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 opened a place different from the discos, bars and nightclubs that he has been known for.
Manila’s nightlife king calls his latest venture 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 enclosed space. There are TV monitors in all the private rooms. “You get to see the band onstage,” Ysmael says.
Oh, yes, what’s a jazz club without a band? Ysmael says there will soon be a regular lineup of performing artists. On opening night, Kat Agarrado performed with an acoustic jazz group.
But why jazz?
“When I was a young boy studying in the United States, I would frequent jazz bars and clubs in New York,” he recalls. “I developed a huge liking for jazz.”
When he went into business as a club owner in Manila, Ysmael observed that “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 wide branches. He says he appreciates “mainstream, crossover, fusion, Latin and bossa, Afro-Cuban, soulful, acid jazz.”
It was Alphaland honcho Bobby Ongpin who invited Ysmael as a business partner to build a music club at the topmost 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 through a video screen 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 of the hallways are vintage black-and-white photos of jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Max Roach, Sarah Vaughan, as well as concert posters, like one that starred Billie Holiday.
In the men’s toilet are more photos—Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis, frozen in time holding their respective trumpets.
In between lively conversation with friends in the cigar room, Ysmael walks up to me at the bar, smiles and quips: “I guess I’ve now come full circle, back to my old love.”