Café Batavia, a landmark packed with stories

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Cafe Batavia, used to be the former of VOC administrative office building, is maintaining the original Dutch colonial decoration. (photo: IO/Aldo)

IO – Fatahillah Square, also known as ‘Old Town’ of Jakarta (still called ‘Batavia’), was the starting point for the colonial government.  The elegant ancient piles naturally hide many stories in each stone, earning them a place as a cultural preserve of our past Dutch East Indies Colonial Era.

Fatahillah Square, previously known as Stadhuisplein (‘City Hall Square’), is a public plaza located in the very heart of Jakarta’s Old Town. In this area, several venerable old buildings still stand, such as the former City Hall of Jakarta (now the Fatahillah Museum), the Wayang Museum, the Central Post Office, and the former Batavia High Court building (now the Museum of Arts and Ceramics).

Other than the many museums in the area, another attention-grabber is the restaurant directly facing the Museum of Jakarta’s History: Café Batavia. The Café, open since 1991, is housed in a historic building formerly used as a VOC administrative office, following its completion in 1850.

In 1990, Frenchman Paul Hassan leased the building, intending to turn it into an art gallery. A year later, the lease was transfered to Graham James of Australia, to turn into what quickly became famed as Café Batavia. It opened to the public in 1993.

Café Batavia has a uniquely classic interior. The vintage atmosphere takes visitors back to the Colonial past, exemplified by the magnificent portraits of VOC high officials staring from the walls. The café, which is commonly crowded during dinner hours, is comprised of two floors, each with its deliciously distinct ambience.

Café Batavia’s ground floor is a lounge bar with a stage for live music, featured from Tuesday to Saturday, beguiling diners with musical genres as varied as jazz, pop, and Latin.  The upper floor contains the Grand Salon, the main hall dining area that can seat about 150 visitors and is frequently used for festive events such as weddings, or formal ones like conventions and meetings.  Café Batavia’s upper floor also contains the world-famous Winston Churchill bar, which earned an award as ‘The World’s Best Bar’ from Newsweek International Magazine, New York, in 1996.

Through its immense glass windows, guests can enjoy a quaint view of Fatahillah Square, the crowds of visitors at the Wayang Museum, the street hawkers selling everything from drinks to post cards, and tourists rolling by on their sepeda onthel (Dutch bicycles). ‘This restaurant has a very good concept: a mixture of class and elegance. It has great food and exotic ambience,’ comments a visitor.

Café Batavia serves a variety of Western and Chinese dishes, and a comprehensive selection of the best Australian wines. ‘Some of the dishes in our menu can be found in other restaurants in Jakarta, but most of the guests who come here to Café Batavia want to enjoy a unique ambience that they cannot find in other restaurants,’ commented the Marketing and Communications Representative of Café Batavia.

This café brings visitors a sense of nostalgia of tempo doeloe (olden days). The soft flow of music, the quaint décor, and the portraits of Colonial Era officials and staff of VOC make the distant past feel much closer to the present. (Aldo)