WanderlustSavorKunstkring Paleis: Revitalizing Jakarta’s Old & Artsy Side

Kunstkring Paleis: Revitalizing Jakarta’s Old & Artsy Side

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It is where culinary and art are celebrated, history is remembered and nationalism is fostered.

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Jakarta has a long list of historical points of interest, but most of them have not yet properly cared, let alone get publicly promoted as part of the wealth of Jakarta’s history and heritage. So it was a sigh of relief when Tugu Hotels Group took over the management of one of Jakarta’s oldest landmarks and reopened the heritage building, turning it into an accessible historic monument that welcomes every curious mind who would like to get a glimpse of some aspects of Jakarta in the past. 

Kunstkring Then & Today
Back to 17 April 1914 when the building was first opened to accommodate the Bataviasche Kunstkring or the Batavia Art Circle organization which was founded in 1902, the building functioned as an activity center for anything related to arts. Back then, the Bataviasche Kunstkring held major position in the development of arts in the East Indies and the building was where some of world’s most famous paintings by legendary progressive painters such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall and the likes were exhibited. After Indonesian independence, the building changed function into immigration office and into a bar and restaurant before taken over by Tugu Hotels. Under the management of Tugu, a notable hospitality company which one of its missions is to preserve the Indonesian heritage, the building received a new name, that is KunstkringPaleis, and returned to its original function, making it the new center for art activities in town without eliminating its business potential as a restaurant completed with a gallery, coffee shop, wine shop as well as art and crafts shop. 

Diponegoro Dining Room
Kunstkring Paleis has a main dining room named the “Pangeran Diponegoro Room”, featuring 9×4 metre-large reproduction painting of one of Indonesia’s most famous paintings by RadenSaleh entitled “The Fall of Java” whereas the original painting is entitled “The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro”. The painting depicts an iconic event in the history of the Indonesian struggle for independence when national hero, Prince Diponegoro was caught by the Dutch colonists using tricks and deceit in 1830. 

The spacious Diponegoro Room is elegantly decorated with chandeliers and white-clothed tables with exquisitely arranged dining set that makes the atmosphere formal. Within the room, hints of nationalism are displayed through the aforementioned large Diponegoro painting that covers one side of the wall as well as through the red and white drapery, which are the colors of the Indonesian national flag. 

The dining room, with its distinctive character has become one of the trademarks of Kunstkring Paleis and has been a favorite place for patrons who need to entertain important guests or clients. Fyi, Victoria Beckham dined here during her visit to Jakarta once. 

Rijsttafel Betawi
The highlight of dining at Kunstkring is the Rijsttafel Betawi. Rijsttafel itself is a form of celebration of the greatly diverse Indonesian culinary wealth, which was first invented by the Dutch around 1910s. During a rijsttafel dining, large variety of Indonesian food is served in sampling portion and brought onto the table in dramatic manner by a group of waiters or waitress, whereas each only carries one kind of indigenous food. Therefore, a rijsttafel becomes a parade of local spices and flavors and presented as a journey for the taste buds. 

At the KunstkringPaleis, the Rijsttafel is presented to foster nostalgia about Indonesia in the bygone era. Kunstkring Paleis features the rare ‘Rijsttafel Betawi’; serving the food similarly to how it was once served at the Hotel des Indes, Batavia, where the Rijsttafel was popularized for the first time.

When served in the Diponegoro Room that can accommodate up to 85 seated persons, the Grand Rijsttafel Betawi becomes a very festive celebration. The waiters/waitresses will be dressed in uniform according to 1910s Betawi fashion style and the food will be carried using pikulan, a traditional carrying tool made of rattan. The dining event will be enlivened by musicians who usually perform the loud and festive Ondel-OndelBetawi traditional music.  

The Rijsttafel Betawi can be had in a more intimate manner for smaller group of diners in one of the private rooms named “Colonial Rijsttafel Room”, which is decorated with old photographs of the Hotel des Indes in Jakarta. 

Suzie Wong Lounge & Bar
Kunstkring Paleis, just as other restaurants by the Tugu Hotels Group, displays large number of traces of history and past events through its antique decoration items and furniture, which are thoughtfully placed in every room by following certain themes. In the lounge and bar area of Kunstkring Paleis, there are sexy and romantic vibes from how the place is decorated in order to enliven the Hong Kong post-war atmosphere in the late 1950s by taking inspiration from a famous movie in that era entitled “The World of Suzie Wong”. 

The movie was a big hit globally in the 60s and apparently its popularity reached Jakarta at that time and became a box office. Two old giant posters which were originally used as advertisement tools of the movie in Jakarta were displayed in Kunstkring lounge and bar area, obtained from a reputable movie theatre in Menteng area. The Nam Kok Hotel sign as well as the Suzie Wong Bar name plate, both of which were actually used in the movie are also displayed, intensifying the Hong Kong post war atmosphere in the room, added with a rickshaw placed at the corner of the room and giant red lanterns wrapping the room in red color hues. 

2nd Floor
The second floor of Kunstkring Paleis boasts even more remarkable rooms, including a private room named the “Soekarno Room”. It’s no secret that Anhar Setjadibrata, the founder of Tugu Hotels Group, as many of other Indonesians has an undying admiration for Soekarno, a national hero and the first president of the Republic of Indonesia. Black and white photos which documented every milestone of  Soekarno’s life are displayed inside the room making it feels like a shrine filled with historical content. 

Stepping outside the room there’s a function hall where art events and exhibitions usually take place. Each isolated space on the base of the building’s two towers is available to be used as private rooms. Meanwhile, in the open air there’s the balcony with several sets of tables and chairs awaited those enquiring for private space to be spent with loved ones. Fashionable ladies have found this balcony ideal to hold gathering with female friends, enjoying afternoon tea overlooking Kunstkring lush green garden. 

Tugu Kunstkring Paleis 
Jl. Teuku Umar 1 Menteng, Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
T. +62 21 390 0899
F. +62 21 390 0898
[email protected]

photos by
Kiky Y. Basuki