Renew your artistic passion at this Makati-based book bar

When an event promises a book bar, naturally, you’d be curious. Is it a cocktail bar that has book-themed drinks? A bar that serves books?  

Turns out it’s both and more. Kwago’s newly refurbished Book Bar is part library, part bookstore, part cafe bar. Founded last year by Czyka Tumaliuan, it’s meant to be a “a literary respite in La Fuerza, where writers and different kinds of storytellers and artists can hang out and forget yung mga jobs nila or ideological differences.”

What started out as a simple way to share her love for books has since turned into a full-on mission to tackle decreasing readership. New partner Jean Karl Gaverza tells me that the sense of community is what makes it what is today. “Kwago is more than just the bookstore downstairs. It is a movement for culture, arts and literacy.”

Last Feb. 9, they celebrated their one year anniversary with “Rites of Passage at the Warehouse” in their permanent nesting place in Warehouse Eight. Czyka gave us a tour of the new book bar: a shelf that was made with the help of Arts Serrano of One/Zero Design Collective, multimedia designers Reymart Cerin and Vince África of The Public School Manila and interior designer Jia Cabansag of Altum.

Books and zines from local authors and artists

The special wooden shelf has three sections, all divided by purpose. The rightmost is dedicated to books for sale (an inclusive selection of secondhand titles and original works by local authors and illustrators — I spotted a couple of titles I’d heard about online but never brought myself to order).

The leftmost serves as a library, displaying books and zines from Czyka’s own collection which you’re free to browse through. She highlights the zines and artist books, pointing out a conceptual work by CCP 13 Artists Award recipient Bea Camacho (she bought out ad space in a section of The Philippine Star and left it blank), and a tiny book from an exhibit by visual artist Lesley Anne Cao.

In the middle, you’ll find “A Curated Shelf”, Kwago’s collaboration with Comma, Czyka’s other publishing platform and partnership with poet-curator Roy Voragen. The space is what its name suggests — a platform for us to “understand the many ways we read, write, and publish” with the curated choices of select individuals. Right now, it’s home to books from the collection of new media artist Tad Ermitaño.

And here’s where things get fun: the “bar” part comes in the form of fiction-inspired cocktails picked by Czyka and Warehouse Eight co-founder Kayla Dionisio and Marvin Moreno of Craftpoint. Jokingly, Czyka recalls her motivations for coming up with the drinks. “How do I make people fall in love with literature and reading? You get them drunk.”

Kwago Book Bar serves fiction-inspired cocktails

The cocktail menu includes the Dead Balagtas, a gin and tonic that’s supposed to be “genderless,” the Hemingway, a whiskey, campari, and vermouth concoction, Dark Hours, an espresso and vermouth mix inspired by Conchinita Cruz’s collection of prose, Bago and Babae, a gin mix with some Jager that’s an ode to Rebecca T. Anonuevo’s work, and Perec, which is a curious mix of beer and espresso.

On paper, having all these sub-platforms to handle seems ambitious for a year-old project, but what makes Kwago stand out from the rest is its earnestness and genuine understanding of the local publishing scene. While Czyka confesses that she’s still learning, one thing she’s focused on is cultivating the sense of community.

“If you’ll see our page, a lot of the programs are centered on intimate gatherings like this,” she says. “I think important yung space na hindi masyadong negative. It’s very intimate where they’re free to talk about problems too.”

“Vision ko [originally], library lang. But when you talk to the people, you [realize that you] need to support them,” says Czyka. Because of that, Kwago focuses more on programs and events like Rites of Passage to help independent creators reach the audiences they cater to.

The binyag had talks by the likes of independent publishers Gantala Press and Balangay Press, comic book artist Rob Cham, and visual artist Lyra Garcellano — all of whom stressed the pains of publishing independently and making it as an independent artist.

Hearing them speak about their work and the works that they were passionate about sure was encouraging. Knowing how much work goes into creating art truly does help.



Kwago’s Book Bar is open from Monday to Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. For updates on upcoming events, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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