Iloilo City, the capital of Iloilo province in Western Visayas, is one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines and on its way to surpassing the development rate in many of the country’s more established cities like Manila and Cebu. Tourism and economy in Iloilo City are on the rise, and before long, the city will be touted as a force to be reckoned with in the business and leisure sectors of the region, even the whole country.
It’s no surprise then that Iloilo’s lifestyle choices are increasing by the day and are becoming at par with the aforementioned cosmopolitan cities. New entertainment, leisure, shopping, and dining destinations are opening almost every month, sometimes even every week. Here are just some of the hippest places where locals and visitors alike hang out, as well as a peek into the city’s upcoming hot spots so you know which ones to visit first when you’re in Iloilo City.
ILOILO BUSINESS PARK
Arguably the hippest yet undoubtedly the most booming area of Iloilo City is Megaworld Corporation’s Iloilo Business Park, a 72-hectare mixed-use development community which boasts of being touted as the city’s top-notch business, financial, and lifestyle district, complete with first-class hotels, desirable condominium developments, and popular commercial areas attracting not just locals but visitors from around the country and abroad.
Just last May 1, 2018, Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo opened its doors, making it the first international hotel brand to open shop in Western Visayas. Locals are making a beeline for the in-house restaurant Runway Kitchen, which offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet as well as a la carte options; while the Courtyard lobby bar is fast becoming the place to see and be seen, where you can hang out while waiting for your room, or just any time you want to kick back with some great cocktails. The grill and pool bar is also something to look forward to, offering food and cocktails you can enjoy with the view. Book a stay in one of its Concierge Rooms so you can get access to the Executive Lounge that serves snacks and drinks all day.
Before Marriott even opened, Richmonde Hotel Iloilo has been one of the most popular places to stay and dine in, with its in-house restaurant The Granary and lobby bar Biz Bar as the places to book a table on special occasions. Biz Bar is a great idea if you want to sip some good cocktails while being entertained by soft live music. Try their frozen margarita and mojito, which are both strong and refreshing, as well as their Mai Tai, which is sweet, tangy, and fruity—like pineapple juice with a kick of rum; it’s great for the ladies.
Beyond the hotel chains, there’s the highly anticipated lifestyle shopping center Festive Walk Mall, which is set to open any day now, boasting of a food hall, 7-theater Dolby Atmos cinema complex that includes two with reclining La-Z Boy seats and unlimited popcorn and drinks, an open air garden, and a dancing fountain at the main entrance, among many others. It’s poised to house first-class boutiques and world-renowned clothing brands, as well as international and local restaurants, cafes, and bistros—Italianni's, TGI Fridays, La Lola, and Denny's are just among the dining establishments rumored to open at the Festive Walk Mall. It is reportedly envisioned as the biggest and classiest lifestyle mall in Western Visayas.
This is not to say it’s the first shopping and dining destination in the area, as there already exists the 1.1-kilometer-long, 22-meter-wide shop-and-dine strip Festive Walk Parade that’s becoming one of the most popular dining spots in the city, with international restaurants, bistros, cafes, and pubs that would redefine nightlife and leisure in Iloilo City. On weekends, food trucks set up shop and diners can enjoy local and international cuisine in a street party setting, complete with live entertainment. In fact, it’s envisioned as the bigger version of Eastwood City, Megaworld’s first township in Libis, Quezon City. You’ll definitely enjoy Festive Walk’s open spaces, landscaped areas, public art, and commercial establishments that are arguably the hippest in the city.
Also in the area across from Richmonde Hotel are must-try restaurants that have been offering locals and visitors alike specialized, international cuisine and the best selection of drinks long before any of these establishments even opened, like Farm To Table, Dova Brunch Cafe, and Iloilo’s own branch of the popular bar Cable Car, all of which enjoy a good crowd any day of the week, but most especially on weekends. In Iloilo Business Park alone, you’ll find many of Iloilo’s hippest spots—but there’s more around the city, so read on!
CENTRAL PARK ILOILO
Fast-becoming a popular night spot in Mandurriao, Iloilo City, especially for food-park-loving millennials, situated right before you enter Iloilo Business Park, is Central Park Iloilo, the city’s newest food hub featuring two levels of stalls of homegrown resto-bars, open daily from 5PM to 2PM. What makes it stand out is its architectural design: It’s made of upcycled container vans that have been turned into food stalls where locals and tourists can unwind, drink, and dine on sandwiches, nachos, burgers, and local delicacies from any of the many restaurants on the cheap. Occasionally, there are local guest performers to entertain diners. They even have their own karaoke spot, Mixx KTV!
ATRIA PARK DISTRICT
Ayala Land’s up and coming spot in Iloilo already has its own branch of the Seda Hotel chain, a modern hotel that’s a top choice for business and family trips. Housed on the rooftop is one of Iloilo City’s best and most popular rooftop bars, Straight Up, which serves cocktails, spirits, and beer paired with delicious bar chow—some of which you can sample in the evening during their Apericena promo, a complimentary buffet of pica-pica for any order of alcoholic drink!
The Shops at Atria, which is Atria Park District’s shopping area, also features a number of must-try restaurants and cafes, both home-grown (like the Spanish restaurant Madrid and the beloved coffee joint Madge Cafe) and franchised from around the Philippines, like Bo’s Coffee. On weekends or special occasions, you can look forward to free entertainment and events on its beautiful, relaxing, and well-manicured grounds.
DONATO PISON AVENUE
On one portion of Donato Pison Avenue, which is close to Atria Park District and perpendicular to the wide Diversion Road that’s quickly becoming the main highway and busiest thoroughfare of Iloilo City, you’ll find rows of restaurants, bars, and cafes that face each other across the street, allowing you to hop from one to the other, whatever you feel like having on any evening of the week.
One of the most popular spots here is Brewery Gastropub, which is busy any day of the week, primarily because they serve some of the best comfort food that you can pair with their huge selection of craft beers. If you want some American-style barbecue dishes, walk a few steps to BBQ Shack next door. For dessert, walk a few more steps down to Desserts In The Sky, which serves an amazing lineup of cakes, pastries, ice cream, and coffee in a pretty cafe setting with Tiffany blue interiors.
Across the street, you can indulge in more desserts at Felicia’s from Bacolod, famous for their chocolate cake, sansrival, hot chocolate, ensaymada, and other decadent cakes and local sweets. For more local fare for dinner, you can either go to the Iloilo branch of Masskara Chicken Inasal, also from Bacolod, which serves the province’s famous grilled chicken; or Puesto, a chill industrial-inspired resto-bar that serves a wide variety of local bar chow and grilled meat and seafood paired with their cocktails and local beer.
CITY TIME SQUARE AT GAISANO CITY CENTER
Another major commercial development in Iloilo City that’s fast attracting both locals and visitors, especially the younger crowd, is City Time Square Iloilo, located at Gaisano City Center along Diversion Road in Mandurriao, Iloilo City. This modern shopping and dining destination is characterized by picture-perfect landscaping and architectural installations. It has a wide variety of unique restaurants, bars, and cafes, and is always alive with events on its landscaped grounds, with a big LED screen that’s supposedly inspired by Times Square in NYC one one end, then a field of thousands of illuminated LED roses that has appeared in the background of many Instagram photos on the other—a mini version of the 10,000 Roses Cafe & More in Cebu.
Among the hippest joints you’ll find here are Fat & Tipsy, which offers inventive cocktails and comfort food you can enjoy while listening to live entertainment or an upbeat DJ set; Bull & Barrel, a unique and cozy pub concept designed with just that: tables and interiors decorated with barrels and bulls (as well as deer heads), where you can enjoy buckets of beer and great cocktails on the cheap; and Hi-Fi Family KTV, the self-proclaimed “most high-tech karaoke bar in the city,” with their touchscreen song list, wireless microphones, and 24 hip and spacious KTV rooms that you can use for a consumable amount, even for events and groups as big as 50 pax. Soon to open here is a branch of the infamous upscale club in Cebu City, LIV Superclub.
Do a search of where Iloilo City’s nightlife district is, and you’re sure to find Smallville on the list. Long before Iloilo Business Park, Atria, and City Times Square opened, Smallville boasted of the hippest restaurants, bars, and clubs in town—and it’s still alive and kicking, any day of the week, especially on weekends, when its streets are crowded with partygoers. Whether your idea of a night out involves listening to acoustic music or a live band, dancing to electronic beats from a DJ, or just sitting in a cozy bar sipping wine and cocktails or a coffee shop for a night cap and dessert, you’ll find your spot here. This is where occasional street parties and major concerts are held in the city.
The Avenue Complex is a popular spot in the area that features bars, cafes, restaurants, and a club and where you can cross-order from establishments. Try Bourbon Street for their delicious ribs and comfort food best paired with strong cocktails and a good selection of wine, Amalfi Cucina Italiana for lip-smacking Italian fare paired with more wine, or Mojave Grill & Steakhouse for some Latino fare and great margaritas.
ILOILO RIVER ESPLANADE & RIVERSIDE BOARDWALK
A stone’s throw away from Smallville is Riverside Boardwalk, a row of restaurants that face the Iloilo River and Iloilo River Esplanade, a landscaped path for walking, biking jogging, and public recreation. Here you’ll find more of Iloilo’s must-try dining establishments that offer a view of the clean river and the beautiful path lined with plants and mangroves.
Among the beloved restaurants here that are frequented by locals and tourists alike are the Korean restaurant Kogi&Vegi, the local restaurant Punot, and the Vietnamese restaurant Troi Oi that’s reportedly the only place that serves good Pho in the city. At night, Paprika on one end offers live entertainment for a crowd enjoying their booze of choice, while on the other end is Tiesto KTV bar for those who want to sing their hearts out.
Take a walk down Iloilo River Esplanade to get to Avana Garden, an al fresco restaurant and cafe that offers great local dishes (try their Molo Soup, Garlic Butter Shrimps, and Crispy Pata) and refreshing drinks in a cozy brick-walled, warm-lighted setting. People-watch while you eat or take a break here while you let your children enjoy the nearby play area.
Shopping mall SM City Iloilo may not be your idea of a hip spot, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it: It has one wing, SM Southpoint, that has some of the most inventive restaurants and cafes you’ll find in Iloilo City, all facing a well-manicured events grounds that’s the venue of the hottest performances and concerts in town and which occasionally has installations for many an IG lover and camwhore. Just next door is the upcoming Park Inn by Radisson, so it’s definitely the best hangout for would-be visitors of this up and coming international hotel chain in Iloilo.
At SM Southpoint you can find Jamie’s Steak Room, which serves some of Iloilo City’s arguably best steaks (it’s a pity they do not serve alcohol); Healthy Kitchen, which is the destination for those looking for delicious healthy food and vegan options, even offering a weekly meal delivery plan for locals; a wide variety of cafes with the cutest and kitschiest interiors; and the laid-back bar Office Pantry that offers bottles of wine and spirits you can enjoy with cold cuts and cheese, whether inside their private little space or al fresco.
PLAZUELA DE ILOILO & PLAZUELA DOS
Right beside SM Southpoint is one of Iloilo City’s long-standing attractions, Plazuela De Iloilo, a homegrown mall which recently opened its extension, Plazuela Dos, both located along Diversion Road in Mandurriao, Iloilo City. Plazuela houses several crowd-favored restaurants, bars, and cafes, making it a great place to sample Ilonggo cuisine, have a few drinks, or just chill out at night while enjoying some entertainment. It gives one a sort of Las Vegas feel at night, which probably has a lot to do with its lighting at night, iconic fountain, and ornate Spanish-Italian-inspired facade.
It has wide-open spaces that’s a popular venue for night markets, food bazaars, themed installations for photo opportunities, and even concerts by popular celebrities and performers. Among the well-liked restaurants you’ll find here, most of which offer al fresco dining, are Hamada Japanese restaurant, Dad’s 60s Diner, and Ponsyon by Breakthrough, with more opening soon in Plazuela Dos.
Not located in any of these popular commercial areas but definitely worth a visit is New York-inspired Salt Bistro, located at 22 General Luna Street (in front of University of San Agustin). It’s one of Iloilo City’s more popular restaurants that serves American comfort food, bar chow, and cocktails in a cozy bar setup bedecked in New York mementos, photos, and murals mounted on its brick walls. There’s a band setup in one corner, so you can enjoy your delicious meal while listening to live music on weekends. The place gets packed on Friday and Saturday nights, so it’s best to make reservations.
Regulars keep coming back for their variety of hefty chicken wings in different flavors; Bacon Cheese Casserole, their penne version of mac and cheese, smothered in four cheese sauce; Salt Barbecue Ribs, served with steak fries drizzled with parmesan cheese; and Grilled Tenderloin Steak, a generous slice of tender beef cooked medium rare and served with spiced potato fries and au jus. You also have to try their Mojito—arguably one of the best you’ll find in the city.