We arrived in Laoag at noon, hungry from the two-hour bus trip from Pagudpud. After we negotiated the cost of a tour around Laoag (PHP800/tricycle) with one of the tricycle drivers near the bus stop, we asked the driver to take us somewhere to eat.


My travel buddy spotted it before I did—Johnny Moon Café. I had actually included this in my itinerary, but since I was hungry, and I wasn’t sure it was open, it being Good Friday and all, I didn’t think we’d get to eat here. So, this was a welcome surprise.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about the place, except someone suggested trying the crispy dinuguan, if we get a chance to eat there.


The lemon grass iced tea was a nice refreshing treat from the heat


We ordered crispy dinuguan to pair with rice

As we sat down inside the café, a couple of things clicked in my head. See, I’ve been thinking about this ever since I saw the tour guides in Pagudpud wearing shirts with a logo of a mustache imprinted on them. I also saw the mustache in banners around the tourist spots. Hmmmmm, mustaches and Ilocos Norte? Frankly, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t make sense of why those mustaches were showing up near the Bangui windmills or in the Kapurpurawan rock formation. Was Ilocos trying to appeal to hipsters?


I’ve been seeing those mustache logos on the different guide’s shirts in Pagudpud, Bangui and Burgos

This same mustache that has been bugging me I now see in Johnny Moon: in their signs, their menus… and in their walls. It turns out Johnny Moon Café is inspired by the life and works of Juan Luna, the famous Filipino painter born in Ilocos Norte. Juan Luna = Johnny Moon. Get it? And yes, Juan Luna is a mustachioed fellow. He has a nice thick one at that. So that explains this whole thing that Ilocos Norte had going on. They had made Juan Luna their icon. They made him part of their Paoay Kumakaway tourism campaign.


Juan Luna = Johnny Moon

The art in Johnny Moon Café reminded me of the Team Manila campaigns, only instead of Jose Rizal in his hipster wayfarers, we have Juan Luna and his mustache. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people behind Team Manila are the same design team that Ilocos hired for their attempt at a “hip” tourist promotion.


Is it effective? I suppose if your first stop is Laoag, it is, because then you get to put two and two together. But for someone who started at the farther north Pagudpud, I must admit, it was a head-scratcher. This may lead to further embarrassment on my part, but I honestly did not know that Juan Luna was from Ilocos Norte. Or that he was iconic enough to be made a symbol of a whole province.

I think the confusion comes from the fact that when I think of famous historical figures and Ilocos Norte, the first thing that pops in my mind is the Marcoses. And seeing as a lot of the tourist attractions, especially around Laoag has some sort of link to this famous family’s history, it’s kind of hard to get that out of your head. But then again, maybe that’s just me. What do you think?


Like a sir! Trying out the mustache we got from Johnny Moon Cafe

* * *

This post is part of a series I made on a recent trip I was on during the Holy Week holiday. Read the other posts by clicking on the links below:

Download a copy of my itinerary here.

14 thoughts on “Mustachioed in Ilocos Norte

  1. i’ve been to this cafe though it wasn’t still open when we got there. seeing the signboard, i asked myself, why would an ilocano diner be named ‘johnny moon’?! it didn’t sound ilocano to me. now it makes sense. johnny moon = juan luna lol

    • Hahaha! So it really wasn’t just me! If we hadn’t gone inside and I didnt see the mural with Juan Luna, I dont think I would’ve figured it out easily.

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