In a city with so many desperately poor people, the ostentationous of the Buddha Bar in Jakarta doesn’t strike a particularly pleasing cord.
The building, though, is an architectural wonder: originally built by the Dutch in 1913 as a place for leisure, it was used as the office for the Islamic group Madjlis Islam Alaa Indonesia (MIAI) shortly after Indonesia won independence and then as the Indonesian Immigration Office.
The Bataviaasche Kunstkring building as it was in the late 1940s.
And from almost the same spot where I stood 70 years later – as the home for the upmarket Buddha Bar.
As the building was renovated at huge cost to the taxpayer, many locals say that it should rightfully be open to the public - perhaps as a library or something. But such arguments hold little sway in money-grabbing Jakarta and the building was instead handed over to a bunch of rich and well-connected people - including the former governor’s daughter – after which they set up the Jakarta Buddha Bar in the building.
The Buddha Bar venture has also been controversial for other reasons as well and there were calls to close the bar down because religious symbols are being used in a place where people “get up to no good” and drink loads of booze.
But the music is good and noone has ever heard the large Buddha inside the bar complain (although He might if he had to pay the lofty drink prices!), so the bar remains open till this day.
Buddha Bar Jakarta, Address Jl Teuku Umar 1, Menteng. 10350 Jakarta