Douglas MacArthur Had Dessert Here – The Manila Hotel

I love hotels of a certain era.  The ones built by railway and steamship companies as way points in the Orient Express or wharf side outposts of empire.  We’ve stayed in several, usually at a time when it was a close call whether they would see a wrecking ball or restoration, the Imperial in Dehli, the Moskva in Belgrade, the Empress in Victoria.  We stayed in them when they were in that kind of seedy state.  Once restoration has taken place we can only afford coffee.  But seeing some of these Grand Hotels become grand again is a joy even if I can’t stay there anymore.

The Manila is such a hotel; it is right on the water front, fronting the parade grounds.  On one side you can see Manila Bay, on the other you can look across the un-crossable street toward the Intramuros.

These hotels old honor those who’ve stayed there.  The Cecil in Alexandria, Egypt has its “Monty Bar” tipping a beret to Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Raffles in Singapore (which is currently closed for renovation so we will, alas, not get to take tiffin curry there) has rooms dedicated to writers like Summerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.  The Manila is all about General Douglas MacArthur, who stayed there, and enjoyed their famous dessert “halo halo.”

The lobby, café, tap room and tea area are all beautifully restored with warm wood ceilings and crystal lighting fixtures.  I suspect it’s a bit cooler than in MacArthur’s day, with air conditioning.  We went twice, Monday evening for bandy and port and Tuesday mid-afternoon for halo halo.

Halo halo is difficult to describe.  It is served in a tall glass and has many colors.  It’s topped with purple ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry.  Underneath that there is a rainbow of things including Jell-O, shaved ice, fruits, kidney beans marinated in sweet stuff, corn (adds a nice yellow) coconut, and we think some sodden jellybeans.  Looking at it we thought it would be sickeningly sweet.  It was not, but I think I enjoyed it more than Suzi.

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