I WAS eyeing some place else on my second night in Dipolog, but my Dipolog friend Adrian A., managing editor of Mindanao Observer, was advised that it was not the best time to go there, and so he instead invited me to meet his friends and maybe, share coffee with them at Café Romano.

From Ariana Hotel where Adrian picked me up to D’Hotel downtown was enough time to brief me on who his friends are. They’re a family, he said, who usually hangs out at D’Hotel because the eldest in the brood of three is the manager.

The kids are all home-schooled and have developed a bond so close, you always see the family together wherever they go. The father’s a visual artist, a sculptor-painter. The mother and the three kids are into music – classical music.

So there we were, meeting for the first time – Didi, the father, Laclac, the mother, Miracle, the middle child and only daughter, and the youngest, 15-year-old Mishael. The Romanos of Dipolog. In between pleasantries were inputs of what Cafe Romano is.

It’s their house, and I thought, “Ohhh! Like the houses in DBP Village in Davao City that has been turned into restaurants! This must be fun!” A few more pleasantries that informed me that Laclac was Carol Arguillas’ classmate in journalism in UP Diliman, we were on their way to the café. Except that… it was a house.

Yes, a house. Not a house converted into a café nor a house that has a streetside café. It’s an old well lived in, full of clutter, life, and living house. Period.

And there’s a lot to see… and hear. Out came the coffee in demitasses or dainty espresso cups, some cookies, and… a private piano and violin concert.

I’d have stayed longer if not for the fact that I have just met them and it was nearing 11 p.m. Café Romano is indeed a unique experience in that Dipolog trip. Except that, remember, it’s their house. It’s not open for public… although they would if they find you on their gate.

Like this group of 11 visitors from Surigao who arrived one day looking for Café Romano and were apparently shocked that they were led through the garage where an old car is parked up the old wooden stairs and then inside the living room that even though small has two upright pianos and a lot to feast the eyes on, including a glass cabinet full of old cameras.

They only realized that they barged into a private house when they were ready to leave and were asking how much their bill was.

There wasn’t any bill. “Look at the box beneath you,” the dad Didi said. I looked, it was a wooden box with the top cover marked “Café Romano”. “No, at the side,” he said.

I bent further, and true enough, there it was: “We only serve finest coffee for free.”