Southeast Asia's new nightlife capital -- Jakarta?

JAKARTA Fri Dec 5, 2008 11:46am IST

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - The chaotic capital of the world's most populous Muslim nation is rarely associated with glitzy nightlife, but new venues in Indonesia's Jakarta may soon see it challenging more cosmopolitan centres in the region.

The city of about 10 million, or many more if thousands of unregistered poor flocking in from rural provinces are included, has just become the first city in Southeast Asia to host a Buddha Bar, the hip Paris-based franchise of restaurant/lounges.

The region's biggest economy has enjoyed a period of sustained growth in the last few years and better stability after the financial crisis and political turmoil of the late 1990s.

"Jakarta is a growing city in a growing country. So we think the market is now sufficient," said Jean Baptiste Giradet, marketing manager of Buddha Bar, which is housed in a restored Dutch-era mansion and former immigration building in the leafy Menteng area of the city.

The Indonesian capital, usually more associated with loud hotel bars, thumping nightclubs or karaoke joints, joins the likes of London, New York and Dubai in hosting a Buddha Bar.

While neighbours such as Thailand have suffered a deepening political crisis in the last three years, Indonesia's young democracy has surprised many by its resilience, and the economy has also benefited from a period of booming commodity prices.

New wine bars and bistros such as Cork & Screw, Loewy and Birdcage have also sprung up to serve a growing middle class and expatriates. Wine appreciation classes are also popular.

Harvey Nichols, the luxury U.K.-based retailer, opened its debut store in the Indonesian capital in October with a floor housing a trendy restaurant, bar and wine shop.

JAKARTA CAN BE FUN, TOO

In a country where around half the 226 million people live on less than $2 a day, most of these places are clearly out of reach for the majority of Indonesians.

But Giradet said Buddha Bar's target market was the local elite and expatriates, and it also wants to attract business travellers from places such as Singapore who might otherwise just leave "because they think there is nothing to do in Jakarta".

The bar, which has a dining room with a capacity of up to 200, overlooked by a giant gold Buddha, has also not changed its targets because of the global financial crisis.

"We have reasonable targets. We know that perhaps we will have less business travellers," Giradet said, adding the bar was ordering slightly less of the most expensive vintages that cost more than 10 million rupiah ($816) a bottle.

The menu will also bow to local tastes by including the odd Indonesian favourite such as nasi goreng, a fried rice dish.

While the Jakarta has seen new venues opening, obstacles remain for nightlife.

In the past, supporters of hardline groups in this predominantly Muslim nation have smashed up bars and nightclubs for opening during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Sporadic shortages of wines and spirits have also left hotels and restaurants embarrassed at times due to import problems and difficulties in dealing with Indonesia's tortuous bureaucracy.

Security is also still a concern after militants staged deadly attacks on Western targets in Jakarta and in Bali, although there has been no major bombing for three years.

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