Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
The setting around Oakwood had a much more upmarket feel to it than Kemang or Grogol. Although the taxi route from Semanggi revealed that, in between the cracks of the city plan of contemporary skyscrapers, at street level were the usual broken pavements, overgrown tropical brush and run down makeshift food stalls serviced by dirt-poor traders. This familiar scene tended to take the sheen off the dazzling parts of central Jakarta.
From outside, Loewy’s looked like a chic western wine bar, but unlike anywhere in England or Europe, the up market welcome party at the door didn’t signal the pseudo-exclusive nonsense of dress inspection and ‘guest list’ questioning. As I approached the entrance, my reception were two suited Indonesian gentleman and an attractive Indonesian lady who was sat at a podium beside the doorway. They all welcomed me with a smile before lifting the velvet rope to allow me inside. Once inside I found that for the first time since arriving in Jakarta I was amongst a predominantly western crowd of people – this was definitely an expat’s bar.
Almost all the clientele in Loewy’s were English speaking Bules dressed in shirts and stylish, smart-casual, wine bar apparel. The Indonesian men, most of whom were enthusiastic cocktail makers and serving staff, were easily outnumbered by the well dressed, high-heeled Indonesian women. Deep house music complemented the gaps in between the hubbub of conversation rather than assaulting the atmosphere in the way the assorted collection of noisy racket did in the bars and restaurants around Grand Central. This place felt like a venue that was dressed appropriately, had the right equipment and knew what it was doing. I liked it.
I found Simon at the bar where he said he would be. It was his favoured position when on the prowl, apparently. Although the place was quite full, he was pretty easy to spot as he was one of the few people wearing a full suit. As I walked up to him I could see he was already well oiled; he looked clammy, flushed, and being sat alone, a little sheepish. I felt quite bad for being so late, so I walked up behind him and gave him a jovial, hearty slap on the shoulder. He was pretty drunk and hardly flinched as he turned toward me with a big, toothy smile; “Hey Jeff”
“Told you I’d get here before midnight” I smiled back at him. “So what’s going on?”
“Well I’ve consumed quite a few since… I… I… I got started early, so I’m quite… quite merry shall we say – but not too drunk!” he assured me with a wag of the finger “I can take my drink, you can be sure of that. So how’s it going?”
“Good, good” I said, “This place looks very lively.”
“Yes, Wednesday’s are usually quite fun. Ladies night does attract quite… quite a nice crowd I think”, he said with a mischievous smile.
The bar was crowded and it was indeed ladies night with lots of sophisticated looking, very attractive Indonesian women dressed to impress. The place actually had an atmosphere, something that was totally missing from the brightly lit, venues around Grand Central. I felt quite comfortable, like I was actually welcome.
The bar area in Loewy’s was pretty congested and there wasn’t much space to get in next to Simon to order a drink, but the waiters were well trained and it wasn’t long before a tall, slim, Indonesian bartender, sporting a ponytail and looking very cool in a white shirt and black waistcoat, nodded at me for my order. I asked Simon what he was drinking; “The long island’s in here are very good. I’ve had a few”, he said
“Ok” I said. I leant over to cut through the noise and give the barman my order; “Long island ice tea please”, I asked. He gave an affirmative nod and joined the hustle of busy staff behind the bar to prepare my drink.
With my cocktail on the way, a host of expats to mingle with and a high-spirited Englishman for company, the night was looking promising. But, this was Jakarta, and this city just didn’t like me.
I hadn’t even had a chance to fully settle into my surroundings when I heard an argument brewing between a group of guys who were stood beside me. I didn’t quite know what was going on, but there was an Indonesian woman in the mix, a big drunken idiot and cocky little finger-pointing mate. They seemed to be directing whatever the cause of their drunken anger was at a guy who was sat next to where I was stood at the bar. This guy was sat alone, yet despite the increasingly loud and animated umbrage surrounding him, he seemed surprisingly calm.
As voices became louder and threats were hurled, the man dance was eventually offered.
“Well come outside then, come on. Fucking come outside you fucking arsehole… She’s my woman… I’ll say what I want… Yeah… What?” – blah blah blah. I’d seen this type of thing many times before and I could see that this was all alcohol fuelled bluster from which nothing was going to erupt. We weren’t in England and this wasn’t a place where bottles were smashed across people’s heads or glasses into faces. This was middle-class professionals puffing up their chest because they’re far from home and have had a lot to drink. They weren’t the naturally violent types I had become used to in city bars in England. The guy who was sat down seemed to know this too and taunted the two drunken Bules with his disinterest as he sat calmly puffing on his cigarette amidst their shouty arm-waving.
Eventually the Indonesian barman with the ponytail joined in. He started shouting at the big drunken idiot, the little finger-pointing man was shouting at the man who was sat at the bar whilst strategically placing himself between his friend and any physical trouble, and the Indonesian woman was artfully teetering on very high heels, pleading for everyone to calm down. As the shouting got louder, virtually all the bar staff got behind Mr. Ponytail (who I assumed was the head barman) in defence of the solo seated man, and soon everyone was just shouting. The bar staff were shouting at the drunken idiots to leave, the drunken idiots were shouting idle threats at the seated man, meanwhile, the Indonesian woman had just given up and was leaving the testosterone to work itself out.
All this shouting and arm waving was threatening to ruin the cordial, fun atmosphere in Loewy’s and inevitably the doormen moved in. They ushered the two drunken idiots out of the door and the whole thing ended without so much as a punch being thrown or a glass being smashed. As they were politely jostled out of the venue with the assistance of a group of bar staff, I heard the man sat at the bar say, “Facking arsehole” in an Australian accent. He looked at me, smiled, shrugged and took another swig of his drink. One of the guys behind the bar asked him if he was ok.
“Ah it’s nothing mate, don’t worry about it. Some people just get a bit too drunk that’s all. No worries mate, not a problem at all.”
The minor commotion seemed to have stunned Simon into silence, so I tried to lighten his mood a little; “This is the kind of place you bring me to Simon!” I said to him, “bar brawls and people being dragged out by doormen. I thought you said this was a nice place.”
He quickly regained his jovial spirit and said, “I… I… Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like that in here ever before. It’s you! You Mancs. You always bring trouble”, he joked.
“Eh, don’t blame me! I’ve only just got here. I’ve not even had a drink yet – where is my drink anyway?” I said, as I searched the bar for Mr. Ponytail and my long time coming long island ice tea.
“What was all that about?” Simon asked.
“I dunno; some bird, some drunken guys, fuck knows.” I replied. So I turned to the Australian and asked him.
“Ah nothing mate”, he said with brusque Australian cockiness, “This guy was talking shit to his girl so I just told him to go and take it outside. It’s not really what you wanna hear when you’re out. He didn’t like it and wanted to play the big man. I’m ok; he wasn’t gonna do nothing” he said confidently. Then he asked me “Where’s that accent from then? Are you a Brit?”
“Ah, right; I thought you sounded a bit Northern.”
“I take it you’re Australian?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s right. So you here on holiday or you working?” He asked.
“No, I’m a teacher; English teacher. I’ve just come out to meet my friend here”, I said as I pointed to Simon. “He told me this was a nice bar; I walk through the door and there’s a brawl going on”, I joked.
“I’ve been here many times,” said Simon “and there’s never been so much as a raised voice. It’s these bloody Mancunians”, he smiled.
“You’re not from Manchester then?” the Aussie said.
“No no no, I went to university there but, no”, Simon replied, before instinctively offering his hand “I’m Simon.”
“Gavin” the Aussie replied as he returned Simon’s firm handshake.
I then introduced myself as Simon struck up conversation with our new bar friend.
Gavin was in his mid-thirties and married to an Indonesian woman. He had lived in the country for several years and was currently living in the Kuningan district, so Loewy’s was his regular. At an average five ten or eleven, he wasn’t a big guy by any accounts, but he said he used to work as a doorman back in Australia when he was just sixteen. As Loewy’s was also his regular drinking spot, he knew all the bar staff and wasn’t worried about what had just happened, dismissing the pair of loud expats as typical of the type of arrogant, drunken idiots you get in the bars around Central Jakarta.
My drink finally arrived as Simon, Gavin and I settled into the typical expat conversation about Jakarta – what’s good (not much), what’s bad (the traffic), where are the best places to go for some decent nightlife – a question to which Gavin seemed to have all the answers. He suggested that we should visit a place called Top Gun when Loewy’s was finished. Simon apparently knew of this place and gave a wry smile when it was mentioned.
“So what is this Top Gun?” I asked them both.
“Oh that’s the seedier side of the city mate”, said Gavin.
“Oh really!” I replied, intrigued as to what constituted “seedy” in a city with the largest Muslim population in Asia.
“Many ladies of the night”, Simon said, eccentuating the key part of his sentence in his deliberate English tone. His voice was now beginning to slur a little as he started on another of Loewy’s potent long island teas.
“Could be interesting”, I said. Having seen Kemang with Claire, I was interested to see what the boys do when they go out to play in Jakarta.