Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Sipping on nostalgia at the Jaya Pub

Bill Blade, Contributor, Jakarta

Location: Jl. Thamrin, Kav. 1-2, Central Jakarta. You can call them at 325633. Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

It was with a slightly trembling upper lip and a fair helping of gumption that myself and the sidekick decided recently to risk life and limb and go out on a night's carousing.

Yes, with courage beyond the call of duty, we resolved we would go down a-bawlin' and a-sobbin' in our own little Wagnerian twilight of the gods. And where better for such a swan song than the Jaya Pub, one of the oldest pubs in the city and also one of the first I set foot in here in Jakarta oh so many moons ago.

Bill, please: Although Jakarta bars are not normally noted for their wide selection of beers on offer, the Jaya Pub is particularly parsimonious in this regard. Only two beers grace the drinks' list: Carlsberg (at Rp 18,500 a bottle) and old workhorse Anker at Rp 20,000 for a glass of draught.

As for the harder stuff, Johnny Walker Black Label will hit you for Rp 39,500, Old Bushmills Irish for Rp 27,500 and a stiff Jim Beam for the same Rp 27,500. If all that's not enough, a Bloody Mary or Harvey Wallbanger will no doubt "sweep" you along for Rp 37,500.

Unfortunately, even the trusty old Jaya Pub has now jumped on the cover charge bandwagon, in this case a rather steep Rp 35,000.

Here's lookin' at you: Well, first things first. Despite all the changes in Jakarta, the Jaya Pub hasn't altered a bit since I first wet my whistle there about six years ago. Nestled in among the tall buildings of Jl. Thamrin, the place looks as enticing and unassuming as ever. Like an old friend who's fallen on slightly hard times, there are no demands that you deck yourself out in your Saturday night finery. Just come as you are and chill out, it seems to say.

Small and normally crowded, the place is chock-full of bar bric-a-brac (you know, old cigarette ads and the like), and educative gems of wisdom (like "This mess is a place", and "If you can't change your mind, are you sure you've still got one?"). In fact, if you find yourself short of company, you could just about pass away the guts of the evening in pursuit of the meaning of life, the universe and everything by scanning the junk on the walls. And for once in Jakarta, all that junk on the walls by dint of age actually looks genuine.

In fact, the Jaya Pub has been keeping the customers satisfied for 26 years. Some of the punters even look like they've been there the whole time, trapped in some sort of pub limbo and condemned to drinking Tequila Sunrises until hell freezes over.

Not one, but three sets of entertainers provide the amusement, and, believe me, all these guys and girls are performers par excellence. If you don't like rock, then you've got bluesy-jazz belted out by a charismatic Che Gueverra-Xanana Gusmao look-alike (who, no doubt, will be the first to get the broom when the "sweeping" starts), and if that fails, you've got two great female vocalists (frequently dancing on the bar) who'll keep you bouncing around to the likes of Gloria Gaynor. Great stuff!

Obviously though, not all the disposable trash found in Jakarta shares the same sangfroid, nay bravura, of the Post, and sad to say, the old Jaya Pub was looking a bit forlorn on my recent Saturday night visit. But those who were there were fully determined that come large brooms, brushes or vacuum cleaners, they were going to enjoy themselves one way or the other (enough of this "sweeping" talk, please - Ed).

Odds and ends: The fact that the place was somewhat emptier than usual meant that the normal aroma of sweat and bodies was absent, only to be replaced by something infinitely worse. What it was I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess at for fear of legal action, although it did occur to me that perhaps something had been "swept" under the carpet (AAGH, STOP IT - Ed).

Verdict: Not one to make "sweeping" statements, I nevertheless firmly believe that new is by no means always better, and a new broom doesn't always "sweep" clean! Despite the many other Jakarta hostelries that have been consigned to the trash can of history, the Jaya Pub keeps on rocking, "sweeping" all before it. And despite any brushes with danger that fate may have in store for you on your way there, I'm sure that as it did me, the Jaya Pub will "sweep" you off your feet. (PACK YER BAGS, M'LAD! - Ed)