Heaven and hell in Bali
To speak about a night out in Bali is so fraught - not only will everyone have a different experience at any given bar or night, but Bali has such a diverse range of nightlife that subjective experiences are simply poles apart.
Ku De Ta
One night we went to Ku De Ta, an upmarket bar on the beach in Seminyak.
10 years old, Ku De Ta set the benchmark for luxurious nightclubs in Bali. Owned by the former owner of the Sari nightclub that was bombed in 2002, this is almost unbelievably gorgeous. Set on the edge of the sand dunes overlooking the waves (with lights shining on the waves) the club must be two acres in size.
There is quite heavy security with all bags searched, and bomb detectors passed under every car (given that any supposed terror threat is meant to come from Indonesians and not Westerners this does not really make much sense but there are a lot of terror-related security precautions that do not make any sense), and a dress code which disallows thongs, singlets and sports clothes on men and not much on women which gives it a pretty dressy feel.
Climbing the stairs you enter into a large restaurant with dozens on tables, which then extends our into a courtyard with a long bar on each side, and a large open area with a beautiful emerald rectangular pool, seemingly never to be swum in, set in a grassy area. Then there are the kingsize daybeds that sit on various levels of decking overlooking the beach which has some floodlights illuminating the waves. And bathing the whole scene is gorgeous 'chillout' music.
The lighting and ambience are just stunning, with every aspect out of some high end design magazine (which it probably was, with Bali costs making it affordable). Yes, it is where one's senses are totally nourished. Surprisingly there was no dancing, with the DJ playing more laid back fare.
They have parties every month or so for which they charge $100 (in Bali? Really?) entry, which may mean a band, nothing special really, just the joy of being seen there, (I went to a Sunday party there, $80 entry, it was just like any Sunday session at a big pub in Australia except there were pretty Javanese girls semi-naked on stilts. I left after 30 minutes) but usually entry is free, and unless you feel you really need to drink cocktails (!), drinks are reasonably priced. It is a wonderful treat for the senses.
Also in Seminyak, (actually in Pettitengit, a less glamorous address) and just opened in 2011, and nicknamed by an Aussie mate 'Pothead', is Potatohead. This goes even more over the top than Ku De Ta. Firstly the drieveway is about 250 metres long, which in a real estate market like Bali is quite outrageous, newly planted palm trees nicely lit on either side. Then you see it. A collusseum or sorts, with the entire external wall made from old Javanese doors. It must be 20-30 metres tall, sloping outwards.
The entrance is a bit weird, along a narrow corridor between high concrete walls with water streaming down one side, and then for one second you glimpse a large pool that feeds this feature. Entering you get bags checked, for alcohol mostly, though the pile of water bottles says lots about their approach to controlling drink sales.
Walking in you realise how big it is, double the size of Ku De Ta, with a fabulous water feature hidden away on the left which makes me think that they had a design change mid project. A massive pool, with a bar in the middle, complete with submerged stools, glows at night, and is apparently a nice place to swin in the day. When I first went there in late February 11 cocktails were expensive but large. In March they had halved in size but not price. So it goes.
The decor is a bit odd. There are the daybeds, which cost a minimum spend of 700,000 (around $80) if you want one for sunset, and I understand cost $110/evening, but not very comfortable, at least compared to Ku De ta. The tables and couches are retro 50s, vinyl. There are some low seats around the bar which seem nice, but somehow I am always left a little cold. Very expensive and not a lot for your buck. But, a place to be seen. In August there was a party there, $100 entry, and 3000 people reportedly turned up.
Do I go to Potatohead? Occasional sunsets, which is very nice, if expensive, but never at night unless I am showing a tourist the nightclub circuit. Don't stop for a drink though, too pretentious for my taste. I find it a bit confusing, as though they have not figured out if they want to be a Bali Cafe Del Mar or a nightclub as music does not quite connect with the scene.
Also opened in 2011 is the W club, party of a new over the top hotel just down the road from Potatohead. I like to take people there just for the entrance. Gotta see it. The bar itself is very funky, more a bar than a club inasmuch they do not do daybeds but beanbags. This is another place where those chasing exclusivity go. Definitely worth a look. It actually has a dancefloor where you can actually dance, very unusual for Bali. Music is so-so, bit of a boring scene actually. See balirestaurantguide.com for broader review.
These clubs present a paradox, of total luxury affordable simply because of low wages. People happily spend the equivalent of two month's wages of the staff on a night out, or one month's wages on a admission or a round of drinks, and yet will most likely be haggling over the price of of $5 dress the next day or a $2 tip for cab driver. A bit odd.
Another right we met up with some friends at Cocoon.
This is a different scene altogether. Set 50 metres from the beach, this looks more like a fabulous resort for the rich and famous. It is next to another nightclub, Double 6, and on a busy road on the beach, so it has a bit of frenetic energy to wade through before you can relax in the sublime beauty. A large azure lagoon-shaped pool with white couches scattered around greets you as soon as you climb the steps. There are day beds scattered all over, with a small dancefloor. Great music that makes you want to groove all night which I did.
This is much smaller than Ku De ta, more intimate, so you can easily see who is there. If you want to have a private daybed (kingsize with curtains if you want privacy) you have to buy a bottle of wine, not cheap at $90 for an average Aussie bottle of plonk, otherwise drinks were moderately priced. Beer is always cheap in Bali, but spirits and wine are expensive.
Different crowd to Ku De Ta. There was a smattering of beautiful Javanese prostitutes plus an angelic looking girl of about 18 in a stunning dress (with an older man) who we later found out was Russian, the dress from Paris the week before. My first guess was she was a trophy of the guy who seemed to be a Russian mafia boss - they love luxury and have very expensive tastes. (I recently read of a nightclub in Moscow that caters purely for billionaire men and pretty girls, such is the level of sheer wealth that some Russian have accumulated over the last 20 years.)
Somehow a couple of young drunk Aussie men joined our group, with one promptly falling asleep on our daybed, much to the consternation of the waiters. I chatted with the other one for a bit, a guy from Perth of 32, but eventually when he realised he was not going to get laid he woke his mate and they left.
Then it was 3 am, Cocoon closed, and one of the women I was there with wanted to go to Kuta, to the Skygarden. Firstly the traffic was moving so slowly it was better to get out and walk, and then it got really grubby. Just past the scene of the bombed out Sari club, now a shrine to the dead. The beggars were out in force (Javanese women and babies, plus some young girls of 7 and 8, apparently imported by gangs who send them out to beg all night long, plus whatever else they get them to do to make money) as were the touts offering a plethora of goods, legal and illegal.
There are many other clubs in the vicinity, so Skygarden, while the biggest club, is not totally responsible for the mayhem outside its doors.
And then there were the young Aussie drunks. We followed our friend, a 38-year-old mother of three, into the building. Dirty concrete steps with dirty and dark walls, up some flights of stairs, amazed at how the boys felt nothing of grabbing at our friend's breasts as they went past, asking for sex at first glance. She was pretty out of it, and dressed to kill so she did not mind, even enjoyed the sexual rush, but I was appalled.
We climbed up two levels each one with different hard core techno music playing, the spaces simply concrete with flashing lights, with nothing to break or smash or fall over, or sit on. The pawing of our friend by the boys, pretty much every boy who noticed her coming through, on her breasts, between her legs, was embarrassing and disgusting and I felt ashamed for them. There were very few Aussie girls around, and this who were looked decidedly worse for wear, though that is maybe par for the course for a nightclub at 4am where drinks are cheap and relating is rude and abusive.
At 4 am in nightclubs anywhere, the patrons are generally pretty soused, and as the time for any connected encounter with the opposite (or same) sex is long past.
How the Balinese must be shocked at the low standards of Australian youth. The fact this was taking place just across the road from the scene of Indonesian Muslim disgust at the depravity of Western culture must offend their sense of history and spirituality and the respect for the dead.
We then made our way to a quiet place, empty, and sat and watched the working girls playing with the young Aussie boys. I felt so sorry for this generation of Aussie kids and the total absence of respect, for self and others, their alcoholism and the sense of lostness that pervades them. I heard that there was quite a lot of Aids among the prostitutes so I hope these boys woke up with no more than a hangover and an empty wallet.
After and hour or so of feeling old and out of place we left, again in pursuit of our friend who we were feeling responsible for and who seemed to be on a mission to get dirty and out of it. We followed her down the street where a sordid scene, as much as anything at 5am can be called a scene, more a gathering of people unwilling to go home and face their spiritual squalor.
A young guy who I'd briefly chatted to earlier appeared by my side, feeling some safety around me, or some grounding. His friend had gone off with a girl earlier so he was just going to drink himself stupid. He told me he was a failure because he was not good at picking up chicks. In retrospect I feel I should have been more present with him, as he was clearly lost and reaching out, but by then I was feeling a bit trashed myself, only thinking of getting the hell out of there and getting home.
We finally left our friend in the company of some seedy people she wanted to be around and went home, still in some shock at the sheer awfulness of what we had just witnessed.
So what a night. The sheer beauty and sophistication of Cocoon, and the utter squalor of the Sky Garden. I was left questioning whether I was just getting old, and like every other 50 year old in history decrying 'the youth of today' or whether my concerns were more reasonable.
It made me wonder though about the influence of internet porn on how kids relate sexually to each other, to their world. I wondered at the lack of solid parenting this indicated, but then I realised that parents, even with the best and clearest attention, have no hope of keeping track of what their kids are being exposed to and how that is impacting on their lives.
See also, A night to remember in Skygarden as well as a more recent review of Skygarden.
See balirestaurantguide.com for more reviews of many more restaurants, clubs, warungs, bars and organic food outlets.
See also Drink spiking alive and well in Bali
See Older women on Scrapheap?? for a report on the difficulties of older Aussie women in our youth obsessed culture
Related to - Bali 2010
By Mark O'Brien