Jubilee with tapuy: 25 years of Café by the Ruins
The former Baguio Governor's mansion was bombed in World War II , leaving nothing but the iconic ruins the Café was named for. Now it continues to be a Baguio landmark, a tourist favorite and a local haven.
Recent renovations have expanded the Café into two storeys, adding a staircase, more dining areas and a roomier kitchen. A freshly finished mural by local artist Solana Perez dominates the main wall: a lavish depiction of ocean, mountain and sky.
Despite the changes, the crucial elements that have made the Café a tourist and hometown favorite remain. The dap-ay, the traditional community meeting place, remains. A combination of natural and reclaimed materials create the cozy, unique ambiance the restaurant is famous for.
The atmosphere and the home-grown goodness that defines the menu and cooking distinguish it from the other restaurants in Baguio. The Café partners follow a strict philosophy about food: organic, locally sourced, and delicious.
It's a rare humid night when the 25th anniversary came. The air around the place was electric and the funk jazz music of local ensemble Sky Dive Academy spilled into the evening. Tonight, for the first time in years, Baguio's favored musical sons and daughter sessiOnroad were playing.
Café partner Celestina "Tann" Arvisu bustled about as more and more customers spilled in from the street to take part in the night's festivities.
"We wanted a different band and a different sound for our 25th," she explained. "We wanted it to be special and I thought that bringing sessiOnroad back to Baguio would be the ticket."
The local band hit it big on the national scene with hits like "Suntok sa Buwan" and "Cool Off" and the last time they performed in Baguio was in 2010.
The April 4 party was the culmination of a slew of activities that included food writing and photography workshops earlier in March. The café also hosted food demos featuring restaurateur Adelaide Lim and Master Chef Team member Chavi Romawac.
That afternoon, the staff, partners and guests held a cañao to thank the gods and ancestors in the traditional Cordillera way. Traces of ash from the traditional roast remained, although most of it had been kicked up by dancing feet.
SessiOnroad peppered their playlist with upbeat covers ranging from the Beatles to No Doubt, saving their original hits for last in their two sets, much to the delight of enthusiastic party goers.
It wasn't just the band that made the night. The featured beverage was the traditional tapuy or rice wine and almost every table had a bottle, accompanied by platters of the café's favorite dishes like the fish roe pasta and kesong puti with basil appetizer.
The entrance fee netted guests crispy chicharon platters and free beers. We drank and toasted to our fond memories between the walls.
"A girl broke up with me right there," someone casually mentioned. "By the table near the back. That's my favorite memory in the Café."
"I've been going here for years," a photographer confided. "It was one of the first vegetarian-friendly places in Baguio at the time – where you could eat out, anyway."
Over the years, the Ruins has hosted more than break-ups and vegans, including exhibits for established and up-and-coming local artists. It is currently hosting “sabaw,” soft sculptures by poet and painter Cez Nunez.
The Café has a lot in store for the future, Tann says. "We plan to branch out the concept of the café. We can't branch out the Café by the Ruins, because the walls are as important as the name. I mean the spirit of the café, the taste of home cooking, everything from scratch. No cans, no bottles, no preservatives, no additives."
Until then, the Ruins remains a part of everyday Baguio, a haven for food, for art and for gathering around the dap-ay. For some of us, returning to the Ruins is an everyday celebration. – KDM, GMA News