As 2021 trudges along, I venture farther and farther into the deepest corners of Rizal province. This time, I and two friends arrive in Binangonan after a relaxing drive along Ortigas Avenue Extension and Manila East Road. It’s a national holiday (commemorating the 1986 peaceful revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos), so traffic is light and we arrive in this lakeside town in just over an hour.
Binangonan has the usual Rizal small-town vibe, but the Sierra Madre mountain range in the distance and the almost sea-like atmosphere of the lake make it seem as if we’re much farther from Metro Manila.
Our destination is actually the Art Sector Gallery and Chimney Cafe 360, a nice restaurant on a hill overlooking the Laguna Lake and the windmill farm of Pililia further east. The establishment has recently opened again after the easing of the nationwide quarantine, and it’s becoming increasingly popular. A significant queue has formed when we arrive, though it doesn’t take long for the three of us to get called inside and get seated.
If the boxy whitewashed structure of the building seems familiar, it’s because it was designed by Tony Leaños, the same artist who designed the Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo. There’s a Mediterranean vibe, especially with the heat of the February afternoon sun searing down on us.
Every guest is required to pay PHP 225 for the entrance fee. Diners’ temperature are then taken upon entering. Once inside, we are greeted with walls featuring various artistic works.
We have margherita pizza, a plate of aglio e olio, and a Hello Kitty tiramisu for good measure. The dishes are a bit pricey but okay.
But truth be told, people come here less for the food than for the view. And what views there are! The upper floors have that upscale restaurant vibe, with the lake and the skyscrapers of Metro Manila in the distance providing a picturesque backdrop.
The rooftop also provides a really nice backdrop for Instagram pictures and photoshoots, especially at sunset. It’s a rewarding day, especially after a really bad week. This hopefully signals a restart and a good 2021.
As a bonus, just about a 10-minute drive from the cafe is the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs Site Museum. This cave contains rock carvings dating before 2000 BCE. These petroglyphs are the oldest known work of art in the Philippines. Unfortunately, as with other museums under the National Museum of the Philippines, the site is closed due to quarantine regulations. We are only able to peek from just a few meters inside the cave entrance.