February 23, 2010 / 7:19 AM / 9 years ago

Table Talk: A bar? A bistro? Jakarta eatery intrigues

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - Clark Kent turned into Superman in a phone booth, and television detective Maxwell Smart entered his secret lair through one. And if you discover what lies behind the telephone box in Jakarta bar Tabac, you’re also in for a surprise.

Owner Tom Sisk says he loves watching the people’s faces when they find an elegant, dimly lit lounge after stumbling through the secret passage in Tabac’s modest facade.

Sisk opened Tabac, French for “tobacco,” in the city’s southern Kemang party district two years ago, claiming Jakartans were starving for a relaxing bar offering quality service.

“Jakarta just has this energy that is undervalued, under appreciated and certainly under-exposed,” said Sisk, who previously operated bars and clubs in New York City.

Mindful of some people’s opposition to drinking alcohol in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Sisk divided Tabac into two sections with a coffee shop in the front and a bar at the back.

“Within the context of south Jakarta I want to be respectful to those who don’t believe in drinking alcohol. We didn’t really want to a do a place that everyone needed to look inside, we wanted to be discreet,” he said.

Sisk also designed the secret entrance as a homage to the alcohol prohibition period in America during the 1920s, where people concealed their drinking in creative ways.

“You’re no longer in Jakarta, but you are in Jakarta. It’s very simple, it’s very safe,” he said.

The front section of Tabac offers a wall of cigars, cigarillos and cigarettes for sale, and smoking advertisements fill the inside.

In an age when smoking is morally condemned by many, Sisk, who admits to enjoying a cigarette, says he is offering a place free of judgment.

“I’m not really interested in being politically correct. I believe in free will and free choice,” he said.

A mixture of antiques and bric-a-brac — scales, sewing machines and type writers — line the lounge’s varnished wooden walls to create a quirky interior that is classic Hollywood, and photographs from the prohibition era provide the muse.

Abandoning the cocktail list, the bartenders will make any drink of your choice with New York measurements. Customers, who are encouraged to dress-to-impress, can listen to a DJ playing some down-tempo music.

Menu options include Western and Asian offerings such as sirloin steak and beef satay. But the bar’s signature dish, the Tabac Burger, is the most innovative, consisting of four mini beef burgers served in a giant martini glass with fries.

“It’s something we did in New York City,” Sisk said of the novelty dish. “Something you can share and have fun with.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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