Updated (26 February 2014)
Not many travelers would put Jakarta on their list of favorite holiday destinations. But look deeper and you’ll find that the underbelly of this frantic Asian city is well worth exploring.
Jakarta itself is a fascinating mix of extremes, where huge marble-floored townhouses are situated only a stone’s throw away from densely populated poverty-ridden slums, and where luxurious Mercedes-Benz automobiles drive bumper-to-bumper with noisy, rust-eaten motorcycle taxis, called bajaj. However, most tourists do not stay here long, using Jakarta as a stopover for onward flights to places such as Bali, Singapore and Bangkok. But they are missing out. If you are up for a good time and can handle a little madness, you will find that Jakarta does in fact have a lot to offer the intrepid traveler.
Like most cities, Jakarta comes to life at night. The club scene is refreshingly unpretentious – dress codes are relaxed, admission prices and drinks prices are generally reasonable (except in the luxury hotels), and you won’t have to queue for hours on end just to be told by some tosser at the door to get lost.
Probably the greatest nightclub that Jakarta has ever seen is Tanamur Discothèque. Although its doors are now sadly closed for good, this proverbial den of iniquity was once renowned for its hard-hitting techno music and eclectic mix of patrons - ranging from highly paid oil expats and university students to transvestites, working girls and even celebrities.
The disco was very centrally located, not far from Jakarta’s phallic looking National Monument (Monas) that some locals proudly refer to as Sukarno’s last errection (Indonesia’s first president was famous for his sexual prowess and he even bedded a Japanese nightclub hostess who became his wife).
Other popular hangouts include the stylish Immigrant, which is very popular among the yuppie set, and Red Square, the favored haunt of financial executives and stockbrokers. X2, located in the posh Plaza Senayan shopping mall, is where Jakarta’s ravers go to let down their hair.
Located a fifteen-minute drive south of the old Tanamor in the vicinity of the busy shopping district of Blok M are a motley collection of small bars, nightclubs and discothèques that are well frequented by Jakarta’s whoremongering expat community. They can be found on Pelatehan Road, which some wisecracks call Fellatio Road (would you know how to pronounce it?), just behind the huge bus terminal. Best of the bunch is probably D's Place, a stylish little meat market which has proved so popular with the local girls that one foreign visitor went so far as to describe the upstairs section as being “wall-to-wall p***y”.
Other bars on the block include Everest, Top Gun, Oscars, My Bar and the venerable, as opposed to venereal, Sportsmans, which specializes in live broadcasts of sporting events.
In the northern part of Jakarta is Chinatown. Although many nightclubs and karaoke bars can be found here, the scene is dominated by young Chinese often off their heads on E, with only a sprinkling of foreigners. One important warning: never be tempted to try drugs (in Indonesia) otherwise you may get to know firsthand what it would be like to have been Billy Hayes in the film classic Midnight Express. Places to check out in Chinatown include Sydney 2000, Sun City and Stadium to name but a few. Also in this area, but quite a different sort of establishment, is Café Batavia. Located on a busy street among dilapidated warehouses, a visit here is a step back into Jakarta's colonial past (the Dutch ruled over most of Indonesia for 350 years until independence was finally won in 1947).
There are, of course, a huge number of hotel bars in Jakarta. Pitstop in the Pan Pacific, B.A.T.S. in the Shangri-La and CJs in the Mulia all feature live music in the evenings played by local or foreign bands. The Tiga Puluh Bar in Le Meridien Hotel claims to revive the 1930s’ spirit of joie de vivre (joy of life), with its nostalgic décor and jazzy tunes. Ladies night at Mandarin's Mo Bar has proved very popular. And there are few bars more unusual than De Laila bar in the Patra Jasa Hotel: where else in the world can you dance to Spanish and Indian tunes in an Arabic setting and be served by bar staff wearing turbans?
Being the capital of Indonesia, the international franchise bars are well represented. Most notable are Planet Hollywood, Chili's and, of course, the Hard Rock Café.
Another place where you can find a good selection of bars in Jakarta is the posh expat enclave of Kemang where the Irish theme bar Murphy’s is the best place in town to nurture a dark Guinness. Also make sure to check out the excellent Eastern Promise, one of a chain of bars owned by an eccentric yet affable Dutchman named Bart. His other bars are pretty good too and include Cazbar, De Hooi, and The One Tree. His most imaginatively named bar, Bugils (crazy white man) is, alas, already closed.
So happy hunting. Whatever you may be hunting for!
More info: Top 20 bars in Jakarta