While coasting along Tagaytay-Sta. Rosa Road last year, entrepreneur Mel Meer spotted an old house with a simple “For Rent” sign.
As he inspected the place, his imagination started to work. He saw the potential of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast place.
With his characteristic impulsiveness, he struck a deal with the landlord for an eight-year lease.
Although known for his upmarket tailoring chain, Bergamo, Meer has been acquiring homes, renovating and decorating them and renting them out. Even his glamorous residence has been a favorite of glossy magazines. It took Meer over a year to transform the house into Bergamo Suites and Restaurants, a three-level structure surrounded by bountiful foliage.
In his signature romantic style, Meer makes the place very engaging in the way the visitor moves through it. Pathways, stairwells and corridors are planned to draw attention to the scenery or design vignettes.
Before entering the building, one walks through a stony pathway fringed with flowering vines, silver pandakaki, picara, eugenia, Song of India and selloum. Climbing up to the landing, one reaches a pivot point that overlooks the garden, and an intermediate space between the reception at the next level, and the sunken café which invites the visitor to climb down.
At the reception area, Meer melds the outdoors with an indoor garden of bird’s nest ferns and selloums, and a waterfall whose gushing sounds soothe the senses. Visitors experience the changing character of the spaces as they delight in the outdoor views.
Bruschetta with ‘tawilis’
Over lunch in the café, Meer explains that he consulted chef Sau del Rosario to design the menu, a fusion of Italian and Tagaytay produce. The amuse bouche is a bruschetta topped with char-grilled marinated bell peppers and fried tawilis from Taal Lake. The appetite is whetted with Sicilian salad with romaine lettuce, ripe mango, grapes and cashew.
The main course is a choice of pasta aglio olio with osso bucco slices and linguine with wild mushrooms and truffle white sauce, prepared by chef Mark Christian Galvez, a hotel-and-restaurant-management graduate.
Since the resto’s opening, the braised lamb shank has been the bestseller because of the unique Barolo wine infusion and the ratatouille side dish. Among the signature desserts are the Bergamo créme brulée with candied Tagaytay pineapple glaze and the classic Italian apple bread pudding à la mode with chocolate coulis and ice cream.
Soon, the restaurants will serve breakfast wraps with sausages and vegetables, omelettes and classic Filipino garlic rice with tawilis and eggs.
The café is suffused with natural textures—terra-cotta tiles, warm wooden walls and garden views that feel as if they are part of the interior.
The fine-dining restaurant is a sophisticated mix of black, brown and gold tones, bold stripes, padded walls and intricate hand-carving on the doors and the accent wall, reminiscent of Oriental temples. The focal point is a wooden relief of Buddha in an ebony finish.
“People asked me why I put a Buddha in an Italian restaurant,” Meer says. “Does it have to be a Michaelangelo?”
The most dramatic space is the gazebo, whose entrance is framed with bromeliads and ferns. The chairs resemble black bamboo nodes that match the black-and-white floral tablecloth. Picking up from the awning, Meer uses orange for a dash of color. He emphasizes the tall ceiling with a modern coconut chandelier, and builds an accent wall of raw concrete softened with candle tops, boston ferns, golden miagos and picaras.
Bergamo offers six suites which are named after herbs such as Vibrant Saffron, Wild Thyme and Crisp Coriander. The interior doesn’t need much decoration when the focal point is Meer’s landscaping.
Still, he insists on adding accessories and fine-tuning the elements. In most rooms, his basic palette is black and white, which he says goes with everything. The penthouse suite is infused with a soothing neutral color theme with furniture consisting of 1920s-inspired Filipino chairs and contemporary furniture done in sustainable gmelina wood. Adorned with seifrizii palms, the balconies look over the landscape filled with towering fruit trees.
Meer says the hospitality business has been his passion. He’s had several ventures such as the Café des Artistes in the Art Deco-styled Ramona Apartment in the late ’90s; Café Bergamo across his boutique in Shangri-La Plaza; and Café Fillmore in Palanan, Makati. “It was just too much trouble with little returns,” he recalls.
On his foray into a bed-and-breakfast place, Meer explains: “I enjoy traveling and seeing beautiful things. I just thought of putting up one in Tagaytay because of the nice climate. I was following an impulse of wanting to create.”
His decor style is spontaneous. “I don’t set out with a concept. I just design as I go along. It’s a bit of country. That’s why there’s a lot of wood,” says Meer. “I like to mix modern with classic.”
His aesthetic endeavors are a long way from his training as a certified public accountant. While working for the prestigious Sycip, Gorres and Velayo accounting firm, Meer discovered his entrepreneurial skills.
“How much can you earn as an employee? I would go to Divisoria, buy fabric and sell them to my officemates,” Meer recalls. He bought a second-hand car and rented an apartment outside Bel-Air where he would entertain his friends.
While visiting New York, he found a job at Van Heusen, the shirt company, where he moved up from accounting staff to supervisor. He then moved to Bestfoods CPC International and was transferred to the regional office in Hong Kong which enabled him to live in the best hotels and travel around the region.
Weary of Hong Kong, Meer returned to New York and resigned from Bestfoods CPC after a year.
He followed his passion by taking up short courses in interior design at Parsons. His best project was a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, which paid well enough to make him afford a second-hand Mercedes-Benz. Aside from doing interiors for Filipinos, he and his sister set up Castle & Meer, a fashion boutique in New York. But the overhead expenses made it difficult to flourish in New York.
After 20 years of being an expat, Meer decided to come home in 1986, when the country was euphoric over a new government. He conceived of setting up a high-end tailoring shop, Bergamo, named after an ancient town in Lombardy, Italy. Publicist Donnie Ramirez put him on the social radar. Today, Bergamo has seven outlets which cater to politicians and affluent clients who place huge orders for bespoke suits.
With his B&B, Meer has the titles “restaurateur” and “hotelier” added to his credentials. Although he says it’s still a work in progress, visitors have been attracted to the place because of the Bergamo brand. Looking at the fountain that faces the building entrance, he muses, “I hope it brings good luck.”
The restaurants are open for service and are at 45 Tagaytay Sta. Rosa Road, Barangay San Francisco, Tagaytay City. Call 4016987, 0915-4667603, 0923-8002273.