I have fond memories of old Cubao. My mother would bring me to C.O.D. (at the Araneta Center) every December for its fascinating moving Christmas mannequin play. Weekends will not be complete without a trip to Fiesta Carnival (now Shopwise), where I’d get to try all the rides save for the horror train. And the ultimate spaghetti heaven was Choo Choo Junction (now a BPO across SM Cubao) where an actual miniature train cart would move around the restaurant.
As I grew older, Cubao also evolved. From being the place to be for family gatherings and entertainment, it earned a dark reputation as an area crawling with snatchers and pickpockets. The admonition was to always be careful when riding jeepneys plying along Aurora Boulevard. And in 2013, Aurora-Edsa in Cubao even landed in the Philippine National Police’s top five “hotspots” for street crimes in Metro Manila.
But Araneta Center is now experiencing a renaissance. Simultaneous construction paved the way to modern monoliths envisioned to reshape Quezon City’s skyline. It now houses Novotel Araneta Center, which showcases 417 rooms with world-class amenities. Kia Theater, which rose from where the old icon, New Frontier Theater, used to stand, has an ultra-modern 2,500 seating capacity, dotted with al-fresco dining establishments around its perimeter. At least 10 residential high-rise towers of The Manhattan Garden City have already been completed, with eight more in the pipeline – representing one of the biggest residential projects in the country.
Cubao has indeed regained its lifestyle destination vibe. And Araneta Center has become, once again, a food crawl area.
At Karaoke Pop at Manhattan Parkview, there is no such thing as too-early-for-videoke. From 11 a.m. to 5 a.m., that is. It has 22 rooms that can cater to groups as small as five people to as big as 40 people. Their booze selection is as wide-ranged as their food offerings, which include steamed lapu-lapu, boneless crispy pata, beef adobo, Hawaiian overload pizza, and herbed shrimp pasta. Karaoke Pop’s KTV consultant, Alexander Cruz, said customers could create their own playlist through their tablet-operated karaoke, which he described as “the new generation KTV.”
Across Karaoke Pop is Cab Cafe, a portmanteau of the names of the owners Cynthia and Bobby Magalona, who have been in the food business for almost 50 years now. Cab Cafe, which is originally from Bacolod, is famous for its batchoy and desserts such as napoleones and mango pavlova. But for Mark Magalona, who handles the operations of the restaurant’s Manila branches, the best dessert is still the blueberry cheesecake, which is not too sweet and still has hints of saltiness. Cab Cafe also serves Bog’s Brew beers, which are sourced from Negros Island.
Books and Borders also opened its fourth branch at Manhattan. “With the advent of technology, we wanted to offer a haven for book lovers. Our earliest customers asked us if we could provide them with board games, and we did. Now, most of them would come here to study first, and the eventually play,” said Nancy Go. The motto ‘study hard, play harder’ applies here, with board games ranging from Monopoly, Scrabble, to old-school chess.
But perhaps the most fascinating dining option is Bengal Brew/Wolf & Bear – a cafe for cat and dog lovers. “The most important rule here is to respect the animals. Do not force contact with them,” said Denzil Joshua Tan. Customers can enjoy drinks and pastries while interacting with about 30 cats, including two African servals, and at least 18 dogs – but are discouraged from feeding the animals. “They are on a strict raw chicken diet. We do not serve them cat food or dog food because processed food upsets their digestion,” Tan said.
The old icons of Araneta Center may have long been gone, but the spirit of Cubao lives on – a vibrant spot with a wide range of options for those who would take the time to discover its new nooks and crannies.
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