna St. Binondo, Manila. (02) 4297068