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Blok M Nightlife
An intro to... The Bars in Blok M
|Everest||The Stamford Arms|
|Lintas Melawai||Top Gun|
The centre of gravity of Blok M is Jalan Pelatehan (or Jalan F........, as some wags call it). This is a side street next to the bus terminal, and is home to five expat dives and a thunderously loud disco that no-one ever admits to having been in.
Everest is the new kid on the Blok - a brand-new bar in Jalan Pelatehan, one door down from Sportsman at the top of the street. It's a two-floor place, but with a difference. The downstairs is the classical bar and eating area plus podium for a live band at the far end, the upstairs is a traditional pool and dining area. But the upstairs area occupies only half the floor, the rest is open so that the drinkers and diners can see the downstairs bar and the band. The effect is a bit like an old-time cinema, with stalls and a balcony. The only rather surprising omission is a dance-floor.
Everest is squarely aimed at the up-market reveller, the guy who takes his dissipation seriously and wants to do it in style but without giving his bank manager a heart attack. And Everest oozes style - design, decor, lighting and finish are spot on, and there's nothing pretentious or tacky about it. It's all very understated, which means that the dedicated reveller can get down to the serious business of enjoying himself in a pleasant and relaxing ambience.
This place also smacks of very canny planning and marketing. It's set its standard right off the top of the Blok M scale, bringing the quality one expects of the larger hotels and plush downtown bar/discos into south Jakarta. But more importantly, it's not trying to compete with the established bars, it seeks rather to complement them. It doesn't mimic any of the other dives, and has a distinct personality. It's an ideal place for business entertaining and bringing along your out-of-town visitors.
The drinks are premium priced, and the menu offers a sensibly conservative range of dishes all at mainstream prices. The spectrum of spirits and liqueurs is quite stunning - at least five types of Bols, good quality cognacs and single malts festoon the bar, plus a variety of classical drinks from around the world that are completely alien species to Blok M.
The service is friendly and efficient, the bar staff are cheerful and helpful - what more could a reveller desire?
One of the legends of Blok M, this place (located in the middle of Jalan Pelatehan) has been in a time-warp since the mid ‘80s when it opened - and has slowly gone to seed under a succession of disastrous owners who make the emperor Nero look like a rank amateur. And to no-one’s surprise, this hot potato is reportedly changing hands yet again.
The main bar has a characterless long counter with all the charm of a public urinal on the left, facing a pool table; behind it (at the back of the bar) there’s a separate restaurant room, and to the right another bar with a pool table. (This room, too, used to be separate from the main bar - but one day management knocked the wall down without warning anybody and several of the more inebriate regulars fell over when they tried to lean against it.) Drink prices are about average for Blok M.
Top Gun has always been a girlie bar. Mitigating factors: pleasant and efficient bar staff, two (albeit crap) pool tables, and the best nosh on the street.
Catering for the late-night reveller, Oscars nestles in splendid isolation at the bus terminal end of the street.
This bar is a character in search of an author. It can’t really decide whether it’s a live-music-and-dance bar, a pool joint, a watering hole, or a girlie bar. It tries to be all things to all boozers, and falls between more stools than you can count after a skinful of beer.
The downstairs is one long room with a bar on a raised floor at the far end, and the usual counter on the left as you go in. On the right there’s a small stage for the bands, and behind that a seating area that has all the charm and character of a railway station waiting-room. Upstairs there are two pool tables and a slightly quieter bar, and a rather forlorn eating area which is usually empty.
Drinks are expensive, and Oscars has probably the worst bar service on the Blok. You could die of thirst before getting a drink on a busy evening, and settling your bill is a leisurely process. The bar staff are collectively not very good at arithmetic and occasionally develop fits of amnesia about bringing your change when you've paid the bill.
The only live music on the Blok, bands of dubious pedigree strum and howl their way from one 'hit' to another. The ageing Elvis impersonator, a great guy, has to be seen to be believed. On weekday evenings before about 11pm Oscars has all the activity and bustle of a gold-rush ghost-town.
Most of the Oscars girls are well past the first bloom of youth, but there are some real characters to console and entertain revellers.
As the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum”, so D’s Place was called into existence to provide the sort of service and ambience for which the Blok M bars were so rightly famous until a few years ago. And I must say it’s largely succeeded, drawing much of the boozing trade away from the other bars on the Blok and attracting a stunning variety of girls in the process.
D’s Place has a great ambience - it’s a good place to get slowly and sociably smashed out of your skull. By general consensus it’s the best place on the Blok for cheap drinks and honest bar bills, but service can be patchy. Getting a bar girl to take your order is sometimes like trying to get a London bus - you wait for ages, then suddenly two or three arrive at once.
Downstairs is a nicely designed bar and pool annex, but it’s rather small (“bijoux” in the parlance of estate agents) and the pool table is so close to the side wall and a central pillar that it would challenge Harry Houdini to play a decent game.
Upstairs is a cool, dimly-lit bar with what might best be described as an up-market sleaziness. D’s Place has become the most popular pick-up place on the block, and after about 10.30 pm upstairs is usually wall-to-wall girls. You can barely make out peoples’ faces in the half-light - and many a jar of beer has missed its mark when being put down on a table, ending up on the floor instead.
My only negative comment is that D’s Place has suffered a bit from well-intentioned over-management - for example, constantly changing the facilities, layout and decor, and going for gimmicks – but top marks to the management for making an effort, and they’re gradually getting it right.
Located at the top of the street - and right next door to D’s Place - Sportsman has a pleasantly spacious bar downstairs with a pool table and a small counter, whilst towards the back of the bar there’s an eating area and another counter on the left. Upstairs there’s another pool table and a recently enlarged restaurant.
A favourite early-evening watering-hole for the business community and TV sports fan, Sportsman has striven to be a bit more up-market than the other dives on the Blok. It’s a great place if your idea of riveting conversation is mulling over the comparative merits of different sorts of oil tankers and drilling platforms.
However, Sportsman has seen better days and is now eclipsed by D's Place, which offers the same sort of ambience downstairs and has much cheaper drinks. Used to have a decent restaurant, that too has gone steadily downhill over recent years – though a new manager (with a good track record of running restaurants) may, the regulars hope, reverse the trend.
Sportsman is very much a guys’ bar. No girls are allowed in unless accompanied.
The Club [a.k.a. the Bali Hai]
Located on the corner of a run-down, rather shabby block to the right of the bus terminal entrance, the Club has since time immemorial been a convenient watering hole for those finishing work and requiring a little something to round off the day en route for hearth and home in south Jakarta. It’s basically one large bar with three pool tables in the middle and an eatery at the far end, and a U-shaped bar on the right.
Although it has landmark status, this place is in fact a living fossil. An odd mix of clients and girls makes it vaguely interesting to visit if doing a pub crawl round the Blok, but you enter at your peril as a bunch of ageing harpies lies in wait just inside the door.
This is another landmark establishment, located on the main road (Melawai Raya) which marks the southern flank of Blok M. It’s larger than the other places, consisting of a disco and a bar with a couple of pool tables - all pretty much standard issue. As you go into LM the bar is on your right, the disco on your left; late at night there’s a steady stream of bodies going in each direction because the only gents toilet is located behind the bar.
The Frankenstein of the Blok, this place just keeps lurching on its moronic way. Even the best efforts of a greedy and incompetent management cannot kill the place off, such is its momentum. It's the sump of Blok M, everyone gravitates there as the other places put up their shutters. Its proximity to the Melawai Hotel, and a constant stream of late-night taxis, make it doubly attractive to the less-than-sober reveller. The disco has plenty of dark corners, but the bar is ball-crushingly boring on most nights. Beware the pool girls, they have a lean and hungry look. By general consensus, the most likely place to contract one of the more unpleasant social diseases.
The Stamford Arms
Although it's really just a small bar and dinery tacked onto the posterior of the Ambhara Hotel, this is actually quite a nice little hostelry that's made a niche for itself on the Blok. It caters mainly for the passing business trade, and has the synthetic Olde-Worlde trimmings that tiresomely adorn so many pubs these days - the bar-world's equivalent of airport art.
The main bar is a snug little place that's compact without being fussy, and there are tradiltional little bays with settles and tables off the main drinking area. Through the bar is what can best be described as a conservatory, a largely glass extension to the building that makes a characterless but functional eating area.
The drinks are not overpriced, there's a limited but tasty selection of items on the bar menu, and the service is friendly (if a little slow at times) - but the staff don't seem able to wrap their brains around the concept of split bills when there are two or more customers together.
Our thanks to Malcolm Johnson of Jakarta Blok M.com for sharing his insights into the Blok M bars with us.