October 6, 2022
JAKARTA – With a recherché concept that is a speakeasy bar, Eleven Jakarta has become a leisurely refuge for hardworking execs and the who’s who of the capital city.
A speakeasy bar is hard to find – literally.
In the United States Prohibition era in the early 20th century, the sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal, resulting in the prominence of illicit bars and similar establishments that would serve alcohol in secret. These saloons would later be known as “speakeasy bars” because the bartenders would ask their patrons to whisper – or “speak easy” – whenever they were inside the bar, avoiding drawing attention from the authorities.
Such establishments would usually be located in hidden areas, such as in the basement of a hotel. Only pre-approved regulars would be able to enter a speakeasy bar.
A century has passed, though retro-style bars and saloons that adopt the concept of speakeasy bars are still standing – including Jakarta’s very own Eleven Jakarta (stylized “No. 11”). Located on the ground floor of Sopo Del Tower in the Mega Kuningan compound, Eleven Jakarta, at least from the outside, appears simply as a poster on a wall with a landline telephone nearby.
However, once the patron knocks and enters the password, what is inside is a whole other world.
Eleven Jakarta officially opened its doors to its patrons in early 2019. Developed by Kowara Eatery Group, the speakeasy bar is deliberately situated in the Mega Kuningan compound to attract customers interested in a personal sanctuary: the urban office workers and executives.
“We wanted to establish something that was unlike anything else,” explained Puji, the bar’s supervisor. “It’s not often you find something like [a speakeasy bar] in office towers.”
That element of “standing-out” was also why the key players behind Eleven Jakarta decided to have it as a speakeasy bar and not a regular, Western-style pub, Puji later remarked. Coincidentally, observing their relatively narrow space, it appeared that having a speakeasy bar would work best. The area they made available had neither an outdoor domain nor a second floor.
Puji continued, “It’s a pretty small space, so when anyone enters, we want to sort of ‘wow’ them.”
The bar’s interior was designed as if patrons were inside an old-timey Japanese locomotive. Meanwhile, 60s-era Japanese tunes are usually the bar’s top choice for background music. Still, establishing a mystery room-like interior was only half of their assignment – they had to come up with the type of culinary style they would like to serve in their food and liquor.
Eventually, Eleven Jakarta settled on authentic, semi-fine dining Japanese cuisine.
“People might have already gotten used to non-Japanese-style establishments,” said Puji.
“Besides, the Japanese expatriates usually have difficulty finding authentic drinks from their home country. Other bars might have [South Korean liquor] soju, but not necessarily [Japanese liquor] sake. Also, it so happens that lots of Indonesians love sake.”
Eleven Jakarta is a speakeasy bar and a speakeasy bar usually requires a password. Puji explained that the bar would usually change its password every other week.
“If a patron asks, we would tell them [the password]. We would also announce the updated password on our Instagram,” noted Puji.
Let it be spoken
As a speakeasy bar, Eleven Jakarta understood very well that what its patrons were looking for might not be the same as what they would be looking for in the more mainstream bars.
For instance, patrons prefer to keep any interaction at arm’s length. Sometimes, patrons would ask for drinks that were not on the menu.
Hence, besides the bar’s signature drinks menu, Eleven Jakarta also serves bespoke cocktails.
“Sometimes people get bored with the classics. Like, ‘Margarita again? Nope, I want something different!'” Puji observed.
“The patron would tell the bartender what kind of base and flavor they would want [in their cocktail] and our bartender would try to make it. What they want, we go along with it.”
As for the signature cocktails, Eleven Jakarta recruited Singaporean cocktail master Ethan Leslie Leong to come up with the menu and its recipe. For the patrons who frequent Eleven Jakarta for the first time, Puji would recommend a plate of fresh Japanese oyster with ponzu sauce, salmon wafu carpaccio, Ultimate Eleven Steak don with foie gras and a glass of Hazy Hits: the bar’s signature cocktail that comprises of bourbon whiskey, Angostura bitters and cherries.
Besides office workers, several public figures would pop up now and then to find refuge inside Eleven Jakarta, though their identity is kept anonymous. For selected dates, live music would entertain the patrons as they enjoy their downtime – some of the more notable acts performed at Eleven Jakarta are Dikta and The Greytown Brothers.
Aden, one of the bartenders, observed how, in general, the bar’s patrons enjoy frequenting Eleven Jakarta to blow off some steam.
“It’s a chill place to hang out,” Aden observed, “and it’s not too crowded, either. It’s the perfect place – and atmosphere – for them to enjoy [themselves].”