Sun, 23 Mar 2003

Bowled over by Jakarta's plush new `sports' pub

Those of you who have been keeping your noses to the ground as regards trends and fads here in the big smoke may have noticed that tenpin bowling appears to be regarded by Jakarta's plump and rotund classes as being something of an athletic activity.

In fact, bowling has now been elevated to a status akin to that accorded in other countries to such excruciating pastimes as the modern pentathlon or cross-country running.

They're even showing it on TV, for crying out loud, accompanied by all the adrenalin-charged and over-the-top commentary that one normally associates with South American soccer matches.

The meteoric rise of bowling in Indonesia's sporting firmament is not such a big mystery as it would first appear, however. In a nation desperate for international kudos, they reckon it could produce some Olympic gold medal prospects in the not-too-distant future -- after all, if beach-volleyball and synchronized swimming can be recognized by the IOC, why not bowling?.

Given what's at stake, it should come as no surprise to find that bowling alleys of the flashiest, most luxurious variety are springing up ten-to-a-penny all over Jakarta, a city well known for its slavish devotion at the altar of all manner of passing trends and fads.

The latest such "sporting" mecca is located in the Auto Mall, reportedly the largest, dedicated automobile emporium in Southeast Asia, which you'll find slap-bang in the middle of the Sudirman Central Business District, that semi-derelict wasteland that looks for all the world like a set from one of those awful, post-Armageddon movies that were all the rage a couple of years ago.

But what makes this bowling alley a cut above the rest is the fact that they've had the wit to attach it to a very comfortable and relaxing pub, the Sudirman International Cafe, a welcoming venue replete with cozy bar, music and dancing, and some reasonable nosh.

What is especially attractive about this watering hole is the fact that given its captive market in the form of puffing and wheezing punters exhausting themselves in the athletic pursuit of tenpin bowling prowess next door, you're almost always guaranteed something approaching a gaggle of fellow tipplers propping up the bar trying to recover, and a bevy of singles gleefully struggling to get their breath back while still somehow managing to disport themselves all over the show.

Only open since February (so there's still that delicious, heady whiff of fresh paint everywhere), Sudirman International Cafe may basically be described as another one of those trendy, cool, awfully-sophisticated venues that are as common throughout Asia as suppurating spots on a teenager. Oozing luxury and vague echoes of fat-cat purrings, these joints are just the ticket for those who become semi-orgasmic at the thought of seeing and being seen.

But even for the likes of your's truly, people who prefer to lurk cockroach-like in dark corners, this particular watering hole has a lot going for it.

If nothing else, its giant TV, normally tuned in to a sports channel, and the cozy, convivial bar, all decked out in lusciously blond wood and calming autumnal hues -- just the sort of place I like to prop myself up at while whiling away the evening watching the multicolored cell-phone brigade of nymphettes do their thing on the dance floor (feeling ever-so superior, of course, in my self-defeating disdain for modern technology).

Only one problem, though. The bar is cheek-to-jowl with the stage, where a band belts out the ditties, mostly easy listening and your usual run 'o the mill hits, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mon. through Sat. Given the state-of-the-art sound system, apparently designed to ensure that even Quasimodo gets the gist of what's going on, things do tend to get ever-so-slightly noisy.

Another minor problem is the arctic chill that tends to prevail in certain parts of this establishment, especially on the quieter evenings. So if you are planning a trip midweek, do bring a jacket or something else that will stop the blood from coagulating unexpectedly.

No such worries on weekends, though, as the place was fairly hopping on the Saturday evening of our visit -- a reservation might well be in order if you're planning on dining.

In the way of drink, this joint has just about everything a tried and tested tippler could desire, and not exceptionally expensive for all that.

A JW Red Label, Smirnoff Vodka or Myers Rum can be had for Rp 35,000, while a JW Black or Chivas Regal will hit you for Rp 42,000.

In the beer department, they've got Anker (Rp 23,000 per glass), and Corona, Carlsberg and Tiger (all going for Rp 35,000) -- not such a wonderful selection given the sort of joint Sudirman International Cafe aspires to be.

As for the food, not bad -- although could be much better. Given the rather unimaginative menu, I ended up with the cream of mushroom soup, which turned out to have all the consistency of porridge and tasted like the sort of creamed rice that comes in a can (all Brits should know what I'm talking about here).

Still slightly peckish, I ordered the tenderloin steak. Again nothing special -- a bland sauce and the usual, standard veggies, although the meat was cooked to perfection.

Another problem I encountered in this particular venue was the fact that the glass-top tables all seemed to be suffering from a serious dose of the totters -- given all the wobbling, I had to do the business on the steak up at the bar.

But these are minor quibbles, and pale into insignificance compared to the great service provided by an army of perky wait staff, and a supercharged, fun atmosphere, just what you need on a Saturday night out on the town.

Sudirman International Cafe, Auto Mal basement level, SCBD. Jl. Sudirman Kav 52-53, Lot 6, Jakarta, Tel: 528-97019. Hours: 10 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week. All prices quoted above exclude 10 percent tax. All major credit cards accepted.

-- Bill Blade