Remembering Makati Shangri-La Hotel, An Icon Since 1993
She remembers that day back in January 2021 vividly like it was yesterday. Makati Shangri-La Hotel’s former Director of Development Rubi de Vera was at home— “it was raining cats and dogs,” she recalls. When they received the announcement from top management that the iconic five-star hotel was closing its doors, its employees were not only shocked but downright devastated. This unbearable upset sent out ripples throughout their community— from the housekeeping staff who was rushing back from Baguio to make her shift the next day, to the Middle Eastern diplomat who called to share his disbelief that his recent visit to his second home in Manila might have just been his last. “We were all crying,” says de Vera.
When the Makati landmark opened its doors in 1993, it was to become the gold standard in luxury accommodations, world-class dining, and exclusive events. For more than a decade, The Rizal Ballroom was the venue for the Tatler Ball which de Vera called “the most anticipated event of the year.” Tatler Philippines Managing Director Irene Martel Francisco recalls: “The Balls are planned six months ahead and entail closely working with the GMs and executive chefs. Such a collaborative exercise that was always fun, too.”
It truly was a concerted effort amongst the most trusted names in the industry, many of whom consider the Makati Shangri-La as an aspirational company. Liezl Adraneda was Director of Events when the hotel closed its doors and valued the ten years she spent working there and learning from the best. “I had many sleepless nights working in the hotel when we had huge conferences, major set-up for events and catering,” Adraneda recalls. “It was challenging but most of the time it was fun working there. I learned to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. I learned how to deal with very demanding guests and passionate bosses who only accepted perfection in everything we did. Finally, I learned the value of teamwork and collaboration in order to make things happen for our guests.”
Many of the best hoteliers in the country started their careers working in Makati Shangri-la. Margaux Hontiveros, a marketing maven whose bio is composed of the top tier hotels in Makati and a stint abroad, holds the property close to her heart as this was where she sharpened her skills that made her at par with the best. “I credit where I am today because of my mentors, and in Makati Shang, I had a lot. Some directly responsible for my growth, like the legendary Joy Wassmer who hired me in the first place; Lesley Tan, who would push the team to be as creative as possible; and Erica Sotto-Davis, who is to this day, one of my dearest friends. I learned from people in the spa, from sales, from events, and of course, the guys in F&B and the kitchen were always fun and so eager to do something new. And I can’t forget to mention Reto Klauser, who was Area General Manager for four out of the five years that I was in Makati Shangri-La. He was both general leading us into battle, and circus ring leader who had the craziest, most fantastical ideas that always seemed to work. He once said to me that if you think that what you’ve done was already the best you can do, then you need to rethink your path because you’re always capable of even greater things. That has stuck with me all through the years, and I often go back to that when I think I’ve done the best I could.”
During the golden age of hotel dining, Makati Shangri-La’s food and beverage outlets were always on top of every restaurant list. De Vera recalls the many glamorous dinners at the elegant fine dining restaurant Cheval Blanc and all its renditions, such as Red with its beautiful and dramatic interiors; and Sage’s classic steakhouse favourites churned out by its “gorgeous Argentine chef.” Respected food chronicler and curator JJ Yulo points out: “Some of my favourite meals in Manila were there. I always enjoyed eating at the sushi bar in Inagiku. I knew the chefs, they always treated me really well. They would give me this fish soup that they made with the bones that get left behind. So good! And their sushi was some of the best in Manila.”
Photo: Shang Palace / Facebook
Photo: Shang Palace / Facebook
Photo: Circles Event Cafe / Facebook
For many, it was the venue for important milestones and memorable get-togethers with loved ones. I personally recall and cherish the many family dinners held at Circles, Shang Palace, and Inagiku, as well as a very memorable and elegant afternoon tea hosted by a dear aunt for my bridal shower. During big family celebrations in one of the ballrooms, my rather shy father would suddenly disappear and I knew I would find him sitting at the Conway’s bar listening to the band and having a double shot of scotch on the rocks, before he rejoins the party already full of liquid courage.
“It’s special to me because I had my wedding reception there, my daughter’s 13th birthday sleepover party, her 18th birthday and her graduation party too. We also were there for many New Year’s Eves,” imparts Francisco. When asked about some memorable anecdotes, she adds, “too many funny incidents and rather naughty ones, too! Thoughts of Makati Shangri-La bring up a wealth of memories that I hold dear.” Yulo candidly shares, “my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary there. My folks— they used to dance competitively— unleashed their prowess on the unknowing audience. My friends and I played music for them, and I got so drunk I fell asleep in the bathroom.”
But, for those who lived and breathed Makati Shangri-La for many years, it truly was like a second family— imperfect, sure, but always loving and nurturing. It was her Makati Shangri-La family that provided de Vera with emotional support when she battled breast cancer. When her grandfather passed, Hontiveros still decided to go to work to oversee a photoshoot at the property, and news quickly spread throughout the hotel that she was having a bad day. “I noticed as the hours went by that more food than necessary was coming to the shoot,” she recalls. “Word had spread of what had happened to me and people were sending food to make me feel better!”
As of this writing, the fate of Makati Shangri-la still hangs in a balance. While the pandemic rages on, so many things remain uncertain and the hospitality industry continues to suffer through it. For now, we have these memories to comfort us as we standby, eager to make new ones.