Rediscovering the eccentric, community-driven compound from our youth
On the cusp of my adulthood, I found a safe space where I experienced life outside the confines of my university. Before Poblacion and its abundance of hole-in-the-walls or Escolta’s revitalized hubs for creatives, Cubao X—also known as Cubao Expo—was the go-to in Quezon City. Beyond the seemingly endless stretch of ukay-ukays and masstige malls, an iconic compound reigned. In the afternoon, it was a place to purchase hard-to-find trinkets; at night, it transformed into an energetic bubble.
Fifteen minutes away from Katipunan, I’d take a bumpy 7-peso jeepney ride daily and ascended towards a dingy Mercury Drug—which I’m certain is decades older than me—a few blocks away from Cubao X in General Romulo Ave. During the summer of my junior year, I became a marketing intern for a young home and lifestyle brand. I, the chipper saleswoman, would urge customers to buy our products; with most furniture pieces costing thousands, it was a near to impossible task.
This was around the onset of social media, when “hipster” was the term for anything that was different or unheard of. “Hipster ka kasi eh,” my friends would tease me. I recorded my day-to-day on a personal blog with my point-and-shoot. I was never a “party girl” but this scene was a reprieve from piles of readings, which awaited me back home. I coaxed myself into this lifestyle; a young and starry-eyed teenager immersed herself into the unknown. I frequented Mogwai Cinematheque, where I watched films on the second floor and Sputnik Comics, with its otherworldly façade designed by the great Leeroy New.
A brief history of Cubao X; discovering the compound with my 7MP digital camera, 2010
Cubao Expo: A Brief History
Formerly known as Marikina Shoe Expo, the space originally showcased products from local shoemakers in the early ’70s. You still find traces of it now, with shabby stores like Janylin spread out in the U-shaped compound. Here, you can score a pair of leather shoes for a bargain. After years of extreme urbanization amid high-rise condominiums, call centers and more shopping malls—as if we needed more—it’s become a hub for creatives with its abundance of art galleries and specialty craft stores.
Apart from the alley of shoe stores, Italian restaurant Bellini’s is a crowd favorite, having been around since 1999. It’s also pretty hard to miss with its vibrantly painted walls. A definite date place—ask your parents; they must have a hazy story there somewhere—for A-listers and the Cubao X regular, it’s become a household name for its fine Italian cuisine.
For a while, Cubao X closed down in the ’90s and re-opened in the early ’00s. Having evolved over the years with its neon-lit corners, discreet pubs and independent art spaces, each store prides itself in a distinct, kooky identity. It’s sustained through a “community-driven effort” from tenants who saw potential in a small space (and for such cheap rent). It’s become a place for live music and weekly celebrations where everybody’s welcome to partake.
A Reimagined Space
The energy is palpable on a busy Saturday night. The smell of vintage furniture wafts in the air; what would Cubao X be without antique stores? Strangers pool over a designated smoking area. Photo enthusiasts whip out their cameras snapping one photo after another. A man is having a solo film screening atop his closed boutique. A healthy mix of families and barkadas gather in quaint restaurants, while buckets of beers are consumed. The eccentric space has transformed through the years, dutifully adapting to the times. But some things have stayed the same.
Cubao X in February 2020
A speakeasy hidden in a photo booth leads to a ritzy secret bar called INT. Bar, with liquor choices named after classic films like La Dolce Vita, In the Mood for Love and Paradise Lost. Dig through crates of hard-to-find records at Vinly Dump, where you can acquire early records from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles and Miles Davis. Give in to nostalgia and spend an hour in The Grand Thrift Shop housing all things kitsch and vintage, from old cameras and coffee books to toys. Katha Lifestyle houses sustainable, zero-waste products and serves coffee at the same time. Visit Jericho Rosales’ concept barbershop, the swanky-looking Talas Manileño Barbershop.
Cubao X remains a classic go-to for an ever-changing crowd in the bustling commercial hub that is Quezon City. More obscure concept stores are scattered amid secondhand boutiques, while some spaces are completely abandoned. Here, regulars relive the best days of their youth in the nostalgia-inducing hub for creatives and non-creatives alike.
Photography Elisa Aquino
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver