Bulakena Restaurant

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Bulakena was a famous Filipino landmark filipino fusion family restaurant and entertainment hub that operated from the 1930s to the 1980s. Its seafront restaurant location known for its Milk Fed Fried Chicken along Dewey Boulevard (before it was reclaimed to the current Roxas Boulevard) had an adjacent building called the Bulakena Family Rendezvous that was a popular supper club and iconic party place in the 50s.

Bulakena housed a sophisticated night club and social hall beside its main restaurant by the bay. The place was one of the pioneering entertainment spot of sophisticated musical entertainment in the Philippines located right infront of the national landmark Manila Bay. Historical media advertisement and posters in the 50s promoting the Bulakena Family Rendezvous has acclaimed Bulakena as a sophisticated place where the elites meet and happiest parties are held.


According to highly respected media personality, advertising executive and Philippine Star columnist Barbara C. Gonzales in her Philippine Star article,

" Then one night we went to the Bulakena night club, which was across the side street from Bulakena restaurant.

OK, what is Bulakena? It was one of the restaurants of my time. It competed with Max’s fried chicken. I think they served chicken with honey. It had a little more class than Max’s. As they became more successful they added a nightclub.

Now what is a nightclub? A nightclub is the predecessor of the disco. Now I think there are clubs with horrendous loud music and atrocious flashing lights. In the ’50s to the ’60s we had nightclubs, always dark with candles on the tables. There was always nice dance music provided by an orchestra and there was always a torch singer who would sing what we called torch songs. What are torch songs? They are songs about love ... just soft whispery tunes, my mother’s type of music, which I have grown to love much more than the music of my era.

One night when I was around 10 years old my mom went on a date to Bulakena and brought me along. There I saw the torch singer, Carmen Soriano, perform. She was beautiful and I liked the way she sang. She was wearing a skintight black lace dress with a low neckline and sequins. She looked so sexy and she sang sexily. While my mother and her date danced, I sat mesmerized thinking — I want to be like her when I grow up... " [1]



1930 Origins

Bulakena was first established during the 1930s in F.B. Harrison (formerly Calle Real) corner Calle Libertad near the first Manila Polo Club. Manila Polo Club founded by the American Cameron Forbes was initially located in a location along F.B. Harrison (formerly Calle Real before it was reclaimed to Dewey Boulevard). Manila Polo Club at F.B. Harrison corner Calle Libertad had its own seafront of Manila Bay from the early 1900s till the liberation era of the 40s.


Bulakena at Dewey Boulevard

It opened its seafront restaurant and supper club at Dewey boulevard corner Antipolo Street in 1945 and was operational till the mid 80s. Historical records report that it was one of the establishment that ushered in the golden years of Dewey boulevard. [2]

The height of its prominence was in the early 1950s to 1960s. Historical references have cited Bulakena as a famous dinner "supper club" spot and event party place that was known for sophisticated live entertainment. The supper club was known for its pioneering Filipino dishes like Sizzling Batangas Beef Steak, Cascaron Barbecue java rice with peanut sauce and Surf Turf Steak with Lemon Butter Prawns. Favourite dishes accompanied renowned live entertainment featuring a combo with a trumpet section fronted by sophisticated female singers. Guests would dance to the whispery tunes of love performed in Bulakena.

The entertainment quintet was led by Maestro Dominic Salustiano, OPM composer of the Pasa Doble and pioneer musical director of the Tawag ng Tanghalan fame. Musicians like Trumpet player Charlie Reyes backed up the jazz-loungue-classical-standard female singers who were doing ballads, Spanish and English love songs, jazz numbers and what society deemed as classic naughty tunes. Pioneer singers of the filipino music industry such as Filipino Jazz icon Annie Brazil, OPM Ballad icon Carmen Soriano and Helen Cruz. Philippine Star December 2003 article enumerates several singers that started in Bulakena.

"From then on, there was no stopping Helen Cruz. She sang at the Bulakeña supper club along Dewey Blvd. for three years along with Margie Greenwood, Lucille Lavides, and later Carmen Soriano." [3]

The most notable singer that built her career in Bulakena is Filipino music icon Carmen Soriano.

In an interview with Carmen Soriano by PEP [4], Soriano explains her beginnings at Bulakena in her interview. Soriano said that she found her style in Bulakena restaurant

" FINDING HER STYLE - Soriano wound up singing for several years at the Bulakeña Restaurant on Roxas Boulevard. This is where she developed her style as a flirtatious chanteuse with the fluid body moves."


A Place where Elites Meet

Bulakena was also known for hosting special events for families, institutions and for VIPs such as the Office of the President of the Philippines. During the 1950s, the social venues of Manila were still limited and thus Bulakena's social hall was a popular place, not only for events but celebrations, soirees and the occasional weddings. There were also VIP events were held in its presidential room that housed its own malacanang chairs. The Office of the President of the Philippines archive reports their week in review of 1963: It states that President of the Philippines Disodado Macapagal hosted an event in Bulakena for the Metropolitan Police Association [5]

"President Macapagal today called upon the police forces of the country to shy away from partisan politics. He issued the call in a brief speech before the Metropolitan Police Association, on the occasion of the induction of officers of the association at the Bulakeña Restaurant on Dewey Boulevard, at which he was guest of honor and inducting officer."



Bulakena Home of the Milk Fed Fried Chicken

Bulakena was also known for its Milk Fed Fried Chicken. In its later days, Bulakena evolved its filipino food offerings to cater to a larger commercial public. It was also one of the pioneering night spots in Dewey boulevard to house a wide entertainment portion with about 200 slot machines. Bulakena also came out with one of the first fast casual turo-turo style of restaurant buffet service which was known for its chicken adobo with liver, lechon paksiw, chicken pospas and caldereta. The Cascaron BBQ and Halo-Halo were also popular dishes.

According to PhilStar's interview of Mark Cojuangco about his memories with former President of the Philippines Corazon Aquino and her husband former Senator Ninoy Aquino in May 2009: "All I can say is, before all the politics screwed up everything, barkada at kapitbahay my dad and mom, Ninoy and Cory.... Every afternoon before, they used to have merienda together at the former Bulakena Restaurant in (Roxas) Boulevard. They would order halo-halo and chat as friends," he said. [6]

According to the 1950s chronicles of Dewey Boulevard by the popular and legendary restaurateur Larry Cruz of the LJC group and Cafe Adriatico restaurant fame , "One also ate then at the Bulakena, where Carmen Soriano sang, and one had Filipino dishes not found now like Cascaron," written by Doreen Fernandez from the LJC book , Malate: A matter of Taste.

Bulakena was also known for its prominent location fronting Manila Bay. The magnificent view of Manila Bay on top of Bulakena restaurant have been chronicled by old fans. A photo of Manila Bay and Dewey Boulevard above Bulakena Restaurant before it was reclaimed to Roxas boulveard has been used by historical archives as a reference.


Founding Incorporator of Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines

Bulakena Restaurant is also one of the 17 founders and incorporators of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines. Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines is a non-stock, non-profit organisation. The Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines is the umbrella organization that speaks for the hospitality F&B industry in the Philippines. Created in 1951, membership includes luxury, deluxe, and standard hotels, leading restaurants and food groups, schools and universities offering hotel and restaurant management courses, as well as allied industry partners. These are represented by hotel managers, restaurant owners, university deans and CEO. [7]



References

  • [8] Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines
  • [9] Bulakena Ninoy and Cory Aquino Philippine Star News
  • [10] Office of the President of the Philippines 1963
  • [11] A Nostalgic Trip Philippine Star November 2003
  • [12] Carmen Soriano Still Sways to the Rhythm June 2010
  • [13] Helen Cruz Philippine Star December 14, 2003
  • [14] Ricky Lo on Helen Cruz March 30, 2000
  • [15] UP High School Class of 1950
  • [16] A historical account of Bulakena PhilStar Barbara Gonzales April 23, 2016

Citation

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