First Time Trying Arak – Jeel Art House – Lovin Bar – Ubud – Bali
The road up to Ubud from Kuta was long and arduous. We were passengers in an Uber, so not for us, but due to a single lane carriageway and a huge amount of traffic, it was constant uphill stopping and starting for a lot of the trip. It must have been hell on the driver’s calves. Pulling into Ubud, we were immediately struck by the vibrant art, the abundance of temples, and the sheer number of bohemian-looking people who gave the impression that they’d enjoy both of those things. We hopped out of the car just around the corner from Jeel Art House, trying to find our accommodation.
Walking around the corner we passed Jeel Art House, and were enthusiastically greeted by a man out the front – beckoning us to come in and have a look around. The Art House, just short of its official opening, had the sound of sawing and hammering upstairs masked by Red Hot Chilli Peppers being played through a laptop at the front of the shop. Handmade tables made of whole sections of tree stood at the front, along with hand whittled sculptures of monkeys and other arty paraphernalia. The place felt very bohemian, and that was before we saw the huge vibrant murals on the walls. We said that we’d come back once we’d found our homestay.
As luck would have it, our homestay was just around the corner, and after grabbing a bite to eat, we set off back towards the Jeel Art House. Greeted again by the enthusiastic chap at the front, we flicked through the books of tattoos – which were on offer by machine, or by the more traditional hand tapping or poking methods. We were then invited to walk around the large room upstairs and were given a closer look at the murals on the walls – huge spectacular works of art in a bohemian style, with a Balinese heritage proudly on show.
There were a spaces on a couple of walls available, so Laura asked if she would be able to paint something. She was told that she could, so long as she finished it.
We returned the following day, with a view to getting started. Sadly, being a Sunday, the shop where we could get supplies was closed. We tried again on Monday morning, and we were finally in a position to begin. Laura spent the day painting, and I helped. Although my contribution was predominantly making sure that the block coloured areas had an even application of paint. More like a decorator than an artist.
After a hard day working, we headed downstairs and sat around with the assembled group downstairs. We sat and ate with them, talking about what their plans were with the shop – it seemed like a loose business model, but Ubud felt like exactly the place where an eclectic shop featuring tattoos, musical instruments, clothes and a relaxed atmosphere could thrive.
Whilst we ate, and a bunch of musicians had turned up. It transpired that the Jeel Art House was the venue for a meet up before heading to an Open Mic Night in Ubud’s Lovin bar. We were invited along too. Having heard the practice runs of a few songs, we were keen to see them performed for real.
Our assembled group – incorporating people of Indonesia, America, New Zealand, Spain and Italy – headed over to the bar. Fiona, who ended up being something of a guide for the evening, showed us the way.
Waiting at the bar, we spotted that Arak – a drink that had been firmly recommended as a must-try in Bali – was available to buy. It was being served as part of a cocktail in a pitcher. Fiona bought one, and got shot glasses for each of us. At sporadic occasions throughout the evening, all of the glasses would be charged and we’d drink a shot of the potent stuff. The cocktail was delicious, an impressive blend of sweetness, with lemony sourness, but there was a definite burn that accompanied each shot. Less reputable bars in Bali have been known to cut the Arak with pure methanol, which has led to cases of blindness in the past, and after trying some (and feeling the ill effects the following day), its possible to see why people wouldn’t notice until everything went black.
A few too many shots accompanied by a couple of large bottles of Bintang later, I was willing to get up and sing, but dared not pick up a guitar. I’m a reasonably capable guitarist, but the people who tended to frequent the Jeel Art House and the Lovin bar were, almost exclusively, exceptional musicians, jumping on and offstage mid song, swapping instruments and demonstrating some pretty virtuoso skills on their favoured instruments, it was daunting hopping up onstage alongside, but they were visibly joyed to have a new jamming partner. After a couple of songs that mustered a small amount of applause, I vacated the stage, leaving the experts to it.
The highlight of the evening – other than the copious amounts of Arak – was when a man called Woody got up onstage, and started playing a couple of fantastic fingerpicked Bob Marley songs, in a Spanish style. As he was doing this, an older guy across the room produced a flute from somewhere about his person and slowly walked up to the mic. With no introduction, he flawlessly played a note perfect solo, remained onstage for the rest of the song, and then returned to his seat when it finished. It was met by rapturous applause.
The night was one of the best nights that we’ve had so far. Whilst things like the night walk have offered an amazing opportunity to see things that we’d never have seen in the UK, the Jeel Art House and the Lovin bar provided a faintly familiar experience with a distinctly foreign flavour.