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What NoKal’s closure means for the fate of Poblacion

Erika Villa-Ignacio

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What NoKal’s closure means for the fate of Poblacion
With the rising cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, Marco Viray and his team have to make tough decisions to ensure their other businesses survive the pandemic's massive blow to the nightlife industry

Marco Viray’s voice didn’t waver as he broke the news.

“Just to let you know, we’re actually closing NoKal already,” he admitted. “We just decided. Joe’s Brew is gonna be moving. We’re going to be leaving Poblacion for the time being and we’re going to be joining Pedro Brew Crafters.”

This was a night before NoKal themselves announced the news on Facebook, with an outpouring of sadness from long-time patrons of the establishment. Marco expected this, being one of the part-owners of NoKal, Joe’s Brew, Kampai, and other beloved staples of Poblacion’s nightlife scene. 

The downsizing came at a necessary time. And with the rising cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, Marco and his team had to make tough decisions to ensure their other businesses would survive the pandemic’s massive blow to the nightlife industry. (READ: Abby Binay shuts down Skye Bar for violating quarantine protocols)

The beginning of lockdown

Marco and his team already noticed the sudden drop in visitors and sales of the various establishments they own.

“This was around March, if I’m not mistaken,” he said. “We basically kind of saw a decrease in our sales for the first two weeks. We were expecting that the market was already adjusting with the current pandemic.” 

The lockdown was anticipated by Marco and his team, but the swift closure of their establishments still came as a shock. 

“We were still being very optimistic,” he shared. “I was kinda expecting it to just, you know, pass by. I was thinking at first maybe 30 days, then 60 days at the most, but I never really thought it was going to drag out this long.” 

Pivoting to the new normal

At first, his team decided to simply close what they needed to close while waiting for everything to go back to normal, but this wasn’t going to happen any time soon. 

“We were just basically following whatever the government guidelines were,” Marco said. “The government told us that we can deliver. We can open for delivery. So we pivoted the business to become more like a restaurant.” 

Marco shared that, just like their neighboring establishments in Poblacion, NoKal was still primarily a bar before lockdown hit, and 80 to 95% of their revenue came exclusively from selling beverages. Given this, on their part, they tried to stay relevant by offering delivery services for their food and hosting online events with guest DJs.

“We started with delivery,” he explained. “After that, they said that we can open for dine-in. We tried that also by practicing the social distancing rules. We tried with 30% capacity. And then all of a sudden, we experienced a liquor ban. We tried as much as we could, but even those efforts haven’t yielded us much revenue.” 

Despite this, they started delivering bottled cocktails to cities that allowed such deliveries, and even tried to generate press for their new venture by collaborating with online publications. 

“It helps, but it’s not enough,” Marco emphasized. “For now, all our outlets are still closed.”

Advocating for government support 

“For the guys who are fairly new, I want to tell them not to give up too easily,” Marco said. “Unfortunately, this whole thing happened, which none of us were expecting. It’s different when a business is closing down because it’s not making money. Maybe there’s not much people going. It’s totally different than what we’re facing.” 

To keep himself in check, Marco frequently thinks about the fact that he’s not the only one going through this, and there are many more business owners like him who are in need of even more help. Poblacion alone, a district where the neon-lit streets were often brimming with people during the weekend, has now been reduced to a ghost town.

“The help has to come all the way from the top to the bottom,” he shared. “Meaning for us business owners, we need the help of our landlords. The landlords have to be understanding of the situation. The government also has to look into different sectors and industries, and look at the food and beverage industry as separate compared to other businesses.” 

He stressed that during this time, this industry is especially severely affected. 

“I hope that the government does help us,” he said. “If you’re a new business owner, the best thing to do is to reach out. Make our voices heard. Reach out for help and try to help each other out also. If we’re in need of help, let’s help other people. That’s the only way we can survive this.”  –

Marco Viray and his team’s other establishments remain open. Joe’s Brew is still accepting online delivery orders. 

Erika Villa-Ignacio is a full-time junior copywriter and freelance contributor. When she’s not buried in another book, catch her bringing fantasy worlds to life as a fledgling Dungeons & Dragons DM or advocating for equal rights. Her works have been featured in TEAM Magazine, Purveyr, /ESCAPE, and Cosmopolitan Philippines.

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