The Time Machine to Old Batavia

After more than two decades of my life in Jakarta, I’ve finally found an instant getaway to drag me out from hectic, worsening road traffic, never ending dirty political games and corruption sagas in Jakarta for a while without leaving the city. Entering Café Batavia at Fatahillah Square, one of the few remaining historical sites of the old town Jakarta (Kota Toea), felt like being in a time machine to the Dutch Colonial Era in early 20th century.

The gramophone sound of music was hypnotizing with its vintage interior combined. My mind and soul wandered to the years before my parents were born and when my grandparents were young. It also triggered me in a mysterious way to start a conversation about Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence. My friend and I agreed with two things: it’s still one of the scariest horror movies of all time and the old-fashioned songs we listened was kinda spooky. Spooky enough to remind me of Jack Torrence murder attempts on his wife and little boy.

The atmosphere of old Batavia, the previous name of Jakarta from 1619 to 1949 given by the Dutch Colony Empire, inside the café wouldn’t come alive without the oldies background music from the year 1930’s (just a lucky guess).

Listen to the music while reading and viewing the following photographs. I hope you second my emotion about the place known as one of the Jakarta’s oldest cafés. It’s All Forgotten Now by Al Bowlly, The Shining’s soundtrack composed in 1934, coincidentally sounded much alike the ones played in the café. Thanks to Kubric, the song has somewhat a horrific aura. Please note that images on the clip has nothing to do with the content of my post. 

Either I didn’t hold my mobile phone camera still or the battery was too weak, let’s consider these shabby and blurry images as part of the art, marking the beginning of the end of Dutch Colonial Era and a remembrance of 350 years of Dutch conquest they (locals) wish it didn’t happen. Nevertheless, the place is now one of the nation’s heritage.


“Pics? Not again…!” mumbled the greeter lady, hiding her face behind the candle.

It doesn’t feel like being in the cafe. It’s just homey and full of privacy.


Where could possibly Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Indonesia’s first president Soekarno, Marlon Brando, Louis Brooks, David Bowie have a rendezvous in one place at the same time?

The former residence of Dutch governors in Jakarta that has been turning  into a café since 1930s could make it possible. The wall of fame – that’s how I call it- has become the main attraction of the cafe. Vintage images of world’s famous people, photography artworks from Helmut Newton, Sarah Moon, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Mario Testino mingle with old advertising campaigns. Seems like an eternal melting pot.

Have Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill actually met each other here?

My favourite spot – too bad the air con didn’t work so well on that day.

Selling local and international food (Chinese, Indonesian and Western) and beverages (cocktails, beers etc), historical value and vintage interior are actually the major selling points of the café. It delivers the most inviting, romantic and secretive atmosphere for dating with your love one(s) or your love affair (aha!), especially with deem lights in the evening. The only drawback to bring your love affair there is that it’s too easy too find and too publicly known ;). Newsweek Magazine awarded the city’s historical landmark as the best bars in the world in 1994 and 1996.

Facing Fatahillah Square

To tell the truth, it’s not my first visit to Café Batavia. Somewhere between 1995 and 1998 when I was in high school, I came there quite frequently with my family to eat dim sum and have a cup a coffee. I remember how much we enjoyed hanging out there, even though now I forget the taste of the dim sum and the coffee. It was a hip place for social gathering back then, long before the emerging development of shopping malls throughout the capital city of Indonesia.

The Bartenders

One day, a friend of mine asked me out to the café because we were tired of shopping mall ambiance. I replied, “Hell yes! Why didn’t I think of that??” Since then, I keep in mind that it’s a must-to-see tourist object every time I accompany friends and relatives from outside Jakarta. Last May 2012, I took my friends there and they loved it!


Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mean to be a pervert. But the café’s toilet is something you should not miss during the visit. The following images are ladies’ toilet. Yep, cause I’m a girl. Call me a pervert if I sneak in to men’s toilet just to capture its decoration!

Ladies’ and gents’ toilet are no exception for wall of fame

Nude art is the theme of the dressing room’s wall of fame.

 Interesting details

In front of the toilet seat, there’s a big mirror with the size nearly as big as the wall where it’s hung. Nothing peculiar with the mirror, but the size is. Indeed, you can see a reflection of your own face expression while doing number two and of your vital body parts. It’s a good medium to adjust your dress, but I think the room is a bit too narrow to stand and dress up. What are the pink curtains behind the sinks for? What do they cover? Nothing but decoration.

To feel the real atmosphere of Café Batavia, my suggestion is to visit it when there’s no live music since it’s simply “too modern”. There’s no doubt that the vintage decor is the perfect match for the vintage (oldies) music background. If oldies music is the hypnotherapist, the decor will be the pendulum clock. Look, listen and let yourself dive to the old glory of Batavia once nicknamed De Koningin van het Oosten (Queen of the East)…..


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