The Hobbit House Manila was one of the most notorious bars of Manila. When you think about crazy Manila is that surely takes some beating. Shaped like a an actual Hobbit House, well the door anyway the idea was that it would give gainful employment to the midgets of Manila.
This was the case for many years, before market forces took their toll. The Hobbit House was accused by some of being exploitative. Perhaps it was in some ways, but in reality it is also provided employment for a marginalized group in the country.
It was certainly far less exploitative than Ringside Bar, which you can read about here.
The Hobbit House Manila story
Founded by Jim Turner in 1973, a former Peace Corps Volunteer from Iowa, it exsiting more as a social enterprise than a business. Almost all the staff from waiters to cashiers and bartenders were midgets. The Hobbit House meant that they could escape the harsh streets of Manila.
Originally located in Mabini it moved to the notorious Ermita district. You can read more about Ermita here, but to call the area dodgy would be doing it a disservice. Most of the bars here tend to be aimed at lonely gentlemen looking for company for the evening.
As Jim’s health went down hill due to smoking and drinking way too much he eventually gifted the company to his staff as a cooperative. Alas the end was nigh. The cooperative lasted for a while, but sadly without the management of Jim things were never going to work out long term.
Eating and drinking at the Hobbit House Manila
One of the more expensive places in the area, including a cover charge it had a great selection of global beers, typical bar food and good cocktails. . There was often live music and from my point of view at least made a great place for the first night of a tour.
It was though rarely busy, something you cannot have in a downtown location. Even on the nights when there was music I never saw it packed. Sadly this is also one of the bad points about “people”. I remember taking a customer here who complained that the midgets did not “do anything”, as if they were put there for his amusement.
Rolling with the midgets
One night I had visited the Hobbit House Manila with a German fiend. We’d left a nice tip and then carried in drinking in other places. On walking back past the Hobbit House they were closing. The staff recognized and invited us to Karaoke. What was to follow was an all night party with the staff of the Hobbit House Manila! I actually had to go straight to the airport from the bar. Not the best flight I have ever taken.
They told us how happy they were working there and we remained friends. I would even throw them some work there way if I had any in Manila.
Then out of nowhere it just closed. We met up the night after the closure and the guys and girls were devastated., and were literally wandering the streets not knowing what to do.
And that sadly has remained the situation since then.
Will the Hobbit House Manila reopen?
Seeing as it has now been closed fro 3 years, the likelihood, particularly now with coronavirus is pretty slim. Bar wise this pretty much leaves Ringside Bar as the only option. There is very little ambiguity about this place being exploitative, but again I have friends that work here too. To them at least it certainly beats living on the streets.
Hopefully one day another knight in shining armour will appear and something similar might open again, but don’t hold your breath in the current climate.
Hobbit House manila, yes you were tacky, but you served a a great purpose.