How a bar in Cubao became home for a generation of Filipino creatives

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Today x Future was the intersection between different subcultures and demographics — a creative playground for many. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On June 18, Today x Future announced on Instagram that they would be closing their doors permanently. The Cubao branch had been operating for nearly twelve years. Beloved by musicians and the queer community alike, TxF was considered a second home to its loyal patronage, well-known for its welcoming atmosphere and its promise, always, of a good time.

The enhanced community quarantine has put the nightlife industry on a tentative hold, leaving owners to scramble for a means to get by. In its earlier weeks, a campaign was mounted to #SaveOurFuture by forwarding donations and making advance purchases. Now, with the news of Today x Future’s closure, it was difficult for many to witness the end of an era from behind their screens. With no proper send-off party, people were quick to share images of their fondest memories and wildest nights on social media. The hashtag #KwentongTxF was used on Twitter to recount the glorious, the hazy, and the (more often than not) embarrassing times spent along Cubao Expo (its first location) and General Malvar. It was clear that over the last decade, many found their own voices and their own kin in Today x Future.

One of the remarkable things about the space is how it became home to many creatives from different generations — starting from the founders themselves. Many of the country’s best fashion designers, artists, photographers, DJs, and musicians call Today x Future home. Here, they recount how the space is more than just a bar but a nerve center of creativity and collaboration.

Leah Castaneda (co-founder): I’ve been living in Cubao for more than 40 years and have been frequenting Cubao X ever since. When I Love You Store finally moved there, I would just walk there to visit Mimi [one of Sharon’s business partners back then], whom I’ve been friends with since the ’90s when we were both still designing clothes for Milkwear. They asked me if I'd like to put up a cafe on the first floor ‘cause they needed someone to half the rent with and collaborate with. I just said "yes ok," not knowing anything about running a cafe though I know I am very good at hosting parties.

Soon, I had to decide the name. Since we've been calling it future (meaning our future spot during construction), I just said, let’s just call it Future since we're already used to it. We merged and named it I LOVE YOU x FUTURE, which eventually evolved to Today x Future when ILY closed.

My brother, Chie, helped us a lot especially with the music direction and film showings we would have every week. We used to go to raves together and even had a Thrift Thursdays night in ABG’s where he would DJ and my friends and I would sell our stuff. Let's just say we’re greatly influenced by the ‘90s! I also asked my younger brother, Austin, to join the team and manage the bar.

Yes, it was exactly how we imagined: a place for music, arts, and literature. We just never imagined or expected the impact that we've shared with the community.

Sharon Atillo (co-founder): What we did not imagine though was that, as fun as it was making and working on TxF, it was also as hard making everything work.

Samantha Samonte (DJ and part-owner): It was natural guidance that I received because it was a nursery for us misfits who are trying to find ourselves. It highlighted my love for music and arts, and taught me how to gain my own footing. Also being mentored by Leah all these years meant learning so much, from throwing clever events and talking to clients to making the most of littlest resources.

Sharon Atillo: Everything I did was for TxF — and it’s still my way of life. Working in an office doing 9-to-5 was out of the question; we actually "work" 24/7.

TxF became a place that we made because it was possible to make it. Somehow it felt like it was served by fate that we build this place ‘cause we didn’t fit in anywhere else. I guess that’s why so many have been affected by its closing because they also grew up with us. They look at pictures of themselves when we were still at Cubao X and say, "OMG I was still in college then… I was so poor then… I was so thin then…" To quote one of our regulars: “We were all broke but we were happy.”

Sharon Atillo. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Leah Castañeda (center). Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Samantha Nicole Samone, musician Aly Cabral, rapper CALIX, and Karlo Vicente. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Leah Castañeda: It wasn’t just a party; it was an education of all sorts. It gave me a sense of fulfillment because we were able to contribute to the culture and provide a space for everyone. I agree with Shar! It became both our work and our life, where we learned so much from our community too. We all grew up together and built each other up.

Perhaps the best asset of TxF was the music. People would always remember their favorite tunes, even long after their hangovers. Even international musicians, from Ladytron to Kings of Convenience, have played DJ sets in Future.

Diego Mapa (musician): I first suggested to Leah their first CDJ kit: it was a Gemini mixer with 2 CDJs [...] the most affordable at that time in the market. It’s not very good actually; it did not last very long because of everyday abuse, but it kick started TxF to be a dance club.

I was able to DJ there so many times, it is there that I learned how to read crowds when DJ-ing. Learned all sorts of music from the other DJs. Also learned how to host a party, whether putting up my own DJ show or even hosting a party at home.

That’s what Leah and her family are good at: hosting, serving the people, how to connect with guests. They also have good taste in clothes, music, and all sorts of pop culture. But the music being played there, especially in the earlier years, greatly influenced my taste in music.

Gian Romano (fashion designer): Some of my best sets were played there. Sets that, at the end of the night, I wish I could remember the track sequence.

Petra Magno (writer): My friend Carina [Santos] and I ran a music blog called "Warmest Corner," and maybe that's how we ended up behind the DJ booth one night in 2012, armed with an iTunes playlist that we put together. I don't remember exactly how or why we were blessed with that, but that was the first time I felt the thrill of watching people dance to music that we had intentionally chosen and arranged. That was also the night I discovered that dancing to Robyn, in a dark room with a disco ball surrounded with your friends, is transcendent.

Mafia (DJ): When I first played [as a DJ], it was just a random request from Austin to make me come out more. I didn’t think it was going to go anywhere after that, to be honest. But here I am now!

Karlo Vicente (DJ): I remember years ago, no one was really doing disco, and we were already doing regular disco nights at Future. They gave me a space to do [my program], Blitz, which I didn't really plan, as it was sort of a last-minute thing. I thought it was just a one-time thing, but it became a monthly party. It’s now [in] its fourth year. With my parties, I know these don’t really make a ton of money, but Future gave me a space to do it.

Kim FG (DJ): I was fresh-off-the-boat from Iloilo, wide-eyed and wanted to take it all in, freedom away from my parents, the excitement of falling in love with new people and places. I went to the Kylie Minogue concert in Araneta and sat beside Mersi Carballo's older brother and sister, singing out loud to songs. After the concert, they invited me to hang with them at Future, so I went and it was love at first sight. The people, the music, the euphoria of it all was a lot to take in. It was where I knew I wanted to be.

Mersi Carballo (photographer): It was a whole different world to me, but the patrons and owners were so warm and open and made me feel at home right away. It definitely made a huge impact on my music taste. I discovered indie music there and learned how to spin.

Mafia, James Grr, and fashion designer Santi Obcena. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Kiko Escora. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

TxF's Chie Castañeda with Diego Mapa. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Michael Benedicto (musician): The Future kids are big fans of indie pop, hosting regular shows around that type of music in its early days. Our band Outerhope produced music somewhat related to that genre, and we got invited to play in productions like Strict Rules of Polite Society and Strangeometry. From there, Future became a staple in our lives both in and out of performances.

Diego Mapa: [My favorite was when] The Diegos opened for Reuben Wu’s DJ set (Ladytron). Erlend Oye and Jens Lenkman visited TxF (the latter did an impromptu DJ set), The Whitest Boy Alive crew also did an impromptu DJ set once, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart also partied in TxF. Lastly, the legendary DJ, Keb Darge performed there, and they had a problem with the DJ mixer which, ahem, I had to go home, I think, to supply mine. Good times!

It wasn’t uncommon to pivot back and forth between creative fields through Today x Future. It held the intersection between different subcultures and demographics, making it very easy to try new things.

Mike Lavarez (DJ and fashion designer): I was one of the "Season 1" kids of TxF. That time I was one of the designers of I Love You Store. Later on, our family grew and it became a haven for upcoming designers, artists, musicians, etc. It started making noise in the music, fashion and art industries because we hosted avant-garde fashion shows exhibits. It was where the Panty Monsters started!

Ziggy Savella (fashion designer): As a baby gay fashion designer then it was such an amazing place to be. You get to meet all the designers you would read about in magazines, be able to talk to the people you usually just stalk on Live Journal. We all share the fashion, music, and the space like we are all equal.

Sean Bautista (DJ and designer): They embody an aggressive punk and DIY attitude that’s not devoid of its love for community and each stakeholder in its ecosystem. Its circular and inclusive approach has taught me that every voice in your community matters.

Kiko Escora (DJ and artist): By default, the venue was very supportive of creativity and creatives, especially the young ones, and/or the under exposed. It has given numerous talents a platform to grow and flourish. In my case, I guess I’ve been more of a quiet supporter and contributor to the trajectory of the place.

The Today X Future pizza. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Isola Tong. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

TxF's Austin Castañeda. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Miguel Aquilizan (artist): TxF created an amazing ecosystem that mixed every subculture in one space. It created a safe space where there was no prejudice and pretension. It was an amazing community, a second family.

Pau Tiu (graphic artist): I think having our studio (Bad Student) right next to the place has been such a cool experience for us. We would always mention TxF whenever someone asks us where our studio is located and people would instantly recognize the place. It’s a nice icebreaker when meeting new people/artists.

Austin Castañeda (DJ, stylist, and manager): Future gave me purpose, it gave me life. Apart from being a manager [...] madaming styling and DJ gigs, events and production opportunities ang nagmula sa Future. Lahat ‘yan natutunan sa Today x Future, and eventually naturo ko din sa mga younger batch.

Elyoo Dela Cruz (illustrator): Everyone was very open and supportive of whatever you wanted to do and as a (then) young creative. I think this has helped me to be more at ease with myself and I felt free to experiment and find my own voice/style.

Julianna Force (DJ): I don’t think you can ever be at Future and not grow as a person, because all the people there are brutally honest, but they always come from a good place.

Jer Dee (illustrator): In 2017, Julianna Force — one of the hosts of Bad Girls — asked me to make an event poster. Her only brief was to make it fun. At the time, I was still struggling trying to find my aesthetic as an illustrator. When I finished that [first] poster, something clicked — I really loved it. I felt that I finally figured out what I wanted to create moving forward. Bad Girls became my avenue for creating artworks I wouldn’t be able to create anywhere else: loud and queer.

Isola Tong (artist and architect): I'm a trans woman with very eccentric taste, and very few people in Manila could relate, but I found a place where I could listen and play and share my obscure musical interests. I think the place provided me a space to express and gain confidence creatively and provided chance meetings with creative people who helped me eventually with my career and self-discovery.

James Grr (DJ and photographer): TxF gave me the opportunity to play around with my photography covering certain parties and was even able to participate in a group exhibit. I made flyers for some of the nights I threw and this is where I played my first ever DJ set. I’ve learned so much about photography and DJ-ing just by hanging out with my friends on quiet weeknights. All these skills are basically the ones I’ve been using to make a living. Without TxF, I’m not really sure what I’d be doing right now.

TXF'S former manager PJ Christine and bar boys JP and Palafox. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

The TXF disco ball. Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Juan Miguel Severo (poet and writer): [In TxF,] people [hold] each other accountable for their craft. [People] are politically engaged, and unapologetically queer and involved in the struggle of the LGBTQIA+ community. We need people like that to keep us grounded and not lose sight of what matters. There is a movement happening amid the struggle, and being at TxF never failed to remind me that I should participate in it.

RJ Santos (fashion designer): Without Future, I [think] hindi ako ganito ngayon in terms of how I think. Future was like a school na 'pag pumunta ka d'on, uuwi kang may bagong alam. At 'yung ikinaganda pa niya, hindi lang puro fashion. Iba-ibang fields, na puwede mong ma-apply sa ginagawa mo. It really had a huge impact especially on Randolf. D'on ko mas narealize and prove sa sarili ko na ok lang maging different and mag-isip differently.

A Today x Future regular wouldn’t be without a number of war stories and oddities under their belt. It’s a trademark of the brand. When asked about a favorite TxF moment, “too many to count” is often the usual response, or perhaps, the decent one.

Janine Gutierrez (actress): Last time I was there was the “Babae at Baril” and QCinema afterparty and it was perfect because TxF always felt like a haven for celebrations. People spilling out into the street, talking to everyone you bump into, not knowing who you'll see but feeling like everyone came there together. It felt like a community, a collective that made you feel there would always be a place in the world for all your wild ideas.

Petersen Vargas (filmmaker): I shot a portion of BP Valenzuela’s “Steady” music video in Future. The ending scenes to the pilot episode of my queer series “Hanging Out” was written with TxF specifically in mind. Future, in retrospect, has always given me a clear vision of how it must be to feel like a queer boy finally taking claim on his own body and heart.

Raya Martin (filmmaker): I have so many core memories at Future but some surreal ones include hanging out with visiting artists like Antoine d’Agata on a Cubao crawl, or dancing with Christopher Doyle on a slow weekday because he wanted a break from shooting a film.

Dex Fernandez (artist): I threw a GaraParty in TxF back in 2016. That’s when I painted the garapata mural outside and so I 'garapatized' the interior as well with thousands of neon and glow in the dark stickers.

I was in front of the DJ’s booth dancing when all of a sudden a friend passed out in my face. One of my friends told me about him [falling] on the floor and my reaction was “Just ignore him, give him a break” and we continued dancing. I lost sight of him. Another friend dragged me outside to check on him. He got hydrated and ventilated and brought back to normal. I asked him how he was, and he replied, “Walangya ka, munting na akong mamatay!”

Neal Corpus (editor, stylist): There are funny memories ranging from sitting on the street in a circle to badly flirting with boys to drunkenly fighting over a fresh pack of cigarettes only to end up spilling it on the floor, but my favorite memory one has got to be hearing Robyn's “Dancing On My Own” for the first time and seeing everyone rush in after just hearing the first few notes.

BJ Pascual (photographer): I had a long and very stressful shoot around Eastwood, and I went straight to TxF because I knew Mike was spinning that night. It was a bit early and no one was there. Mike behind the DJ booth, me on the dancefloor, just us two. He played one of our favorite songs, "Lost on the Way Home" by Chromeo and Solange, but with the tempo heavily slowed down. It’s my first memory of Mike was at Future back in Cubao Expo, more than 10 years before we even got together, and I already had a crush on him back then. Fast forward to a decade and we're together alone in (almost) the same bar.

"I don’t think you can ever be at Future and not grow as a person, because all the people there are brutally honest, but they always come from a good place." Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Julianna Force (center). Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL

Joey Santos. Photo courtesy of JOEY SANTOS

The owners and staff of Today x Future and its sister bar "Futurist" which is in Poblacion, Makati. Photo courtesy of AUSTIN CASTAÑEDA

DJ Joey Santos (DJ, photographer): Eating pizza while lying down on the asphalt and thinking about all the possibilities: life began unfolding for me in a totally different way because of those nights spent in TxF and I have absolutely no regrets!

James Grr: There was one night when I was hanging out with some of my friends and regulars were just having a few drinks, we got hungry and we all decided to pitch in and, for some reason, ordered all the chicken items on their menu. Stayed the whole night until closing time. We did this every Monday and even started calling Monday nights “Chickenlambing Nights.” I know it’s not the most eventful memory, but it’s one that’s I’ll always be fond of.

Diego Mapa: I forgot what party it was, but it was late, everybody was happy with their own groups of company, scattered around the bar, chatting, some dancing away. The music was good, the crowd’s already on the streets. I think Sharon, one of the owners, attempted to leave. So, when she drove by, she had to open her window to say goodbye. She wasn’t escaping, she was casually leaving. When she said goodbye, in a second, a hoard of friends opened all the doors, occupied the car, people on the roof dancing, people sat on the hood, sat on the back hood. The party, transferred to the car as if it’s an extension of the bar. Obviously, she stayed longer.

Pau Tiu: My best friend and I were hanging out in Katipunan and we got bored. We went on Reddit to find people who were game to hang out and one guy replied and said that he was just around the area. Turns out, this guy was a magician? He showed us some card tricks (think David Blaine-ish) and a cool mobile app he was developing. The place we were drinking at was about to close so we decided to go to TxF.

Once we’re there I didn’t realize that I was wearing slippers and the bouncer told us he couldn't let us in. So this guy told us to wait and ran to his apartment that’s “15 [minutes] away” from TxF. We waited for 30 [minutes] and thought that the guy ditched us so we decided to just call it a night and go home. As we were about to leave, we saw him running with a pair of shoes in his hand. This dude came through! When the night ended he told me that I can keep the shoes as a remembrance.

Celeste Lapida (filmmaker): [There was a night when Nadine Lustre] came, and everyone repeatedly asked each other “Nandyan si Nadine?” The 11th anniversary party was really fun too. But personally, I think my fave would be on one Fascination Street Friday, I had been invited by Elephant friends to go to XX to catch an international DJ. But I just wasn’t feeling like dancing to techno. So I went to Future and danced all my moves to New Wave. Every day, different music, and knowing that, I think is my favorite.

Joseph Pascual (photographer): I distinctly remember the week-long party Future threw for its 8th anniversary. It began Monday, and ended on Saturday with each night being a "Greatest Hits" of TxF's themed genre nights: Misyonaryo Mondays for old school and slow jams; Tuesday Jazz for soul, jazz, and live music; The Strict Rules Of Polite Society for indie pop; and open format night Kids These Days. Friday and Saturday were a mess. I was drunk for an entire week. It was the greatest week of my life.

A Today x Future 'class picture.' Photo by JOSEPH PASCUAL


With reporting by Don Jaucian