tropical drinks are not strong unless... 

You’d think we had become real alkies by the way we started to obsess over booze while in Bali.  We surmise the reason we kept thinking about it so much was the fact that no matter where we traveled in Indonesia, strong drinks were just not in fashion.  From our very first sip in Jogyakarta, we noticed the libations on offer were decidedly more juice than booze, even when prices were on a par with the US.  (See “sips” in our Sulawesi report for more information on this phenomenon.) 

Now don’t get us wrong.  We had expected a similar situation when traveling to other predominantly-Muslim countries like Tunisia, but by the time we got to Bali, a resort island that attracts luxe travelers from around the world, the embargo on stiff cocktails was starting to feel like a conspiracy.  Looking back on it now, we would have been better off hitting up the old Duty Free Shop on our way over from Kong Kong and utilizing a flask to supply our own mixed drinks “on the run.”  Oh well.  Our monetary loss is your gain - if you follow our plan.

By the time we reached our last Indonesian destination of Sanur Beach, we had finally figured out a way to solve our conundrum.  If you’re on holiday in Indonesia and you’d like to get a little loose-goosey, there’s no better way to achieve that goal than to return to your college days.  Yes friends, it’s time to bring out an old classic, the Long Island Iced Tea - or any other misspelled variation of the infamous cocktail that mixes together equal parts rum, gin, tequila and vodka with triple sec and fruit juices!  Trust us, it was the only concoction we felt delivered a punch on par with regular sized cocktails from the US!

Just can’t go there?  There is one other option that might be a bit more refined.  Arak, or palm wine, is a local Indonesian delight that we first tasted on recommendation of our handsome waiter in the mountain village of Munduk.  Priced considerably lower than most other liqueurs, arak is often mixed as a cocktail in many bars and restaurants and served over ice.  It’s definitely a refreshing treat you should try at last once while in Bali, and if we had known about it sooner, we probably could have saved ourselves a lot of misery.

No matter what we have reported thus far, there are few bright spots on the Balinese bar-hopping schedule.  (See Cafe Bali in “eats” and Bali Joe’s below for two of them.)  Some of the strongest cocktails we had during our time in Seminyak were had at Naughty Nuri’s, a cool bar and street side warung that some Australian friends of ours had recommended prior to the trip.  The staff here were very friendly and fun, easily complimenting the already whimsical decor that is punctuated by two large papier-mâché  pigs!  Unfortunately we had already eaten dinner at our hotel prior to our visit and thus we cannot comment on the quality of the food.  But if the rumors we hear are true, their breakfast is supposedly killer.  Oh, what do we care?  By night, at least we were awarded with some nice cool mojito’s and a Godiva Chocolate Martini!

Naughty Nuri’s - Jalan Batu Belig 41, Kerobokan  80361, Bali, 011 (62) 361-8476722

Bali Joe’s (Seminyak)

Though it does not appear so on many maps, the avenues of Seminyak can run fairly long, and a stroll along Jalan Raya Seminyak or the main thoroughfare of Oberoi can take longer than you might think.  Still, your Set of Drifters are here to tell you that distance should not deter you from taking to the streets on foot.  Sure, there are taxis a-plenty all over the place, and at relatively cheap prices, but once confined inside their air conditioning, how are you ever going to grab the real pulse of where you are visiting?

There was a lot of “grabbing of pulses” on our second night in town when, after a few drinks at Made’s Warung, what we like to call our “seventh sense” finally kicked in.  We had been seeking all evening a watering hole that catered more to locals rather than just weekenders visiting from Adelaide.  It was during this search that we happened upon a string of bars along Jalan Dhyana Pura, most of which dazzled passer-by’s with glitzy lighting, flat screen TV’s and cheap red carpets.  Oh yeah... and half-naked go-go boys!

Yes, we had found it, Bali’s gay epicenter.  (Okay, maybe “epicenter” is a bit of an exaggeration.)  Since the marquees of Facebar and Bottom’s Up felt just a bit too cloying, we opted for “Bali Joe’s” instead.  And boy (no pun intended), are we glad we did.  As soon as we stumbled inside, our host “Nikki” (a young Elvis-coiffed local who dressed in precious safari fatigues) informed us that it was a special night at Bali Joe’s.  Not only was there to be a series of drag performances throughout the evening, but the final round of the “Mr. Bali Joe 2011” contest was to unravel before midnight!  Hey Nikki, no worries.  Bali Joe’s had us at the moment a drag queen arrived at the front entrance via motorcycle, her wig traded for an everyday safety helmet!

Drink concoctions at Bali Joe’s were abundant - and delicious.  Even though we somewhat felt pressured to keep re-ordering as we sat watching the fantastically colorful entertainment, as the bar got more and more crowded throughout the evening, our host’s attention was drained into different directions and we were able to relax a bit more. 

As fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we can honestly say that Bali Joe’s offered some of the most kick-ass drag we have seen.  Seemingly not motivated by tips, these performers jolted and jostled with energetic choreography, spot-on lip-synching, and some rather inventive get-ups; a certain Lady GaGa could learn a thing or two at Bali Joe’s.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t glitter eye shadow and six-inch stilettos that really got the crowd excited.  Naturally, it was the “Himbo” contest that followed.  Even a cadre of straight couples (yes, most likely from Adelaide) seemed to get caught up in the frenzy.  It was actually quite refreshing to see such a broad spectrum of young dudes from all over Indonesia competing in the contest.  As they each revealed to the judges and others in the crowd their origin, their answers became an education on the hierarchy of Indonesian’s many island communities.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Worried you won’t understand the witty banter supplied by judges or Mr. Maks, the host of the “Mr. Bali Joe” contest?  Have no fear.  Almost all everyone in Seminyak speaks fluent English.  In fact, we had to perform multiple double takes to make sure that Mr. Maks wasn’t actually gay comedian Alec Mapa!)

While we did not stay until the bitter end to see who was crowned the ultimate “hot-bod,” our stop at Bali Joe’s was easily the most fulfilling nightlife experience we had in all of Indonesia.  The locals here definitely know how to put on a good show and host a fun party, and the best part of all... there was not a drop of attitude in sight.  Before heading off into a taxi back to Kerobokan, we spotted a few lady-boys who we surmised would be performing only in bed that night.  Word to the wise, prepare to be propositioned by someone, or some thing if you’re walking along Jalan Dhyana Pura.  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Bali Joe’s - Jalan Dhyana Pura, Seminyak, Bali, 011 (62) 361-730931

Made’s Warung (Seminyak)

Outside of the actual Southern California theme park, foreign places that end up feeling like Disneyland are usually not at the top of our list.  Who wants to endure a completely fabricated experience when they can find the “real deal” elsewhere probably only a few blocks down the road?  That being said, and presumably like many other tourists before us, we were easily swayed inside the massive compound of Made’s Warung in Seminyak as soon as we eyed its retro-Polynesian signage and assortment of whimsical wooden statues out front!

A host at the front door told us that it was salsa night and that there would be a cover charge for the dancing later in the evening.  “Salsa night in Bali?,” we thought to ourselves...  No thanks.  We told the host that we were just looking for a quick drink and she soon ushered us to the well-appointed bar.  Finally - a place that actually served booze!  Once nestled into our bar stools, we took a quick look around.  Whoever had created this place was certainly quite the entrepreneur.  Part restaurant and bar/ part hotel/ part shopping mall/ part performance space, Made’s Warung was like a mini-Seminyak inside the much larger one!  And even though the open air courtyard actually let in the natural light, weather and temperature from outside, we couldn’t help but feel like we had just been seated down inside the Blue Bayou Restaurant!

Turns out, Made’s Warung is an institution in Seminyak, having opened in 1969 as a small roadside restaurant.  In the years since, the ever-expanding property has attracted a faithful family of expat, tourist and local patrons.  At least that explained the kitschy elements we so usually enjoy!

While the apertif had really been our main goal, we were soon swayed by a cultural dance performance happening at the small stage near the shops.  A handful of girls were performing legong, the traditional Balinese dance, performed usually by pre-pubescent girls, that spins a tale of heroic romance.  The young ladies at Made’s were actually very talented and we were certainly thrilled to be able to witness such artistry “on the fly,” and for only the cost of a cheap drink or two!

If we had not already had our heart set on dining at Cafe Bali (see “eats”), we may have stayed here longer for dinner.  The vibe was festive with everyone appearing as though they were having a good time.  Despite the fact that Made’s even boasted a souvenir shop where you could buy there T-shirts, if we were to happen across Seminyak again, and I certainly hope that we do, we may just hit this place up again.  It seems like the kind of place where you never know quite what is going to happen in any given night.  

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event! 

Made’s Warung - Jalan Raya Seminyak, Kuta, Bali, 011 (62) 361-732130