The Jaya Pub Rekindles Its Glory

by Runi Cholid
19th December 2023
After a three-year break, The Jaya Pub makes a return to the nightlife scene, maintaining its characteristic charm as the oldest pub in Jakarta and its legacy as an incubator for young musicians since 1975.

The oldest pub in Jakarta, which stands at the back of the Jaya Building on Thamrin Street, is 48 years old. Yet time seems to stand still within its premises.

Recently reopened after a three-year hiatus, The Jaya Pub, naturally, shows its age; signs and posters boasting quips like “NO PUBLIC NUDITY (Unless requested)” and “I SPENT MOST OF MY MONEY ON BEER & WOMEN” have begun to yellow and peel, while hung photographs (of people likely long gone or retired) have faded, turning purple with the passing years.

But the same wooden floorboards and wall panels remained intact; hand horns still hung from the ceiling above the U-shaped bar at the centre of the pub, inviting patrons to honk and cheer for the performers. Even the serving staff, all dressed in black vests and matching trousers, still include familiar faces that have been present since the pub’s early days.  

The 55-year-old waitress Wirdayati Sarif—or Wirda to her friends—is one of them. “I’ve worked here for 38 years,” she proudly stated with a smile. Small-framed and sporting a youthful bob with her fringe clipped to the side, she’s not exactly the kind of figure one would have thought capable of carrying a couple of heavy pints and scolding drunken patrons—but she has been doing exactly that since the days of the first owners: beloved local celebrities and husband and wife, the late Frans Tumbuan and Rima Melati.

“Pak Frans was always adamant in keeping things the way he intended it originally, like a Texan pub,” recalled the mother of two. “When we had to move from the old building [in 2014], he took photographs of everything to make sure that nothing changed even with the new location. And Pak Ardi (Ardianto Airlangga, the couple’s eldest son and current manager of the pub) is carrying on that legacy.”

“With time, The Jaya Pub became widely known as a place for [musicians] to train their vocals and skills as an entertainer.” – Ardianto Airlangga, the pub’s second-generation owner.

Of course, when you talk about the legacy of The Jaya Pub, even more prominent than the old-school pub concept is the role it plays in shaping Indonesia’s music scene. 

“In the ’70s, Jakarta didn’t have a lot of nightlife options that weren’t located inside of hotels. Yes, there were bars like The George and Dragon, and there was also Tanamur Discotheque, but no pubs with live music,” recounted Ardi. “Meanwhile, [my parents] saw a lot of potential in the local music scene, and these talents needed a place to perform in the city. They eventually met with Ciputra (a renowned Indonesian investor and businessman) and got this location. That’s how The Jaya Pub came to be.”

A second F&B venture for the couple, The Jaya Pub, then known as a restaurant, made an instant splash in the media. Soon enough, it became a place where one could often spot famous faces, from Indonesian actor and director Slamet Rahardjo celebrating a quiet 29th birthday on his own to actor Chris Mitchum, son of Hollywood star Robert Mitchum, picking a fight with a rowdy drunkard using moves he learned in his action flicks.

It was hardly surprising. Rima Melati was a generational talent; a model, an actress and a singer, she rose to fame as a member of the renowned ’50s girl group, Baby Dolls (later renamed Boneka Dara by Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno). Her fairytale romance with award-nominated silver-screen actor Frans Tumbuan, who left his restaurant business in the Netherlands to marry her, only further propelled their prominence in the latter half of the 20th century.

Not just celebrities, people of all ilks also came calling to the pub. Poets (including the famed WS Rendra) read out their verses to the delight of the pub-goers, journalists in neckties de-stress after work whilst checking out the city’s happenings and, most prominently, aspiring musicians put out their best on stage in hopes of getting scouted.

“With time, The Jaya Pub became widely known as a place for [musicians] to train their vocals and skills as an entertainer. They thrive on the appreciation they receive from our regulars,” shared Ardi. 

This spirit of cultivating new musical talents runs deep in The Jaya Pub’s DNA.

One of these musicians is Ria Subroto, whose powerful voice still echoes through the intimate confines of the pub. “From ’88, when I was still 19, up to today,” stated the dark-haired woman. “When I was in high school, I liked to follow my older sister Endah here, as she was part of a trio that performed at The Jaya Pub then. One day, the boss [Frans Tumbuan] asked Endah, ‘Can your sister sing too?’ And that’s how it all began. I started at their restaurant La Bodega in Terogong before eventually performing at The Jaya Pub.”

From getting cold feet on stage to having the confidence to climb up the pub’s bar during her jazz number when she was in her 20s (a tradition still carried on by younger performers today, albeit to a different genre of music), Ria has maintained a streak of performing four days a week at The Jaya Pub throughout the years—only taking breaks when she was pregnant. Regulars know that when the piano intro of ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor starts playing and Ria is on the mic, then it’s time to get the horns honking. 

In the face of new establishments that have brought the city’s nightlife renaissance with vigour, The Jaya Pub remains unbudging in its character.

This spirit of cultivating new musical talents runs deep in The Jaya Pub’s DNA—and more than a few made it big. Among the performers at the pub, the older crowd would recall ’80s jazz singers Vonny Sumlang and Ireng Maulana, but today’s youth would probably be more familiar with indie bands such as White Shoes & the Couples Company (WSATCC) and The Adams.

“The Jaya Pub is like family to me. Sometimes, I would meet with Aunty Rima and enjoy a conversation with her. The place is unintimidating, warm and relaxed—and many bands have performed here,” shared guitarist Saleh ‘Ale’ Husein, who plays for both WSATCC and The Adams. “There was an event for indie bands called Superbad! which was organised by Indra Ameng and Keke Tumbuan (Ardi’s sister), and that was what made me keep coming back to the pub.”

Ale, a regular since he was a university student in the early 2000s, would even go as far as crediting the pub as the “trigger” behind The Adams’ latest album, ‘Agterplaas’ (2019). “This one time [in 2014], we performed at The Jaya Pub after a long hiatus. We keenly felt the pub’s energy once more—a small, intimate space where everybody is a friend and can freely express their enthusiasm, and we could even cheekily go back and forth with the audience,” he recalled. 

“After that, The Adams’ group chat came back to life. We wanted to practice together, to create a song. The fun we had performing at the pub reminded us of The Adams ‘mentality’, and we finally came up with another album after 13 years,” Ale shared. 

“The Jaya Pub is like family to me.” – Saleh ‘Ale’ Husein, guitarist for WSATCC and The Adams.

Today, Ardi carries the torch of his parents’ legacy. In the face of new establishments that have brought the city’s nightlife renaissance with vigour, The Jaya Pub remains unbudging in its character. Even though events like the aforementioned Superbad! nor the pub’s focus on jazz could no longer be sustained, the 62-year-old man remains relentless in bringing fresh ideas and genres to the table whilst staying true to the soul of the pub.

“After the pandemic, we help young musicians through initiatives such as Wednesday Showcasing Night, where they get a chance to perform during the one-hour intermission between our regular ‘Top 40’ and ‘Oldies’ bands. Hopefully, from the opportunity, they get to experience firsthand what it’s like to perform for a live audience and interact with our patrons, who are known to be very supportive of new talents.”

Indeed, it’s the pub’s sense of community that keeps The Jaya Pub on the map. It’s what makes employees like Wirda stick around through the decades (some longtime patrons have even invited her to a friendly dinner), and what keeps musicians like Ria and Ale coming back to the pub’s coveted stage. Regardless of recent shifts in the nightlife scene, that appeal remains inimitable, attracting new regulars across generations who all want the same thing: for The Jaya Pub to never change.