10 am at Historia Food and Bar

I have to say, unless I had my appointment at the Immigration Office of West Jakarta in the morning, I would not have got a chance, not even a thought, to have my both feet on the cobblestone of Fatahillah Square in Jakarta Old Town, known as Kota Tua, when the area was still far from street artists and vendors.

I slowly walked towards the nearly 400-year-old town hall, now functioning as Jakarta History Museum so-called Fatahillah Museum, that stood gracefully and peacefully without crowds passing by and blocking the view. Apparently, I was the only one crossing the square, enjoying the free space all by myself and refreshing breeze after the rain.

Nonetheless, when I was almost reached the museum, I turned away, heading to the alley on the right side next to it. A neo-classic building that has been turning into a cafe restaurant I had been longing to visit, called Historia Food and Bar.

Long before becoming a cafe restaurant, it was the office of Maatschappij voor Uitvoer en Comisiehandel (MUCH), a Dutch trading company during the colonization era built in 1914 by Eduard Cuypers n Hulswit architecture firm. It consists of 2 buildings separated by a courtyard, that now belongs to Indonesian Trading Company (PPI).

Historia Food and Bar occupies the lower level of the building facing Pintu Besar Utara Street, situated behind the main building facing Kali Besar Timur Street. The 2-storey rear building had different functions in the past. The lower level was a spice warehouse and a shop-house. The upper level was small offices with archive rooms, also once occupied by another company called NV. Borneo Sumatra Handelmaatschappij, shortened as Borsumij. The latter, unfortunately, is not accessible for public.

historia entrance

Prolonged neglection and continuous demolition of abandoned antique buildings into budget-oriented (aka tasteless) design shop-houses cause the rarity of commercial centers inside historical buildings in Jakarta compared to other big cities like Rome, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg etc.

So I’m glad to find that the former Dutch warehouse is well-treated and turned into cozy place to hang out like Historia Food and Bar. It’s also good to know that Cafe Batavia is not the only most-preserved historical building turned to be an F&B business location in the area.

There were tables placed upside down on other tables outside the building as if it was still closed, until an errand convinced me otherwise, at 10 am.

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I was surrounded by (just a lucky guess), a Dutch general and a lady, local peasants, heroes, and civilians living hundreds of years before my grandparents were born, who perpetually inhabit the brick walls inside the cafe. They illustrate historical events and the life of people in Batavia before it changes its name into Jakarta. Partly-coloured fresco accentuate a modern touch in the tempo doeloe (old days) theme. The significant amount of monochromatic characters remind me of comic strips.

Apparently, they are the limelight of everything inside Historia after food and drinks, where rustic canned canisters and an antique phone on the cabinet facing the giant fresco are completely overlooked.

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A few people in black outfits were in the bar area, while some others were in the dining area ready to greet and serve customers. Basically, they all were doing some last checks in the fist minutes of the operational hour.

I heard a woman saying in the outdoor area at back side of the restaurant, “You shouldn’t place this here. Put it aside!” I don’t recall what she meant by this and here, but for sure it was part of the inspections.

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Then, she walked in to the dining area where the bar area was located, the non-smoking section where I was sitting and observing the morning ritual. She was somewhere in her 50’s (coincidentally?) wearing a black outfit. In the mean time, she passed and looked at me for a few seconds. Soon after, she left me in privacy and believed that I had been taken care of.

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There was no one else placing their asses on the chairs but me, nor watching the black outfit people doing their routines. In a nutshell, I was the first guest of the day.

There were assorted Indonesian food offered in a relatively affordable price and I was actually tempted to taste one. But too bad, I wasn’t into big meals at the moment. Still, I think I had to take something since the waiter had earlier assisted me to my seat, meaning that I already gave them hope to contribute their income.

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I looked at the drink list instead and asked the waiter what the best seller is. He suggested Merah Merona, which literally means “blushing”, a smoothie with pink dragon fruit, banana and fresh milk. It sounded like a deliciously healthy concoction to consume in the morning. Additionally, I requested to have the simple syrup, a fancy gastronomy term for liquid sugar, separated.

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The smoothie was really worth it as it deserves to be labeled “best seller”, with a decent price of Rp.35.000, or about $3. I was glad that the banana doesn’t overpower the sweet subtle dragon fruit flavour, while the milk harmonizes both fruits having different level and character of sweetness.

I thanked the barista who created the lovely blushing smoothie that energized me to start my day. So I had to leave for work after finishing the final zip with a kind of gargling sound from the straw. Nevertheless, I will return someday to try the food and that’s a promise!

 

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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.

DOWNSTAIRS

“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.

UPSTAIRS

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!

LA TOILETTE

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)…..