It took just over a week of living in Yogyakarta before my housemates and I were sick of staying in after work. Our weekdays were full of interning at our organizations and evening language lessons, but we were still submersed in the center of this foreign city, and the confines of our house just weren’t as exciting as what existed beyond them.
Stocking up on instant coffee for the rapidly approaching mornings, we decided to use our nights after work to explore just as readily as we did on the weekends. Although Indonesia tends to have a more conservative culture, the popular tourist industry leads to a variety of nightlife, if you’re willing to go out and find it.
Most foreigners and tourists in the Yogyakarta area are familiar with Malioboro Street. It’s the downtown strip in the city and the hub of most of the tourism. If you’re ever bored, this is the place to be. The street seems to be always crowed with a market, vendors, and street food even late into the night. Turning onto some of the side streets, easily accessed by foot, will generally lead you to where the backpacker hotels and hostels exist, and therefore some familiar Western territory. In other words, that’s where you find the bars in this city.
Enough western travelers come through the area that you can find plenty of places to drink a cold Bintang (the local beer in Indonesia) surrounded by cigarette smoke, while someone with a heavy Indonesian accent belts the greatest hits of Bob Marley. Most of the bars off of Malioboro have live music every night and they’re good spots for meeting up with other travelers, foreigners, and English speakers. Try Sosrowijayan Street and stop into any place with a Bingtang sign outside, or walk down to the end of the block and head into Lucifer for their live music.
Other than those few locations, Yogyakarta itself doesn’t have a bar culture like the United States. The Indonesian equivalent exists just a few blocks north on Malioboro Street past the train tracks. Here the market stalls are replaced by street food venders catering to locals sitting on mats on the side of the street. Much like the backpackers a few blocks away, most are just looking for a drink, a bite to eat, and some conversation. The bands are replaced by street musicians and the atmosphere is perfect for a cup of coffee, which is exactly what this block offers.
Turn right on the alley just north past the train tracks and the location becomes a place for locals of all walks of life to mingle and relax. But for a bit of unique culture, the food stalls on this road will be glad to offer you up a cup of their famous kopi joss for about 3,000 rupiah (about $0.25). If you’re feeling chilly on one of Indonesia’s tropical nights fear not; you can guarantee your coffee will stay nice and warm because kopi joss is served with a red-hot coal dropped into the glass.
Although some say it does little more than adding a charred aftertaste to the drink, there are supposed health benefits. The charcoal is thought to mineralize the caffeine, making it a better evening drink, and neutralize the coffee’s natural acidity. I was told when ordering it that it is also supposed to be helpful with an upset stomach. I’ve yet to test any of these theories formally, but I did enjoy sipping the sweet coffee surrounded by friends during an evening out.
Regardless of where you choose to sit down and order drinks for the night, the atmosphere around Malioboro is some of the best in the area. Nearly any foreigner is willing to chat, and many of the locals can be just as eager. Whether it’s while sitting on mats or gathered around the bar, it’s easy to spend an evening taking in any type of culture you like.