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Buzzing beyond Burgos

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published Jul 01, 2022 5:00 am

When I walked in on Harvey Alumisin with his iced matcha at Assembly Hall, he was gasping at his phone, reposting Instagram Reels and TikToks with views and likes by the thousands — a win by legit organic marketing.

On his screen are the Studio Mara-designed green-tinted plywoods framing a wall of tinted glass blocks on one end of the shop, the steel bar on the other, fronting floor-to-ceiling windows with a skyline view of the Makati Business District, peppered with closeups of the cafe’s Campfire Latte — a delightful torched s'more in a cup with just the right bitter-sweetness — and the retro-style type of its branding at the street level of an unexpected side of J.P. Rizal.

It’s people seeking an inspiring coffee break spot or even a “coffice” — the pre-pandemic version of working-from-home — something that Alumisin himself was, only two weeks before construction for Assembly Hall started.

We want to put emphasis on the vibe and experience because that’s something you can’t easily create.

(From left) Assembly Hall’s Harvey Alumisin, Tonet Quiogue, Mica Ting, and Jay Sotto Wijesekara.

Running a human resources company just at the mezzanine floor of the building, “I realized that our side of Makati lacked options for it,” he says now, looking back.

He has already hosted pop-ups for designers like Carl Jan Cruz and Gabbie Sarenas in the building’s terrazzo-tiled foyer under 773 Collective with Mica Ting. Launched in the middle of the pandemic, a strictly-by-reservation shopping experience — unheard of at the time — gave shoppers the courage to step out of their homes and shop in real life. However, starting a cafe was a different challenge.

Assembly Hall’s popular Campfire Latte.

“We want to put emphasis on the vibe and experience because that’s something you can’t easily create,” says Alumisin, who runs Assembly Hall with Ting, Jay Sotto Wijesekara and Tonet Quiogue.

While Insta-famous and TikTok stars/content creators like David Guison and Jeline Catt have posted about it to viral levels, public figures like broadcast journalist Karen Davila, SM Investments co-chairman Teresita Sy-Coson and entrepreneur Ricco Ocampo have all been spotted on Assembly Hall’s oblong tables; in fact, Ocampo was giving us a preview of the pastel-hued eight-foot-tall bulols carved by La Union-based under-the-radar artist Cefalu, now on view at Ocampo’s beautiful Makati home, with a side of matcha.

An unexpected cafe along J.P. Rizal, Makati.

But as one regular hollered at Alumisin, “I keep coming back for the coffee,” referring to Assembly Hall’s brews from locally roasted South American beans.

“I love coffee and my day is fueled by it. I am in no way a coffee connoisseur, neither am I the type that knows notes and origins. However, I know what a good coffee shop is like and Assembly Hall is what I imagined to be a good coffee shop,” Alumisin says. Informed by his years living in Nolita and his New York trip last December, he shares, “Coffee shops there have very limited menus. It’s basic.” That explains Assembly Hall’s concise menu of 10 coffee drinks and six non-coffee drinks with a strong selection of sweet and savory pastries.

Assembly Hall’s retro-tropical interiors by Studio Mara.

As for the non-descript door behind the back of the selfie-magnet mirror menu, Alumisin spills that it leads to a bar: “The experience is completely different from Assembly Hall’s coffee shop. We’re calling it Assembly Hall After Dark. The idea is that the two concepts will be completely different from each other and never overlap.” Looks like we’ll be making more trips to J.P. Rizal soon.

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Assembly Hall is on the second floor of HMA 773 Building, 773 J.P. Rizal Avenue, Barangay Poblacion, Makati open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Follow on Instagram for updates.