Ten New Heritage Hotspots in Kota Tua, Jakarta's old town
There has never been a more exciting time to explore Jakarta’s old town. For so many years, Kota Tua’s grand colonial buildings were left to rot, but thanks to the work of these passionate locals, edgy art galleries and cool cafés are now popping up on empty floors of old post offices, in the attics of monumental merchant mansions and in abandoned spice warehouses. Kota Tua is no longer a distant memory of a long-gone past, but a new exciting chapter in Jakarta’s history. The cobblestoned streets of Jakarta’s old town have become a location of choice for the city’s creative entrepreneurs. One by one the crumbling properties around Fatahillah Square and the Kali Besar canal are being renovated. App and map in hand, we rented two vintage bikes and matching sunhats at the square and pedalled away from the tourist crowds. We checked out ten new places in the old town and liked what we found.
1. MULA Kota Tua & Kafe Sunyi
MULA literally means 'the beginning'. It is a coworking space and creative hub in the heart of Old Town. MULA provides anything a start-up needs: from a simple desk to a podcast studio. More than just a physical space, MULA is all about connecting communities. The main goal is to support an ecosystem of small industries and start-ups in the Old Town surrounding. MULA welcomes its neighbours for dance classes, language courses and coaching clinics. Supported by Bank Indonesia, part of the top floor has even been repurposed into a communal prayer room for local residents.
On the 2nd floor is Kafe Sunyi, which means Silent Café. A coffee shop run by our diffable friends. Sign language comes in handy when you order your cappuccino. Don’t worry, the friendly baristas here will happily teach you.
Gedung Rotterdamsche Lloyd is more than a century old. Purpose-built for the Dutch shipping company the building features period architectural details such as the huge stained glass windows and the dark green tile tableau that give the place a unique style and character.
2. Gedung Cipta Niaga
Prominent trading house
Built as the headquarters of the powerful colonial trading company Internationale Crediet en Handels Vereeniging Rotterdam office, who hired the most prominent architecture firm they could find: Ed Cuypers en Hulswit, designers of colonial Java’s prestigious properties. Nice to know: Ed Cuypers was the younger cousin of Pierre Cuypers, the architect of the famous Dutch Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Art Deco Gem
After Indonesian independence, the building got snapped up by Cipta Niaga, one of Indonesia’s main trading houses. With its high ceilings, tiled floors, stained glass windows and majestic art deco staircases, it’s a popular venue for exhibitions, film shoots and even yoga classes. It is now under the management of Konsorsium Kota Tua Jakarta, follow them on IG @kotatuajakarta.id to catch new events!
Gedung Cipta Niaga . Jl. Kali Besar Timur 4 No. 31 . Exhibition opens daily 10am-7pm . +62 21-6903606
3. Kali Besar
Kali Besar literally means the big canal, a piece of superb water engineering by the Dutch. When they built Batavia city, they dredged the small Ciliwung stream and turned it into a navigable waterway, so the many sampans could offload goods from the tall ships in the Sunda Kelapa harbour.
In the 19th century, the harbour was relocated, and Jakarta’s wealthy businessmen moved to the newly planned Weltevreden a leafy suburb with wide boulevards and white-plastered art deco villas. The canal was still a place of trade, but no one lived there anymore.
With the Kota Tua revival movement also the Kali Besar river has been cleaned up. The work of architect Budi Lim who in 2002 received a UNESCO award for the revitalisation of the National Archives. He was inspired by the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul where the riverbanks are now full of life and play. We like the concrete balconies where you can sit and relax after a long day of exploring Kota Tua.
Kali Besar . Jl. Kali Besar Timur . 24/7
4. Mel’s Dorm
Home for travellers
Hendry Lee dedicated this hostel to his passion for travelling and his wife, Mel. Since 2018, the hostel has been the home for thousands of backpackers from across the globe. A cheap and cheerful place that offers a variety of rooms, a kitchenette and a hidden library.
Kerta Niaga is a compound of 3 buildings from different periods: the 19th century, early 20th century and post-independence. Mel’s Dorm is located in the most recent one, Kerta Niaga #2. A building with a modest design of tropical modernism. The hanging stairs are iconic.
Breakfast with a view
Mel’s dining area is the best part. It overlooks the canal. Whether you make your own food or order from the many places around, there’s always a good crowd. It’s the place where backpackers meet.
Mel's Dorm . Kerta Niaga . Jl. Kali Besar Timur no 8 . 2nd Floor
Opens daily 10am-10pm . +62 21 2269 3377 . @melsdorm
5. Kedai Seni Djakarté
This traditional colonial building had been abandoned for over a decade. When the Djakarte team saw the original grand marble staircase, they were sold and embarked on a renovation. The shabby chic two-story interior is replete with crooked oil paintings and long wooden tables. Upstairs is more of a loungey atmosphere, decorated with vintage paintings and photographs. They even have a small collection of Indonesian cassette tapes available for sale!
Es Toples Djakarte is a good choice: soda mixed with fresh fruit. Choose your favourite colour and flavour: strawberry, kiwi, grape or passion fruit. A perfect thirst quencher on a hot day!
Kedai Seni Djakarté . Jl. Kali Besar Timur 4 No.29 . Open daily 10am-9pm . +62 818 08374431
6. Bar Historia
Inspired by the spice trade
The café takes its inspiration from the rich spice trade history that put Jakarta on the map 500 years ago. The menu offers a wide selection of spice-infused smoothies, cocktails and teas, handcrafted by expert mixologists. Manager Putri Karleti explains “We use ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg and sesame to create exciting flavour combinations”.
The lofty interior is sparingly furnished with an attractive mix of modern solid teak tables combined and elegant vintage cabinets but the real highlight is tfloor-to-ceilinging mural created by local artists depicting historic scenes in the Kota.
We loved the Jamrud Khatulistiwa, cucumber, pineapple, honey, basil and mint, heavenly goodness in a glass (Rp 38.000). Hungry? Try the Bakpao Ketawa, literally translated as ‘happy bun’, filled with spicy all-time favourite beef rendang and a sprinkle of spring onion. Also the Gemblong Pisang (grilled banana dipped in melting coconut sugar, Rp 27,000) is a real treat. All dishes are prepared and presented with love, care and a hint of history.
Historia Food & Bar . Jl. Pintu Besar Utara No. 11 . Mon-Fri 10am-10pm Sat-Sun 8am-10pm . +61 21 6904188
7. Gedung Kerta Niaga
More than 100 years old
Kerta Niaga 1 was built as an office for the Koloniale Zee en Brand Assurantie Maatschappij, an insurance company. Desiged by popular architecture firm Ed Cuypers en Hulswit in 1912. The days when trade in the Dutch Indies was booming. Later after independence, it became the office for Kerta Niaga a state-owned logistics company.
Tropical Art Deco
The art deco building has great historical value, adapted to suit the local environment with materials available at that time. Featuring tall columns, symmetrical floorplans and lots of glass to maximise natural light in the deep building. Konsorsium Kota Tua took the building under its wing. Temporarily used as a marketplace, and now a trick eye museum, a popular site for family and kids field trip.
Magic Art 3D Museum . Jl. Kali Besar Timur No. 9 . Open daily 10am-7pm
IDR 35,000 – 80,000 . +62 811-8986-696
8. Acaraki Jamu
More than just a herbal drink
Owner Jony Yuwono has done four years of research seeking the best ingredients from across Indonesia’s archipelago and mastering ancient techniques of jamu making. For centuries, jamu is believed to have healing and immunity benefits. More than that, jamu bears a deep philosophical meaning: it has 8 main recipes that stand for the 8 cycles of life and 8 points on a compass. This is why a traditional Jamu Gendong (jamu-seller lady) always carries 8 bottles on her back…
Acaraki experiments with modern brewing pressing and dripping techniques to introduce the jamu legacy to a younger audience. Our favourite picks are Golden Sparkling; a refreshing cold jamu with soda that ingredients that boost blood circulation and healthy skin; and Saranti is also on our list. Beras kencur (kaempferia galangal) with creamer will mprove your appetite.
Postcard from Kota Tua
Make your own postcard at Acaraki’s terrace. Choose from various batik patterns, local designs or make your own. They provide designated boxes for each day of the year, so that we can pick the exact dat for your card to be mailed.
Acaraki Jamu . Kerta Niaga . Jl. Pintu Besar Utara no. 11 . Open daily 10am-10pm . +62 811-8306-488
9. Wonderloft Hostel
Home for wanderers
“So many tourists come to Kota Tua, but there was no hotel” - that is how owner Karen came up with the idea for a boutique hostel in the heart of the old town. When she was shown this run down building opposite Bank Indonesia, she immediately saw the potential of the beautifully arched spaces and large floorplates right in the middle of Kota Tua. A six month renovation stripped the building back to its bare shell, original details intact. Karen’s team created a comfortable lounge area on the ground floor and added four floors of capsule bedrooms and Wonderloft opened early 2017.
Feel at home
As a house rule guests take off their shoes and put on comfy slippers for an extra homey feel. Each floor has spacious lounge areas for quiet relaxation and who wants to party can do so downstairs or at the weekly pub-crawl nights.
Wonderloft Hostel . 6-8 Jl. Bank . Open 24/7 . +62 26072218
10. Gedung OLVEH
Art deco gem
OLVEH stands for Onderlinge Levenszerkering Van Eigen Hulp, a Dutch Indies Insurance Company, designed by RLA Schoemaker, brother of famous architect CP Schoemaker. Staying true to its roots, the building is still owned by an insurance company, Jiwasraya. Vacant for years, it got a new lease of life as an office for research agency IRAI. The building is now a happening place with pop-up art exhibitions, workshops and other fun events. It also host Kopi Kopling, a coffee lab to train people who work in coffee industry.
The original tiles above the entrance says ‘OLVEH van 1879’. It is the birth year of the company, the building itself dates back to 1921.
Gedung OLVEH . Jl. Jembatan Batu No. 50 . Open daily 9am- 6pm . +62 21 6905803
Kota Tua walking trail
These ten heritage hotspots are part of a handcrafted off-the-beaten-track itinerary for only the most curious and adventurous travellers. The sites are handpicked by locals in the know, namely, the friendly folks from Konsorsium Kota Tua who are fighting the battle to safeguard Jakarta’s heritage from those ubiquitous jackhammers while keeping the souls of the buildings alive and the spirit of the community intact.
Discover Kota Tua's heritage gems and more hidden secrets on the iDiscover Kota Tua Walking Map, designed by the lovely Astrid Prasetianti and available from Konsorsium Kota Tua or as a free download here ->
Konsorsium Kota Tua Jakarta Konsorsium Kota Tua Jakarta
An NGO investing in buildings of the past to create a better future for Jakarta Old Town. Konsorsium yang berfokus dalam revitalisasi dan pemanfaatan bangunan-bangunan cagar budaya serta pemberdayaan komunitas di Kota Tua Jakarta.@kotatuajakarta.id
Astrid Prasetianti Astrid Prasetianti
Astrid Prasetianti’s imaginative, colourful illustrations and photographic work are like little pieces of art that are guaranteed to brighten your day. Astrid Prasetianti memberi sentuhan imajinasi penuh warna di setiap illustrasi dan fotografi yang dibuatnya, seakan karya-karyanya menjanjikan untuk membuat hari kita bersinar cerah.@astridpr
Asuransi Jasindo Asuransi Jasindo
Asuransi Jasindo, Indonesia’s second largest insurance company has its roots in the Dutch colonial days dating back as far as 1845. The company’s long heritage is still treasured today, epitomised in the iconic art deco Gedung Jasindo on Fatahillah Square. Asuransi Jasindo adalah perusahaan asuransi terbesar kedua di Indonesia yang menawarkan berbagai produk mulai dari perlindungan rumah hingga asuransi perjalanan. Perusahaan ini berdiri pada masa penjajahan Belanda yaitu sejak tahun 1845. Warisan budaya panjangnya masih berharga hingga kini, seperti properti Jasindo yang berada di kota tua berupa Gedung Jasindo bergaya art deco yang khas.www.jasindo.co.id