Friday, June 11, 2010

Bohemian Central: The Cubao Expo

(Photo by Paul Lee)
By Paul Lee

Other than the huge signage advertising its presence on its otherwise nondescript facade along Gen. Romulo St a few blocks away from the Ali Mall, SM Cubao and the Gateway Mall; the Cubao Expo may not be much compared to the otherwise grand hubbub from the other major shopping centres along Araneta Centre. In fact, its former incarnation as the Marikina Shoe Expo still lingers as it looms over the parking lot adjacent to it together with the shoe stores and boutiques that greet the casual observer. Nevertheless that cliché of appearances being deceiving certainly applies the moment one pays a visit to the Cubao Expo.

Though the shoe stores and boutiques are still around, it is what’s within the Cubao Expo that is bound to both surprise and delight even the most jaded of city slickers as well as first-time visitors looking for an alternative venue to the shopping malls surrounding it. With its restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops lining the sides of its U-shaped path; the Cubao Expo has been both one of Cubao’s best-kept secrets and a treat for the discriminating in search for the rare and the unique. In fact some of the stores and galleries occupy so little space that they are easy to miss.

On the other hand there are the establishments that are not hard to miss. Among the not hard to miss spots in the Cubao Expo are the specialty shops that cater to the enthusiasts; they include the Sputnik Comic Shop and the Genshiken anime and manga shop. Complete with its bright green storefront and collection of comic books and graphic novels; the Sputnik is one of the first of the many hard-to-miss establishments in the Expo. Of course the Genshiken caters to many a local otaku complete with a kimono and other cosplay accessories on display that go with its anime related merchandise. Another landmark within the Cubao Expo is the Mogwai Cinematheque restaurant and theatre which has been operating for three years. Owned by screenwriter Eric Matti and named in homage to the character from the classic eighties Joe Dante film; the Mogwai has been the venue for many a cineaste looking for that combination good food, cheap beer and the chance to watch an indie or a classic movie on the second floor in a bohemian atmosphere.

Usually screenings are held almost every weekday though weekends are reserved for special occasions as in the occasional gig. Given its leaning towards avant-garde; the Mogwai has also been a favourite venue for the screening of student films. As one heads down the arc on the right-hand corner one cannot miss the former Art Circle Gallery and the Heritage Shop located adjacent to the Manila Collective cafe and Benelli’s Italian Restaurant. While the artwork collection was enough to catch the eye; a real attention-getter also comes with the owner’s die cast car collection which was there for us to admire and were definitely not for sale. There were more rarities to look around at the moment one takes a flight up the second floor where the Heritage shop sells rare books, magazines, assorted knickknacks and a vast collection of rare vinyl records. Then again rare vinyl records are a common staple in some of the other specialty stores around the Cubao
Expo area; along with plenty of other ‘old tech’ items like film cameras, VHS players and phonograph records, which are bound to draw the curiosity of both the generation that grew up with these gadgets and the simply curious. Sadly both the Art Circle and the Heritage have been scheduled for demolition to make way for an road artery passing nearby and have been closed down as of the writing.

On a lighter note, one can get some good Italian food at Benelli’s which is also another perfect venue for an intimate dinner for either two or a group and afterwards one can drop by at the Manila Collective Cafe for some after-dinner coffee and its excellent apple fritters. Aside from its coffee and apple fritters, another attraction that is bound to get your attention at the Manila Collective is the three-dimensional photo gallery of the Feast of the Black Nazarene as taken by the Collective Cafe’s owner and there are free 3-D glasses the better to appreciate them with. Of course, as one goes leftwards to the other side, there are still plenty of art galleries, boutiques, shoe stores and curiosity shops both holding exhibits and selling their wares. And amidst the bustle of the Araneta Centre, the Cubao Expo is one place where one's curious impulses may be satisfied.

(Paul Lee is a freelance writer. He is currently finishing his master's in creative writing at the University of the Philippines at Diliman).

(Additional pictures from the Facebook page of Cubao Expo).

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