Louie Ysmael is still at it. From the 1970s till the present, he continues to give urbanites reason to go out and have a good time with friends, over drinks and music–in settings he carefully conceived and built.
On Oct. 17, Ysmael opens a place different from the discos, bars and nightclubs that Manila’s nightlife king has been known for. He calls it Top of the Alpha by Louie Y, a jazz club which he points out is “not a bar, but more of a lounge.”
It looks really spacious, occupying the entire 34th floor of the Alphaland Corporate Tower in Makati.
Walking me around the place the night before its grand opening, Ysmael beams with pride and joy as he shows some of the private rooms, intended for guests who want their own space. There are TV monitors in all the private rooms. “You get to see the band onstage,” Ysmael explains.
Oh, yes, what’s a jazz club without a band? Which means there will soon be a regular lineup of performing artists.
But why jazz?
“I was a young boy studying in the United States when I would frequent jazz bars and clubs in New York,” he recalls. “I developed a huge liking for jazz.”
When he started opening clubs as a business in Manila, Ysmael noted, “Jazz had a limited market, so I decided to go disco (Stargazer), and, eventually, dance clubs (The Palace).”
But he always kept in touch with jazz and its various branches. He says he appreciates “mainstream, crossover, fusion, Latin and bossa, Afro-Cuban, soulful, acid jazz.”
It was Alphaland honcho Bobby Ongpin who suggested a partnership with Ysmael to build a music club at the 34th floor.
“I looked at the layout,” Ysmael recounts, “and I figured it would be a perfect venue to have live jazz gigs and combine a lounge and private rooms concept, with the option of watching the band from the main lounge, or in a private room, where, incidentally, you can choose the type of jazz music you want to listen to. It’s a unique and classy setup which I think Manila sorely needed.”
He wants to attract what he calls “a sophisticated market from age 25 and above, who like to relax to good music without screaming at each other to converse, while enjoying excellent service,the finest wines and spirits and food. The view from the 34th floor and our “Bird’s Nest” terrace are features which I believe add to a cosmopolitan setting, the likes of what you see in New York’s rooftop bars and lounges.”
Adorning the walls along the hallways are vintage photos of jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, as well as concert posters like one of Billie Holiday.
In the men’s toilet are photos of Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis, frozen in time with their trumpet.
In between lively conversation with friends in the cigar room, Ysmael walks to me at the bar, smiles and quips: “I guess I’ve now come full circle, back to my old love.”