1919 Grand Café

A Binondo tour continuation.

The streets of Manila will not run out of varieties when it comes to eating houses. Just as there is a diversity in cooking, there is also an assortment as to how you want your food to be served and WHERE. 🙂

In my previous post, I wrote about a simple tofu dish that made us keep coming back for more. Although the flavors of our Quik Snack’s delicacy were not intricate, it was still top-notch. I say food does not have to be presented exorbitantly for it to be enjoyed. Like what we had, nosh can be as unembellished as the chairs we sat in and still be remarkable. BUT for this entry, we dive into the other end of the table – from plain to panache.

We Filipinos love food; we share a fondness for eating that as we try and share new and old dishes, we talk about the next culinary adventure we will take part in. That was what happened during our first food trip on the streets of Carvajal.

We were slathering some sort of special sauce on our tofu when dad announced, “oh you will like our final restaurant! you will thank me that I brought you there.” While we were yet to finish our plate, we were already discussing why our final affair was worthy to be saved for last.

Because this was at the tail end of our itinerary, we only had coffee and desserts to cap off a tiring afternoon. Maybe next time I can write about the actual chow on their menu.

So, here goes the repurpose story. (drum roll please haha)

The 1919 Grand Cafe, ladies and gentlemen. But that is the NOW whose doors opened wide for us as we came in to dine. I first want to indulge you with its former existence as we travel back to 1919, when the construction of the building began. In 1922 when it was finished, people lined up for their financial transactions inside a concrete structure known as the first Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) office in the country. It was also regarded as the first foreign bank in the Philippines.

Like the many architectural designs of that era, it had the Neoclassical Revival Style designed by Architect G.H. Hayward, and built by contractor Oscar F. Campbell.

It’s notable fixture was merry mix of concrete walls and steel bars – an archetypal example of offices in the 1920s.

It was a home not only to HSBC, but upper floors were rented out to Smith Bell & Co. LTD (a representative of Sun Life Insurance of Canada), the British Consulate (after WWII) and the William H. Quasha Law Office (where my grandfather once rendered his services).

In 1971, after HSBC has packed up its backs and left for Makati, it was renamed the Hamilton Building; yet its re-branding did not deny the fact that the building was abandoned and its decaying exterior became a sanctuary for street people.

In 2018, the corner establishment along Juan Luna street underwent a massive overhaul. It was revived, re-purposed and resurrected to what it is today.

At present, when you admire the Grand Cafe in all its restored splendor, you will see the remains of how it was before via the high ceiling, and steel grills.

What was then neglected can be appreciated once again – rooms came alive as people graced its floors and admired its beauty, just as how it should be.

Manila was wise in re-purposing buildings for they have truly given us, the younger generation a chance to revel in places they previously benefited from.

The restaurant also lived up to its name – it was grand indeed. One would marvel at every detail that is heavily illuminated in every corner of the cafe. I must say, it was an experience taking all that it had to offer – from the food to the experience.

1919 Grand Cafe is at 117 Juan Luna St, Binondo, Manila, 1006 Metro Manila

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