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Sulyap: A Glimpse into the Past

By CHRISTINE DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 07, 2020 4:00 pm

The magical waters and winds of the seven lakes of San Pablo City in Laguna not only nourish the soil of the surrounding area but also the hearts and souls of the people who live in the surrounding locality.

“Sulyap” means to glance, to see something just for a moment. As we entered the gates of Sulyap we had a glimpse of another world — one where old and new, nature and people were intertwined. A real-life sanctuary tucked just two hours away from Metro Manila, Sulyap Gallery Café, Boutique Hotels and Restaurant was a much-needed escape from city life.

Upon entering the gate of the compound, we were greeted by a stone paved courtyard opening up to lush gardens and classical homes. At the center of the compound was a beautiful fountain filled with water lilies, filling the air with the serene sound of rushing water.

As we got out of the car, my attention was immediately drawn towards a large structure by the parking. It was an old school that had been repurposed into a museum. I was not the only one to fall under its spell. Apparently, it also was love at first sight for Roy P. Empalmado, who is an architectural designer, chef, painter and owner of Sulyap.

Roy P. Empalmado set up Sulyap in honor of his love for art, architecture and old things

Roy was born and raised in San Pablo City. And Sulyap was born out of Roy’s love for art, antiques and old things. “The property has a very promising appeal because it has this old building. Basically, this entire building is an antique. I didn’t have to repair anything. It was a distressed building. It’s the same texture and feel. It has a museum and function hall in the middle. Upstairs I still have some antiques to rearrange, and hopefully that project will push through next year,” he shares.

The beautiful, traditional-style building is a former school. It has withstood the test of time and has collected many stories to share within its walls. “In 1967, it was a college in San Pablo City, then after that it became a BIR office, then a warehouse for wines and spirits, our previous business. When we decided to drop the business, it became my first project here,” he recalls.

“I had collected different antiques from all over the Philippines. It was getting cluttered at home and we had a lot of space in the building, so I did interior design for the house. My daughter helped curate it into a museum, the new home for our paintings, saints and other artifacts.”

The serenity at Sulyap Café inspires art and creativity, as captured by Roy Empalmado

Walking into the halls of the museum gallery was like being transported back into another era. The museum felt more like a home than anything with everyday items from yesteryear — record players, model cars, beer bottles, office desks, bikes and much more, proudly exhibited as art. The gallery proudly exhibits Filipino culture in all its beauty, diversity and richness.

Since the museum opened in 2007, countless visitors have walked through its halls. They have even been visited by historians from the National Museum to help curate some of their pieces. “We intended to make this an antique shop at first, but when I saw it all together, I decided not to sell anything. It’s so hard to find most of these items. Even if you do, it won’t be exactly like the one that you had,” Roy explains. He hopes that more Filipinos learn to appreciate and integrate our rich culture into modern life.

It’s not only the museum that promises a taste of the past. The beautiful homes in the compound each have their own unique stories to tell. Just like the antiques of the museum, the accommodations here were also collected from around the Philippines.

The veranda of the dining hall

As an architectural designer, Roy restored and rebuilt old homes from different provinces on their property. The first home he built was from Cabay, Quezon. “It was a dilapidated house and I asked the owner if I could restore the house. It took a long time. Parang ligawan. It took two years but there was a storm that came and destroyed the house further. That was the point that their family decided to allow me to work on it.”

“I numbered all the pieces of the house before disassembling it. Then we rebuilt it from down to up. That’s how to restore an old house,” he explains. “I’ve learned a lot about restoring old houses, these art deco homes. That’s one amazing exposure I had here. We didn’t learn that in school.”

Hearing the stories behind these structures made me see them not just as houses but homes — passed down through generations and now reconstructed for guests to enjoy. “All the houses have a very high percentage of original materials. About 90 to 95 percent are part of the original house. I really didn’t change it,” he adds.

Behind each home was careful work and research, offering a unique and authentic experience. “My second project was Casa de Ubando from Ubando, Bulacan. I’m very careful when I talk to the homeowners because it’s a sensitive topic. There’s a lot of sentimental value behind each of these homes. After one and a half years, they decided to let it go. When they come visit and see the house, they cry. The family is pleased that their house is in good hands.”

Enjoy a coffee with a breathtaking view of the garden area in Sulyap Gallery Café, San Pablo, Laguna

Sulyap is a treat for all the senses. As a chef, Roy makes sure that the place lives up to their tagline: “A Taste of the Past.” Their restaurant is rated as one of the best in San Pablo City, serving an extensive menu of modern Filipino cuisine.

Each room comes with Filipino breakfast comfort food. We enjoyed their homemade tapa, longganisa and bangus — made even more delicious by the fresh air and garden ambience. The entire place transforms for dinner, with lamps and candlelight making an extremely romantic setting.

The food was superb — with some of our favorites including lato salad and mushrooms in gata. There’s still currently a liquor ban in San Pablo, but we assume that the wine selection is equally superb as Roy used to be in the business of distributing wines and spirits from Spain.

San Pablo is a quick getaway for those who need a break from city stress and want to enjoy the peace and cool, fresh air. “Being here changed my perspective — the way I see things, the way I taste food. The Philippines is an incorporation of old and new ideas and that’s something that should always be felt and appreciated,” Roy concludes. Experience a taste of the past yourself at Sulyap. Have a glimpse of a beautiful conundrum of the present and the past.

Sulyap Gallery and Bed and Breakfast is located in Brgy. Del Remedio, Cocoland Compound, San Pablo City. Contact them at 09209519158 / 09175968760 / (049) 562-9735 or [email protected]

Photos by Sam Dayrit