Friday, October 13, 2006

Back on the Blok

In the spirit of regional autonomy and the recent local elections, I’d like to nominate Blok M as a candidate for adding to Indonesia’s ever growing list of provinces. I've always maintained that the ever popular ‘M’ is a self-contained, one-stop zone in which I could live out the rest of my days quite happily. I'd lurch from plaza to restaurant to cinema to bar to hotel without ever leaving the area. Blok M's Regent could set up his office on Jl. Melawai and everything would be fine.

However, one potential fly in the ointment in this twisted little fantasy is the bar filled road of Jl. Felatehan, just behind the bus station. In our imaginary new province scenario, Felatehan regulars wouldn't be happy with mere regional autonomy and would push for a plebiscite and full independence. The street’s voracious micro economy, driven as it is by beer swilling, male, western expats and Baso chomping, local disco butterflies could even spawn some kind of deranged independence, guerilla movement. Molotov cocktails manufactured from old Anker bottles refilled with cheap perfume would rain down on riot police from behind a burning barricade of overturned Bluebird taxis as Felatehan's night-time boys and girls resist the Imperial Indonesian forces and their demands for early Ramadan closing hours.

This is all a rather unlikely state of affairs, granted, although Jl. Felatehan certainly looks the part of a violence racked province, resembling as it does, Beirut circa 1982. However, let's return to reality for a moment and take a look at what lies behind the piles of rubble and the scarred and crumbling buildings of Jl. Felatehan. The road is certainly as popular as it’s ever been and there are still plenty of bibulous Bules and beskirted broads to be seen during the hours of darkness, weaving drunkenly between D's Place, Sportsman's, Oscar's, My Bar, Everest and Top Gun. In fact, despite looking like a Tsunami has just hit it when viewed from street level, business is pretty good on Blok M's famous road of revelry, so much so that the aforementioned six bars have all recently joined forces to create FAB - the Felatehan Association of Businesses (no sniggering at the back please). FAB aims to bring a bit of solidarity and central planning to Felatehan and so far the businesses involved have managed to set up an inter-bar pool league and have also clubbed together for some security men under a mini marquee who look under your car with one of those mirror thingies on wheels.

Yes, despite the infidel security issue, the street's bars have been looking quite lively of late. Starting at the far end, D's Place is always full of friendly faces playing Find-the-Joker, competing in the Monday night music quiz or the dance competitions or getting up to God knows what in the VIP members’ room (I’m not allowed in myself). Next along, Sportsman's still offers the western sports bar experience complete with live broadcasts of all the top events. Next to that, Everest, a newer addition to the street, features live music and a vertiginous, drive-in movie sized screen that takes up the whole rear wall of the club for watching the sport on. Moving right along, My Bar has become the literal and spiritual centre of the Jl. Felatehan of 2005. It’s pretty much full every evening with the moistened T-shirt and whisky cola brigade and is open until 5 AM. In addition, My Bar's two new tasteful floors (live music lounge and billiard hall) and slightly less tasteful line in merchandise (baseball hats and g-strings) have helped to cement its reputation. Opposite My Bar, Top Gun is getting a bit long in the tooth these days -its name alone should tell you that – but it can still pull them in in the early evenings. Finally, Oscar's, at the bus terminal end of the street, is currently in the process of reviving itself with a brand-new gourmet menu, talk of a members' club called Bisu and lingerie theme nights.

So in this crazy city, Jl. Felatehan has managed to weather the storms of financial crisis and terrorist bombings and has come out the other side with its core clientele intact. Clearly, many of Jakarta's impish expats have a deep-seated need for this street and the bonhomie and "companionship" (ahem) that it offers. FAB as the new GAM though? Vive la Revolution!

Simon Pitchforth