The first time my band Mozzie played at Route 196, we didn’t leave the place until almost sunrise.
Something compelled us to stay—maybe the colorful lomo walls that had been unveiled that night or the fun people who had spent our short set dancing and jumping or the comfortable vibe of this unpretentious bar along Katipunan. We didn’t realize it then but we had come home.
That was in March 2007 and over the next 13 years, Route 196 would be exactly that—a home away from home, for us and for countless others. We played there so many times I’ve lost count, with so many other bands and musicians big and small, old and new. There were crazy, rocking shows and “Stripped” acoustic sets. There were nights we paid tribute to Amy Winehouse and Alanis Morissette. Seeing our band name up on that iconic signage was a thrill that never faded.
Really good food
But we didn’t just go to Route when we had to play. We went there to watch other bands. Or just to eat the food—they had really good food, so good we’d actually go there for dinner. Or to hang out and drink. Sometimes, I’d go there just to get pizza for takeout.
I turned 27 at Route 196, in a Red Riding Hood costume and rainbow socks, force-feeding people cake. We had our EP relaunch there—a pajama party—after the Oakwood mutiny ruined our first one. One Halloween, I went there dressed as the devil. Then there was the night I worked there for eight hours as a waitress. That shift ended with JP Balboa, one of the owners, making me do something he’s made a lot of people do: drink a shot of Bacardi 151 (75-percent alcohol!).
Route 196 was a regular dropoff point for RockEd Philippines’ many relief efforts. It was always a strange feeling to go there when the sun was still out.
Route 196 changed over the years—LTO, that delicious but dangerous spiked iced tea, disappeared from the menu, tables were moved and removed, the crowd got younger (or maybe I just got older), and the bar changed owners (from JP, Monica Barretto, Geth Savellano, Allan Madrilejos and Eric Enriquez to Jugs Jugueta, Kelvin Yu, TedMark Cruz, Saul Ulanday, Nicole Sarmiento and Waco Mapua). But there were things that always stayed the same: Route 196 always provided a stage (and home) for Filipino musicians, the garlic and cheese pizza was consistently delicious (so delicious that a friend actually woke up hungover after one night at Route to find pizza slices hidden in his pants pocket), that deviled chicken always a killer, the atmosphere never pretentious, and the wonderful, wonderful Madz Ofalsa was a joyful constant, running the place with a huge smile on his face.
I fell in love at Route 196. Got my heart broken there. Route saw me through terrible hairstyles, weight fluctuations, questionable outfits and never judged. It welcomed me back into its warm embrace every single time I walked into the door, even if I hadn’t been there in a while.
The first time I went for a night out after being diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder was to Route 196. It was a fundraiser for writer Luis Katigbak and three of the four Eraserheads would be playing. I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol because of my meds but there was no way I was going to miss that. I went alone, gave away my drink stubs to strangers and I had a great time.
The last time
The last time Mozzie played at Route was in March 2020, six days before the lockdown. We didn’t know then that it would be the last time. That Route 196 would become yet another casualty of this damn pandemic.
For 15 years, all roads did lead to Route 196. But on August 23, they made an announcement that broke many hearts including mine: “Alas, we’re at the end of the road for Route 196.”
It isn’t the first establishment killed by new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and it definitely won’t be the last.
We’re going through the process of grieving a place that was dear to us, a process so many others have gone through and will go through: writing tributes on social media, digging up old photos, commenting on and reacting to other people’s memories, changing the frame of our Facebook profile picture, ordering that farewell shirt from Manila Takeout (beautiful work, Rob Cham), coping with pain without the solace of hugs, and wondering how many more times we’ll have to do this, how many more times COVID-19 will break our hearts, and what will be left when the pandemic is finally over. I loved Route 196.
I’ve loved it since that first gig in 2007 and I will continue to love it long after those sticker-covered brown doors close for the final time.