The Manila Hotel, just northwest of Rizal Park, is the most historic of the city’s luxury hotels, perhaps though now a little careworn. It’s still the best place to get a sense of early twentieth-century Manila, those halcyon days when the city was at its cultural and social zenith; you can even stay in the General Douglas MacArthur Suite, residence from 1936 to 1941 of the man Filipinos called the Caesar of America. If even the standard rooms are beyond your means, you can at least sip a martini in the lobby while listening to a string quartet and watching the capital’s elite strut by.
When the hotel opened in 1912 it represented the epitome of colonial class and luxury. Lavish dances known as rigodon balls were held every month in the Grand Ballroom, with high-society guests dancing the quadrille in traditional ternos (formal evening dresses) and dinner jackets. Today staff glide around in similarly elegant attire.
The hotel has its own historical archive, containing signed photographs of illustrious guests, from Marlon Brando, looking young and slender in a native barong (formal shirt), to Ricky Martin and Jon Bon Jovi. The archive is available to guests only, but if you eat or drink at the hotel, one of the guest relations officers should be able to show it for you. South of the hotel is the Quirino Grandstand where various official functions take place, including a military parade on Independence Day.