Café by the Ruins has gone to heaven but still no beer
“I have been very, very happy. Mamma always said that
even if there wasn't any happiness one must try to be happy without it.”
– Angela Thirkell, Love Among the Ruins
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – A friend recently took a cab to Café by the Ruins and was brought to Café Dua, its more recently opened branch.
No, she said. I want to go to the original one. But there’s nothing there anymore, she was reminded.
Back when Café by the Ruins was starting, the owners – artists and writers Christine Arvisu, Benedicto Reyes Cabrera (aka BenCab), Baboo Mondoñedo, Laida Lim Perez, Boy Yuchengco, Robert Villanueva, Dave Baradas, Su and Louie Llamado, Santi Bose – would all take taxis to “train” the drivers on where to find the café.
Not only did Ruins become one of the culinary hotspots in the North, it also became the most visited restaurant online in Northern Luzon.
And just like that, after 29 years, the café has called it quits.
“We've decided that we will no longer be rebuilding Café by the Ruins on our original site of 29 years,” said Feliz Lim Perez, among the “second batch” of owners who took over after their parents.
“I do not recall life without this space. Many major events in my life have revolved around the café and the people connected to it,” she added.
The end started on April 30 when a fire hit the roof of the second floor of the dining area. There was an announcement in front of the café that it would open soon, but then it didn’t – something about how the rent getting too high that there’s no point in coming back. Now, the owners are looking for new ruins to rise from.
How it all started
The ruins used to be the old house of Hubert “Phelps” Whitmarsh, a British correspondent for the American magazine Outlook who settled in Baguio, which he called “God’s country,” in the early 1900s. The house was bombed during World War II and was part of the Arvisu compound until the artists took over in 1988.
The first years were fun. The owners took turns as waiters and cooks. Much like Phelps, who championed Igorot arts, the place became a meeting place, art gallery, drunken boat, dap-ay, and performance art space for the artists.
One of the cherished treasures of the café was a napkin where it was written: “Laida dear: Dropped in but neither you nor Bencab was around. And no beer! Love, Nick.” Yes, Nick Joaquin was able to get his beer, but at Laida’s house.
The café also got in trouble with the animal welfare groups for its pinikpikan. But they had since patched up and the traditional Igorot stew became a mainstay.
Ruins was put on the map after the July 1990 earthquake, when the artists set up a soup kitchen and fed the Baguio’s dazed and confused residents.
Right after that, the Baguio NGO Congress was hatched in the café and for the first time, the civil society groups came up with their vision for the Baguio they want.
The owners brought back the soup kitchen in September 2009 when Typhoon Pepeng hit Benguet and Mountain Province. Beyond feeding, the owners gave the typhoon victims pigs to raise, starter pails to clean and clear their homes with, and vetiver grass and trees to stabilize their land.
Closing a chapter
Through the years, Ruins became the favorite place for art exhibits, film showings, and book launches. The Cordillera News Agency held their amateur singing show there. The UP Writers Workshop held their poetry readings there. Yason Banal once staged his marathon performance art centered on a giant ice phallus.
The café’s distinct menu expanded to the point that the owners were able to come out with a best-selling culinary book.
And now, the café’s book has to be closed.
“This will be a difficult adjustment for us, as I am sure it will be for many of you. Much love to all and thanks for coming along on this amazing ride. We're moving forward and looking for another space to build our home,” said Feliz.
For now, the owners have set up a memory wall for habitues to post their photos and notes. You can see them online through #cafebyetheruins. – Rappler.com