Sun, 30 Mar 2003

Oriental Bar: Providing welcome relief from woes of world

I must admit right away that I've always had ideas above my station, which is probably why I get such a kick out of visiting Jakarta's most salubrious, and exorbitant, watering holes -- all at the Post's expense of course.

After my latest foray into the world of the well-heeled, I think it's no exaggeration to say that one of the most salubrious watering holes here in the big smoke at the moment is to be found spicing up the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, right in the heart of Central Jakarta.

I'm referring here to Oriental Bar, open since Feb. 10, and a fine new arrival in the elite world of top-notch Jakarta rendezvous.

Suave and sophisticated in the way that only a true doyen of aristocratic stock can be, this venue should come as a real treat for all those who have had it up to the teeth, and beyond, with the brash and glitzy pubs oozing nouveau-riche smugness that tend to dominate the Jakarta nightlife scene.

Catering to those of a more contemplative, perhaps maturer, nature than your usual run o' the mill zit-popper and twenty- something hangouts, this particular establishment provides welcome relief from maniacal sound systems, drug-crazed hordes and legions of night wanderers.

In fact, Oriental Bar is a veritable place apart -- no TV, no pool table, and, mercifully, no head-thumping, ear-drilling live music belting out at the zillion decibel level.

What you get there, instead, is a delightfully luxurious venue -- subdued, yet exotic, restrained, yet stimulating, sophisticated, yet friendly and welcoming.

Mind you, as far as the friendly bit is concerned, like so many other venues nowadays, the bar staff here have been trained to greet the unsuspecting punter in a manner usually reserved for long-lost brothers or prodigal sons, with vigorous, firm handshakes and attentive inquiries as to the punter's health and well-being the order of the day.

Coming from a part of the world where people tend to shy away from personal contact and handshakes are generally perfunctory affairs, I personally find long, drawn-out paw grasps rather embarrassing, not to mention irritatingly contrived in a McDonalds' "have-a-nice-day" kind of way.

To put it briefly, such Stanley-finds-Livingstone greetings would be best dispensed with entirely -- friendly bar staff are all well and good, but no need to go overboard, guys, even if the intentions are laudable!

Apart from this minor whinge, I was hard-pressed to find anything else deficient about Oriental Bar -- they've even got the rest-rooms conveniently located in the pub so you don't have to trek off on a major expedition every time nature calls.

Designed by Hirsh & Bedner of Singapore, everything here is deliciously muted and understated -- lots of deep burgundies, browns, yellows and other autumnal shades set off by some beautiful rugs and exquisite oriental decorations, all complemented by wonderfully comfy sofas and couches.

As for the bar, it's a semi-circular affair with room for about a dozen or so tipplers. And like all well-designed bars, the stools are closely set together so that it shouldn't take too long to strike up a chat with a fellow punter.

Oriental Bar is by no means a large establishment -- with seating for a total of 72 persons it's just the right size to be eminently convivial while still big enough to give the punter something to look at when at a loose end.

All in all, just the ticket for taking the jaded mind off "sweeping" and all the madness in the Middle East currently being played out before our very eyes every day on TV.

Which probably explains why quite a few foreign ambassadors seem to have made this their local -- it's probably the only time in the day they can get away from all the nonsense about "shock and awe", "decapitation" and all the other mumbo jumbo so beloved of the military and war correspondents.

For some strange reason, though, they don't deign to serve up nosh in Oriental Bar, although they do dish up lots of dainty canapes -- dainty but not particularly filling. So if you are on the peckish side, perhaps you should think twice before deciding on a night out around these parts.

As for damage to the pocket, five-star hotel prices of course, with a couple of cocktails for two coming to between Rp 250,000 and Rp 300,000 -- not really so out-of-this-world, considering the amount of time and effort that's gone into making this the superb venue it is. A glass of Bintang beer can be had for only Rp 25,000, though, while imported beers are about Rp 40,000 and upward per bottle (excluding tax and service).

So there you have it: Oriental Bar, a great place to take time out from the travails of this world, down a couple of bevies and generally forget about it all. Just what the doctor ordered, given the times that we're in!

Oriental Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Jl MH Thamrin, Jakarta 10310. Opening hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days per week. All major credit cards accepted. You can call them on 3983-8888 ext. 5358.

-- Bill Blade