This one-time brothel is Manila’s last surviving example of French Renaissance architecture
words & photos: MATTHEW COWAN
The Luneta Hotel — named because of its proximity to Luneta (Rizal Park) — is the last surviving example of French Renaissance architecture in the Philippines and one of the few buildings to have survived the Liberation of Manila in 1945. Completed in 1919, it was eventually abandoned in 1987 and remained derelict until it was given a new lease on life and reopened in 2014 after extensive renovations.
The six-storey Luneta has had a chequered past. During World War 2, it became a brothel servicing the needs of American soldiers marking time before being shipped off to a likely death on Corregidor — an island at the entrance of Manila Bay acting as the city’s last line of defence from the advancing Japanese forces. Before that, it was used for something that probably couldn’t have been any further from a house of disrepute — the lodging of choice for the International Eucharistic Congress of 1937, and then as the US military’s non-commissioned officers’ club in 1941.
Designed by Spanish architect Salvador Farre, the hotel stood out not just because of its architectural style but also because it symbolised the new American influence on the Philippines. It was also home for eventual US President Dwight Eisenhower when he served as chief military aide under General MacArthur for four years between 1935 to 1939.
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The Luneta Suite (pictured below) is the most luxurious of the 27 guests rooms and suites in the hotel. Room 304 has a beautiful aspect looking out towards Rizal Park with the three stars and the sun of one of the Philippine flags fluttering off in the distance by the monument commemorating one of the country’s national heroes — writer and nationalist, Jose Rizal — visible from the balcony.
A night in the Luneta Suite with breakfast will set you back around US$140 (P7,300) as a single or double, inclusive of a 10% service charge and other government taxes. The room feels as elegant as it looks in these photos and is actually quite spacious. The location and the views are some of the best in Manila. Once upon a time this now unassuming piece of history towered over homes and warehouses in the area. These days the tables have turned however, with the Luneta now one of the smallest buildings on the block — not that it matters.
The hotel’s restaurant — Cafe Yano — is on the ground floor and is open from 6am for breakfast and all-day a-la-carte dining until 10pm every day of the week. On the menu is a mix of Filipino, American and Spanish cuisine. An all-day American breakfast is just over US$7 (P399), while Filipino breakfast staples of longganisa (a Spanish-inspired chorizo-style sausage) with eggs (P290) and tapa (thin slices of beef cured with salt, spices and garlic) with eggs for P360.
For lunch and dinner there are all the Filipino favourites that must be tried while here, like kare-kare (a Filipino-style stew), sinigang (a tamarind-based sour soup with pork, shrimp or fish), the much-drooled over lechon kawali (crispy skin pork belly), and of course, the Philippines’ unofficial national dish, chicken pork adobo. Prices start from P289 for a tinolang manok (chicken soup in a ginger broth) and go up to around P649 for the kare kare in a cashew sauce.
The ballroom on the top floor (pictured above) offers a window into what it must have been like all those decades ago when the Luneta was at the centre of high society and hosted balls and events for Manila’s elite. These days it’s more likely to host wedding and debutante parties.
Nevertheless, the Luneta is a fantastic option for a staycation for Manilans or an intimate add-on for travellers to the Philippines who, in the tradition of a short period in the history of the hotel, can get away from it all for a little bit of romantic privacy behind closed doors. Ooh-la-la.
The Luneta Hotel is at 414 T.M. Kalaw Ave., Ermita, Manila. For more information, go to thelunetahotelmanila.com or facebook.com/lunetahotel