Sun, 13 Apr 2003

Barolo: Boozy books and fat cigars in Kemang

It's curious how we remember some things from our early childhood -- like a mother's hug, father's voice or elder sister's punch -- yet completely forget so many other things.

For me, I've always remembered the first book my mum gave me when I was around three. I think it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as it had a lot of little men holding hands in a circle around a lady dressed in really weird clothes.

On the other hand, it may also possibly have been a thoroughly uplifting tale about gay leprechauns and their lesbian princess friend, although I doubt this given that it was way back in the seriously politically incorrect early '60's.

Despite the fact that I promptly set about pulling out the pictures as soon as mum had left the room, and threw the hardback cover out the open window (it was high summer), ever since then I've had an abiding affinity with books ... especially dirty ones.

Which is why, to finally broach the subject of this week's dissection, I've always felt so much at home in the sort of pub that likes to line its walls with bookcases full of unread, and often unreadable, tomes in the hope of recreating what it imagines a gentleman's reading room would be like.

Although condemned by many uncharitable commentators as blatant pastiches with about as much real character as boozy department store Santa Clauses, I nevertheless find these type of watering holes comforting in a cocoon-like kind of way -- just the ticket for resting one's weary bones after a day listening to the beastly editor whinging and whining about this, that and the other as is her wont.

The latest such book-bedecked and slumber-inducing establishment in Jakarta is to be found above the Brasserie restaurant on Jl. Kemang Raya, that South Jakarta strip of potholed tarmac lined with all things nocturnal, contrived and expensive.

Only open for two weeks and calling itself Barolo, this particular watering hole is designed, as usual, to cater for the refined tastes of Jakarta's well-heeled and purring fat-cat classes, serving up an array of exorbitantly priced wines and beverages, which, if truth be told, most members of said well-heeled and fat-cat classes don't even like, but nevertheless force themselves to sip so as to display their finesse and worldliness.

Oooh, I'm in such a cynical and uppity mood today!

Superbly appointed, with no end of well-designed, and exceedingly comfy, places to repose one's posterior in suitably relaxed fashion, somebody has obviously put a good deal of time and thought, not to mention hard cash, into producing the concept that dominates this establishment: aristocratic and gracious living of the type normally found only in the pages of Country Life magazine.

Although not large, Barolo manages to fit three distinct ambiences into its uncluttered interior -- the Champs Elysee room (actually, just a couple of stand-up tables in an alcove), the library (where I parked my apple cart), and the wine corner, which, as you'd imagine, has lots of racks holding all sorts of expensive, not to mention obscure, vintages.

Must admit, though, I wasn't particularly taken with the bar, due mainly to the fact that each of its right-angled corners is marked by an enormous, thick pillar, which means that wherever you're sitting, you can only see directly in front of you or to your side.

So if you're on your own, you soon tend to run out of things to look at. Given that I was on my own and had completely run out of things to look at, I decided to give the grub a whack. Being above the Brasserie, I had expected no end of tasty delights to be jumping out at me all over the show.

Alas, not so! It was explained to me politely that this was a wine and cigar lounge, and for those who wanted to dine in style, there was always the restaurant down below -- reasonable enough, I suppose.

Nevertheless, they do have a snack menu with such offerings as calamari (Rp 30,000), BBQ chicken wings (Rp 30,000), and excellent smoked chicken and beef sausages (Rp 30,000 for four). Of course, in keeping with the concept of a gentleman's library, it's only fitting that they have lots of long, fat cigars available for the discerning connoisseur. With prices ranging from Rp 90,000 for an El Credito Maduro Robusto 25 to Rp 225,000 for a Cohiba Siglo IV 5, this is by no means the most expensive venue in town for those with a penchant for such little luxuries.

As for the booze, also quite reasonable. A draft local beer is to be had for Rp 20,000, while imported beers -- including Foster's, Corona and Miller Genuine Draft -- are all going for Rp 30,000.

Meanwhile, regular spirits are priced at Rp 30,000 while their premium siblings will hit you for Rp 40,000 a shot. At the moment, they're offering a 30 percent discount on all food and beverages, but this will only last until 19 April. After that, they will be running a happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with 50 percent off all beverages -- not a bad deal at all.

And before I forget, they've also got a pianist and a crooner doing a turn or two up on the small stage behind the bar from Thursday through Saturday.

So there it is. Barola, quiet and relaxed, yet debonair and sophisticated -- just the place for an after-work drink, meeting a group of friends, or that special, must-succeed- at-all-costs date.

And if you don't happen to be blessed with friends or a date -- like me -- don't despair, there's always the books up on the shelf behind you! --Bill Blade

Barola, Brasserie First Floor, Plaza Bisnis Kemang I, Jl. Kemang Raya No. 2, Jakarta 12730. You can call them on (021) 7183422. Opening hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. weekends, earlier on weekdays. All prices quoted above exclusive of 10 percent tax and 10 percent service. All major credit cards accepted.