If Padre Burgos were alive today, would he have resented having this street named after him?
Imagine an archer’s bow, and that is what P. Burgos St. is to the bow string that is the main thoroughfare known as Makati Avenue. Stretching less than a kilometer end to end, P. Burgos is a study in contrast. Bounded in the north by Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, a church built in 1620 by the Jesuit Pedro de los Montes, and in the south by a mongrel of a bar café named incongruously “Moulin Rouge”, these two establishments represent the tension that exists between the old and new P. Burgos, which essentially is a tug-of-war between the spirit and the flesh.
To be sure, not all of P. Burgos is debauchery exemplified. From the north, where the Catholic church lies, is a very ordinary neighborhood whose main draw is “Friends and Neighbors”, an eatery established in the 1970’s by Aling Virginia, a Bicolana with a genius for cooking up Filipino comfort food. Also considered a pioneer establishment is “Insular Bakery” which continues to this day as a more sophisticated version of itself with fancier offerings than the mainstay “pandesal” that it started with at its founding in 1967. Between these two local notables, are a string of small business such as a barber shop, a money changer, and an optical store among many others.
South of Kalayaan Avenue, P. Burgos was developing into an entirely different creature altogether. It became the destination of choice for expatriates and tourists, mostly male, out for a good time. Helped in no small way by former Mayor Lim’s crackdown in the 70’s on girly bars and strip joints that lined A. Mabini and M.H. del Pilar Sts. in Ermita, Manila, P. Burgos acquired its reputation as the center of the flesh trade in Makati. Unlike Manila however, Makati was more hospitable to the establishments that mushroomed in response to the booming demand for the unique services that it provided a well-heeled and pleasure-seeking clientele whose plush offices were conveniently close by.
Today P. Burgos, or at least the lower third of it, is a strip of bars, restaurants, hotels, and night clubs that are open 24/7. Amidst the gaudiness are a few exceptional places that people go to not necessarily for sex, drinks or food but for the atmospherics perfect as backdrops for selfies and Instagram posts. The 50’s diner-themed “Filling Station” is a destination that has attracted an enthusiastic following among millennials and Gen Z’s and for good reason. The place is a hoarder’s paradise, filled as it is with relics from the 1950’s be it a Wurlitzer jukebox in one corner, an Esso gasoline pump in another, and where the ceiling meets the wall dozens of signage of motor oil to genuine Ford parts. There’s also a 1960’s Cadillac front end occupying a place of honor not far from a life-sized figure of Elvis Presley playing his guitar.
If not for the influx of Korean businesses and church groups in the early 90’s, the seedier end of P. Burgos would have crept inexorably northward to accommodate a booming trade in entertainment and then some. What the Koreans brought with them as it occupied a stretch of P. Burgos real estate were Korean restaurants, groceries and its Methodist faith which together became a buffer between the conservative north and the libertine south. Today, this stretch of P. Burgos is home to an imposing Korean Methodist church which for the meantime sits next to a cabaret featuring ladyboys in cancan costumes performing chorus girl routines. This juxtaposition is P. Burgos’ equivalent of the Korean demilitarized zone where a thin line separates belligerents in perpetual standoff.
This is what P. Burgos is today and will likely remain the years to come. There is equilibrium here where contradictory forces can coexist peacefully each minding its own business. It is a street shared by priests, shopkeepers, pastors, pimps and street walkers without a trace of judgment or condescension from all sides. In a sense, to the cynics among us, it is the embodiment of liberal democracy at its best.