By: | September 24th, 2016


Thursday night found me enjoying a shot of bahalina (a finer version of tuba or coconut wine), a platter of grilled pulutan, and the view of citylights at the Hardin Dagami, the rooftop bar on the seventh floor of Palm Grass Hotel, the Cebu heritage-themed hotel in old Junquera Street. The bar is named after the Cebuano chieftain who fought the Spaniards the second time they came to Cebu in the 16th century. Legend goes that after he killed one of the colonizers, Dagami partied with his men with the severed head of the enemy displayed on a pole.

It was the bar’s opening and I came to join friends try a sampling of native drinks like tuba, lambanog, and kinutil that the bar claims to offer as their main draw to go with rather more gentrified versions of the usual pulutan: humba, sisig, krispy pata, and everything else grilled. A band played covers of Vispop or contemporary Visayan novelty songs on an upper balcony which has old Spanish street lights for illumination.

Promotional videos flashed on the wall across the balcony where the band was playing, turning that concrete wall into a silver screen with the open sky for background. A film buff that I am, I couldn’t help but imagine watching old Cebuano movies on that makeshift screen with a glass of bahalina or Kulafu.

Tuba in traditional glass gallon or the smaller “bol” is displayed along with other native drinks and the usual international selection of booze and spirits behind mirrors on a shelf across the counter designed to look like the hull and gunwale of a caracoa, the precolonial native sailboat usually decorated on the front with a head of a dragon.

But the most unique feature of this rooftop garden is the saltwater pool with water cascading into it from faux rocks covered with plants–real plants, thankfully. So, after a stressful day in the office, you can work the treadmill at the small gym above the bar or you can take a dip in the therapeutic saltwater pool under the sky with a beer or cocktail (all of them named after local heroes) on one hand.

But for a film buff like me, I would prefer lulling myself in that pool with sips of tuba and flashes of black and white Cebuano films like Alyana or Badlis sa Kinabuhi. This would be the ultimate alcohol and movie-induced trip down memory lane, all from the seventh floor of a building.

The Cebuano flicks and the taste of tuba would transport me back to childhood at the time when I would run errands for my strict lola Zula, a tall former baseball team captain who loved to roll her own tobacco and have a late afternoon shot of tuba.

After waking up from siesta under her strict watch, my lola would ask me to walk to the neighborhood sari-sari store to buy tuba to be poured into her rather tall Tupperware tumbler with lid. On my way back, I would open the lid slightly to steal a sip of the red coconut wine. And I soon developed a taste for it, and would soon know if lola would find it a bit too sweet for her taste.

I’m not sure if it was my lola’s tuba or any of my father’s own collection of alcoholic drinks in half-filled bottles displayed on a shelf next to the rather huge stereo turntable that I had my first taste of alcohol as a small child. My brothers and I loved to try sips from my father’s drinks which he shared with my uncles and his friends, mostly comrades in the military during those years of Martial Law. I could still recall some of those bottles now: Remy Martin, Cutty Sark, Old Parr, Johnny Walker, and the ubiquitous Fundador and Tanduay long neck.

But my father also kept a big bottle of local nipa palm wine called pauroy or Gigacuit Rum (named after the municipality in Surigao that produces it until now) whose taste he would enhance by adding some strange barks of native trees and raisins. Years later, he would add a big root of ginseng that he grew in pots. I have since adopted that habit. Every time I go home to Surigao, I bring back with a bottle of pauroy that I also embellish with raisins and ginseng that I now grow in my own little garden.

If I kill a cobra, I’d be happy to add it too. No joke. I tried a similar cobra wine before –dead snake coiled in a big bottle of lambanog–at an artist-friend’s party. I survived though with, perhaps, a little venom in my veins.

I like a good bahalina (which we call bahal in Surigao) but I can’t go beyond a couple shots of it now, much less the richer native concoction called kinutil, where tablea or pure native cocoa and raw eggs are mixed with the tuba. My stomach is much weaker now, I suppose. I’d rather not upset it in the middle of a party, especially when you are on top of a building.

Still, the nostalgia trip that goes with those few sips of tuba is too tempting (as any alcohol by itself is already a temptation). It reminds me of family picnics at the beach where we always had a gallon of that coconut red wine. Today, the next best thing for me is having that tuba while taking a dip in a saltwater pool in a rooftop garden under the same old naked sky. And with no skewered head in sight.