Jan 9, 2009

Travel - Jakarta's Temple to Good Taste


The giant, 11-ft.-high (3.5 m) Buddha watching over A-list revelers was the only one looking serene at the opening of Jakarta's Buddha Bar last November. All other faces betrayed an excitement that had been pent up for 18 months, during which an old immigration office in the upscale Menteng district underwent a much touted multimillion-dollar transformation into a branch of the famed Parisian bar-restaurant — the French establishment's first Asian foray.

Eight weeks after the launch and the buzz surrounding Jakarta's latest nightspot, tel: (62-21) 390 0899, has not died down. There's a downstairs bar, an upstairs restaurant with a Pacific Rim menu, and the terraces and gardens are a pleasant change in a city where drinking and air-conditioning tend to go hand in hand.

Fusion may be a somewhat tired concept, but thoughtful design has elevated what could easily have been a tired look into a timeless one, with deep reds and dark woods lending richness to the interior. The building itself is another plus. "We thought it was sad that so many buildings here need to be saved and decided to restore this one," explains marketing director Renny Sutiyoso.

Despite the grandeur of the building (originally called the Bataviasche Kuntskring when it was built in 1913 by the Dutch colonial administration) and its grounds, Buddha Bar doesn't impose cover charges or enforce a strict dress code. "We want to create a Paris-like experience without the attitude," says Sutiyoso. Areas in the vicinity of Menteng — the Indonesian capital's stuffy old-money enclave — are starting to loosen up in similar fashion, with new venues like the Social House restaurant and the cabaret-themed Raden Puas luring giddy scenesters and young socialites. In the face of this influx, kudos must go to the older residents, who include former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and have so far maintained a Buddha-like calm.

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