Jakarta's Queer Hangouts
I am pretty aware that when people think of queer travel, Indonesia, a country with the world's largest Muslim population, won't sound as tempting as, say, Thailand. Mostly gay travelers would way prefer Bangkok or Manila, well-known for their openness towards homosexuality. I would say that Bangkok, with countless queer-friendly bars, cafes, hotels and destinations, is the San Francisco of Southeast Asia. But, can Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, rival Bangkok as Southeast Asia’s queer capital? I say, yep, most definitely.
Surprisingly enough, the Big Durian’s "alternative" population is big and visible. I know this first hand. As a baby dyke coming back home from Canada, I was stunned by the visibility and "outness" of the gay community here. Groups of fashionable bottoms and androgynous butches are everywhere, mostly at cafes, malls and cultural centers. Boys wearing the newest Topman collection and short-haired girls roam around wearing aviator glasses with Kristen Stewart-like strut.
Therefore, feel free to go out to a gay bar and hook up with someone or attend a public lecture on LGBT issues at a cultural center, but just be smart on choosing the place and the people you’re out to. Most middle-upper Jakartans are aware of homosexuality and have become more accepting towards it nowadays. For a growing number of Jakartans, it is no bigger issue than what to have for lunch.
So, where should you sip a Cosmo or two and release your inner rainbow?
South and Central Jakarta offer a variety of cool gay-friendly hangouts. The first thing that comes to mind is the hippest gay club, Apollo, at Bellagio Mall Mega Kuningan. There you can drink an upscale Mojito and try to fit in with the A-gays. The music varies, but Apollo plays mostly old and new progressive gay anthems. Jakarta’s lesbians get their fair share of the nightlife, as Apollo transforms into Apollo Girls Club every Friday, with sexy babes and go-go butches turning the stage upside down. That's what’s written on their website.
Honestly, I don’t go to Apollo that much. It's too thumping and hip for this old soul. I prefer another establishment that is cozier, less pretentious place that is easy on the pocket. Melly’s Garden, not too far from Apollo, is a gay-friendly beer garden hidden between the buildings of Jalan Wahid Hasyim, just a few minutes’ walk from Jalan Jaksa, Jakarta’s backpacker central. Mostly low-key expats, backpackers, English teachers and NGO workers crowd the garden. But on Friday and Saturday nights, the LGBTIQ population escalates. The crowd and staff here are superbly open and friendly, and the best part is the drinks. Every Friday night, we only need Rp 20,000 (less than $2) to buy a shot of good quality tequila or Rp 30,000 for a big bottle of Bintang, the local beer.
Probably the oldest gay club in the city is Moonlight Disco, or "ML," as it is lovingly called by regulars. ML is located in the shabbiest part of Jalan Hayam Wuruk, Kota. The disco is dark, dirty and smelly. Friends told me it is too easy to hook up with male prostitutes and get drugs there. But don’t let these fool you. Many Moonlight lovers have told me how great the place is, how less pretentious, less fake and friendly the crowd is. So, if you’re ready to face the streets of Kota and are up for an adventurous gay disco with a dash of “friendliness,” why not?
Jakarta, despite its Islamic-fundamentalist-wannabe phase, is actually becoming more like a progressive metropolitan city. The people, mostly coming from better economic backgrounds, are realizing that homosexuality exists, and gays are not as sinful as their preachers told them. With proper common sense, it is very possible that you will have a blast here. Beware--the Big Durian’s fabulousness might surprise you.