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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:46:00 02/09/2009

Filed Under: Restaurants & catering, Lifestyle & Leisure

THERE was a time when Manila used to be one huge playground.

There were less cars on the streets. Horse-drawn calesas were one of the major transportation alternatives. Every once in a while, you’d get a glimpse of an ox used as a mobile bazaar by a vendor of household furniture.

It was a time businessman Crispin Go knows all too well. He was living in a beautiful Manila that had just survived the war but was soon thriving.

Go’s worries then—if they could be described as worries—were very simple: going to school, collecting bottle caps, buying comic books and listening to music.

Go grew up listening to the likes of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richards, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka and Johnny Mathis; and he was a junior detective to Dick Tracy (he even has a certificate to prove it).

At 62, Go recalls all of these as if they were freshly brewed memories. Perhaps it helps that he keeps pieces of those years around him, in his home, in his office, and all over La Scala Café, a restaurant in Malate he runs with his daughter Christine.

There certainly is an air of nostalgia inside the café. Rows of LP records in vinyl line the walls. The comic books from Go’s youth are kept in mint condition and on display in glass cases Go himself designed.

The bottle caps? He exchanged those for miniature Coca-Cola bottles that were the rage during his youth.

Listing down all that Go has collected would seem like an exercise in futility because, as Christine reveals, “There’s more at home.”

She recalls one European trip of her father. Go had purchased a sculpture and was on his way back to the Philippines. He bought a first-class seat on the plane for the piece because he wanted to make sure it was safe.

From Avenida to Malate

La Scala Café was named after Scala Grocery, which Go’s father—a Chinese immigrant from Fujian province—owned. It was in turn named after Scala Theater on Rizal Avenue and the opera house La Scala in Milan.

Mr. and Mrs. Go Sy Chiong then decided to move their home and business to its current location at 1711 M. Adriatico St., near the corner of Gen. Malvar Street. Go recalls growing up on the same second floor of the building, which housed the bedroom, dining room and sala.

Today, La Scala features a main dining area, a bar and two VIP rooms—the enclosed Orchestra room that has a newspaper clipping of President Diosdado Macapagal being sworn in with a very young Gloria Macapagal at his side; and the Balcony room, which also doubles as a karaoke room overlooking Adriatico St.

In the main area, music from the yesteryears is played every night. There is the occasional showing of concerts by the musical greats, and upon the request of customers, even silent films.

Among Go’s collections, there are a few that are fairly recent, like a signed LP and concert ticket of Cliff Richards. Go lights up, perhaps from his own amusement, when he tells the story of how he acquired Richards’ signature, starting with finding out the hotel where Richards was staying in.

Go brought his LP and ticket to the Manila Hotel where he waited at a coffee shop. After some time, Go was eventually able to get the help of one of the staff, whom he asked to bring the record and ticket to Richards’ room.

Richards obliged the request and signed the memorabilia. But Go didn’t stop there.

“I wanted to have something that I could show as proof that it was Richards who signed it,” Go narrates. “So I waited until he came down and I asked to have a picture taken with him.”

Richards’ security would not have any of it, however, despite the artist having already given his approval. Go was only allowed one shot.

“I was worried that since I was only allowed to take one picture, it may come out blurry,” Go says.

But the picture came out okay and, along with the signed LP and concert ticket, is now one of the first items customers would see when they enter La Scala.


At first, Go admits he had to convince Christine, who was at the time working as a fashion merchandiser for Stores Specialists Inc., to manage the restaurant full-time.

Christine was already taking care of the place part-time, which, seeing how the staff responded to her, made it all the easier for her to accept the job. She adds it was also her way of showing duty and respect to her father.

Christine now looks very comfortable as the manager of La Scala. She comes up with new things to keep the place interesting. She also has a hand in what makes it to the menu, such as the popular Paella Valenciana and a variety of choices from steak to pasta to sandwiches.

Running a restaurant that doubles as a mini-museum is definitely taxing for Christine.

“Expecting great things entails a lot of responsibilities,” she says. “We are continuously changing and we always offer something new, which is probably why customers keep coming back. We find ways to make the experience worthwhile.”

Christine understands the pressure it takes to watch over her father’s collection. She says she is willing to hold on to them.

“One of my goals is to expand,” she says. “It may not be another La Scala but a concept establishment where I can showcase my father’s more expensive and significant collections. With the kinds of things my father purchases, such as keychains from all over the world, it would be a good investment to set up a medium-sized pop museum that can educate visitors.”

Go says it no longer matters to him if anything happens to his collections. There was a time before when he would be worried about every single piece. Now he is at peace, knowing his family and friends have been and always will be there for him.

“None of my collections can equate the value of what they give me,” Go says. “I will not be able to bring these things when I’m gone. I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, and even more satisfied with the love and loyalty I’ve been given. Not too many can say that.”

La Scala Café is at 2/F Stargate Building, 1711 M. Adriatico St. cor. Gen. Marval St., Malate, Manila. For reservations, please call 4006938 and 3036789. Email at

E-mail the author at

(Nicked the pics from

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