It was a peculiar pub in the heart of Manila, a tiny nook in the big city, a seemingly insignificant crevice that was hard to see. Yes, it was there and yet, in a forest of skyscrapers, it was nowhere. Who knew that to step through its door would be to step through a portal?
Down the hobbit-hole
The Hobbit House, a Tolkien-themed bar founded in the 1970s by Irish-American Jim Turner, is that quaint abode. Despite being hidden deep within Malate, it stands out in the district, in the metropolis, and even in the world as a bar run by larger-than-life little people.
The entrance itself is a big, bright, circular door characteristic of hobbit-holes with a standee of Gandalf who, ironically, is inviting you to pass and step into an adventure only offered by the homely bar. Upon entering The Hobbit House, it feels as if you are transported into Frodo’s very own dwelling. Decorations inspired by The Lord of the Rings (LotR) litter the inside. Colorful paintings of fantastic creatures are hung on every wall and wondrous trinkets fill the shelves, seemingly put there by actual hobbits. With whimsy in every corner, the place can tickle anyone’s imagination.
The real heart of the experience though comes not in the grandiose adornments but in small packages—the people of small stature who embrace the pub’s namesake. These tiny fellows afflicted with dwarfism, a condition that stunts growth, offer visitors sweet smiles and wait on them for the night. Some even sing or do stand-up comedy on stage. Coupled with the overall atmosphere, it’s as if J.R.R. Tolkien’s works were made manifest by a rift in reality.
A cult following
The pub is usually chock-full with customers once the sun sets, the bar opens, and the magic begins. It is the time when the gateway to Middle-earth unlocks and the line dividing fact from fiction disappears. Fans of LotR flock to The Hobbit House to experience an extraordinary night when their favorite characters come to life before their very eyes. Even people who are unfamiliar with the series visit the place for its novelty.
Christine, an avid reader of LotR who was visiting for the first time, was in awe at what she described as a “surreal experience.” “It is amazing to be here. It’s like I’m inside my favorite novels!” she said. Meanwhile, Matthew, a Hobbit House regular, shared that while he wasn’t a die-hard fan of Tolkien’s works, he sure was of The Hobbit House. “I’ve only watched The Fellowship of the Ring and didn’t find it too good but this [The Hobbit House] really is something to come back to. It’s [a] unique place to chill.”
The patrons of The Hobbit House vary from the usual bar-goers to entire families complete with children. Albeit gleaming bottles of liquor line the counters, The Hobbit House remains a kid-friendly place. Matthew, who sometimes brings along his 11-year-old sister when going to The Hobbit House, explains, “She loves it here. To her, it’s like she’s in a fairy tale. She loves the food, especially the steaks. Even if there’s alcohol being served, the place isn’t too masama (seedy). Families regularly frequent the place anyway.”
The Hobbit House’s wide demographic of customers isn’t just limited to the average Joe though; even renowned stars are captivated by the place. Ed Sheeran, who wrote and sang I See Fire for the soundtrack of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, visited the bar after his concert in Manila last March. According to the staff, Sheeran, being a massive LotR fan, had a heck of a time and, in a humbling twist of events, asked for photos with them, the “hobbits,” instead of them asking for photos with him. Sam Smith, another LotR pundit and critically acclaimed singer, is also said to pay a visit this November after his concert.
In addition to the buzz generated by its slew of visitors, several local and international news channels such as CNN have covered the place and its crew of petite peeps. Indeed, the Hobbit House has gone a long way as a relatively humble bar tucked away amid a plethora of upscale hangouts.
More than just a bar
The fantasy-filled bar, having earned worldwide fame, now plans on broadening its business. “We envision The Hobbit House to expand more in the next 10 years to help more little people out,” Manager Mary Anne Crisostomo shared in an interview. New branches, with a second one in Boracay leading the forefront, are intended to be established not only for revenue’s sake but also for The Hobbit House to advance its cause of extending a helping hand to those of inadequate size.
Many vertically challenged people have been assisted by the pub. Crisostomo herself, standing no more than five feet, was practically raised by The Hobbit House. Her mother and father both worked there to put her through college and when she turned 18 she took the position of manager. Despite all else being the same apart from height, individuals with dwarfism often encounter problems when looking for a job because of discrimination. “Although they [the ‘hobbits’] are college graduates, they had a hard time looking for a place of employment,” Crisostomo sounded. Luckily, “The Hobbit House took them in and now they’re admired for their abilities regardless of their height.” Like the bar itself, these little people, in spite of being surrounded by towering figures, manage to outshine those larger than them.
For Crisostomo and the rest of the “hobbits,” the Hobbit House is not just where they work. It’s a second family where their height is celebrated instead of being looked down on. A pub with a mission, The Hobbit House is more than a fleeting trend. It stands as a testament to the abilities of little people notwithstanding their lack of height. Beneath all the LotR gimmicks is a core value—equality for all—that it seeks to propagate. The Hobbit House takes the misconceptions about dwarfism and in the darkness binds them.
In addition to advocating that little people can do what big people can just as well, The Hobbit House also caters to the needs of the community. In its Beyond the Blaze fire relief fundraiser, the bar raised a hefty sum that it donated to the victims of a fire in Quiapo. The “hobbits,” living true to the nature of their pure-hearted fictional counterparts, plan to have more charitable projects like these in the near future.
It was a peculiar pub in the heart of Manila, one with a portal to Middle-earth as well as a portal to the reality of living as a “hobbit.”
With a one-of-a-kind concept, an abundance of loyal patrons, and a thrust for charity, The Hobbit House, though a tiny nook in the big city, stands tall in the urban jungle in opposition to the rigid notions of big and small. It truly is The One Bar to Rule Them All. But of course, that would be all for naught if it wasn’t for the amiable, diminutive folk who take pride in the name “hobbits”–they are the ones who hold the Rings of Power.