Considering the word “Alila” derives from the Sanskrit for “surprise”, it made sense to find a luxury hotel with that name popping out of one of Jakarta's most unlikely tourist streets.
Rising above Jalan Pecenongan north of Monas, the Alila Jakarta's location offers advantages available to few other similarly-priced Central Jakarta hotels. From your guestroom, you can reach some of Jakarta's top highlights in minutes by taxi: shopping in Mangga Dua and Pasar Baru; cultural stops at Fatahillah Square; and pilgrimages to Masjid Istiqlal and the National Cathedral, among others.
Not to mention the street food selections available on Jalan Pecenongan itself after dark – that's worth several nights of exploring by itself!
If you want to hole up in the hotel, that's awesome, too. The Jakarta outfit stays true to the Alila brand's thoughtful take on luxury, from the Alila Jakarta's Alila Spa; to multiple food choices on two levels; to one of the biggest, cushiest bathrooms I've seen in any hotel room. (Again, surprise!)
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Entering the Alila Jakarta's 2nd-Level Lobby
Jakarta is not a very pedestrian-friendly city, and the Alila Jakarta's design takes that as a given. Upon arrival, you'll likely ascend in a taxi up the steep, curving driveway to the second-level entrance, where you'll disembark and pass into the Alila's sleek, reflective lobby. (A separate pedestrian entrance leads up via escalator from the ground-floor level, but it's hidden under the driveway.)
The check-in counter, elevators and an Alila Living store (see above) stand on the southern end of the long lobby; an escalator to the ground level and the passageway to the Buzz Restaurant stand on the other.
A lounge near the latter faces a sunny garden atrium that brings natural light into the space during the day. The high ceilings and glass curtain wall help expand the lobby's interior space in the mind's eye.
Luxury Writ Large: The Alila Jakarta's Club Suite
Any room will look good after a four-hour red-eye flight. And then there are rooms like my sixth-floor Club Suite at the Alila Jakarta: one look inspired relief bordering on the rapturous.
Roomy, cozy and welcoming, the 656-square-foot Club Suite offers an abundance of hardwood, parquet and earth-toned finishes that manages to create the simultaneous appearance of homeyness and luxury. A wooden king-sized bed in the room's center faces a 32-inch flatscreen TV, and the lot is flanked by a floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking the pool on one side, and a steel-topped workstation on the other.
Club Suite guests enjoy a raft of exclusive privileges, like personalized check-in at the executive lounge, where one can take in breakfast and an all-day free flow of non-alcoholic hot and cold drinks; and evening cocktails from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Center of Attention: The Alila Jakarta's Club Suite
The Club Suite's massive bathroom feels like an entire suite on its own, albeit one centered around a bathtub rather than high-thread-count beddings.
The spacious sunken bathtub takes up the central spot, with separate compartments on each side for the rainshower stall and the toilet. A window shade rolls up to reveal a view of the pool and a panorama of the rest of the city facing west.
His-and-her vanities take up the other side of the bathroom, flanking a sliding door that leads out to the foyer. Another sliding door faces the bedroom compartment. The vanities provide Alila Living toiletries for guests' use; the hotel brand's own line of spa and toiletry products use a range of indigenous herbs, spices, flowers and fruits that gently rehydrates and revitalizes skin.
Cocoon of Bliss: The Alila Jakarta's Club Suite
The wellness complex on the third floor contains the swimming pool podium, the fitness center, and the Jakarta branch of the famed Spa Alila brand.
Where the Spa Alila in Ubud, Bali relied on close contact with nature, the Jakarta Spa Alila, in turn, counts on privacy and a cocoon-like comfort to soothe their clients. The interiors – done up in natural hues, decorated with antique-looking wooden art carvings, and grounded with a cool hardwood floor – work with subdued lights to complete the effect.
Couples can book one of the double treatment rooms (shown above) for romantic signature treatments like Two Souls in Harmony, a four-hand massage that utilizes Balinese long-stroke techniques; and the Beauty of Romance, a couples' ritual that climaxes in a decadent chocolate bath.
Spa Alila provides complimentary wellness and fitness sessions at 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. every weekday; ask the spa receptionist for the classes scheduled at the times you're available.
Next Door to Everything: The Alila Jakarta's Location
I sat down to lunch at the Buzz Restaurant just off the lobby, as a guest of Alila Jakarta's marketing director Vivi Belliasari and marketing manager Fita Permatasari.
Vivi explained how the Alila Jakarta was very well situated for both business travelers and tourists: the Pecenongan location is ideal for either pursuit. “From here, Jalan Sudirman and Thamrin [business areas] are not that far,” Vivi explained. “Travelers staying in our hotel and going there, they will avoid traffic because the congestion is in the opposite direction.”
“We're also close to traditional markets, like the Mangga Dua area and Pasar Baru,” Vivi added. “Even if our location isn't in the business district, that's OK – travelers still save time.”
Helpful hint: Jakarta's cultural scene can be incorporated seamlessly into an Alila Jakarta stay, as the hotel's “Alila Experience” combines deluxe room stays with half- and full-day tours of Batavia, Jakarta's old city; and Bogor's Botanical Gardens, among others.
You'll tour in style aboard the Alila Experience's vintage-style London taxi (pictured above): the ultimate throwback ride for Jakarta's throwback destinations.
Alila Experience reservations must be made two days in advance; email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Spice Trade: Buzz Restaurant's Beef Rendang
I took a whack at Buzz Restaurant's take on beef rendang, beef slow-cooked in Indonesian spices and coconut milk, then served with an aromatic coconut gravy on top.
Beef rendang is a common offering in Indonesia's many Padang restaurants, but the Buzz's take on this home-cooked favorite was an eye-opener. The mild heat allows the bumbu (seasonings) to make their presence felt, all the subtle flavors of the Indonesian spice rack, accompanying a tender cut of beef that goes down easy with every mouthful.
Some dishes call for rice, and lots of it, and the Buzz's beef rendang is no exception. I gleefully mixed up the coconut gravy with rice and took the whole ensemble down as Vivi, Fita and I chatted about Indonesian food in general.
I learned later that the Buzz Restaurant took Executive Chef Alex Ensor's call for sustainability to heart, by growing their own vegetables on the grounds and by instituting a “paddock to plate” approach that prioritized purchases from local farmers, ensuring most of the food served at the Buzz was locally sourced.
Street Food After Dark: Jalan Pecenongan Outside Alila Jakarta
“If you have time in the evening today, you can go out of the hotel and you will see a lot of hawkers,” Vivi told me over lunch. “Jalan Pecenongan is very much a culinary area; people come here from far away in the evenings to enjoy Pecenongan's food.” I took her advice and ventured out after dark.
Jalan Pecenongan, where the Alila Jakarta stands, feels unpretentiously down to earth at street level: hardware outlets and convenience stores count among its daytime tenants. Yet after dark, it transforms into one of Jakarta's most sought-after food streets.
Since the 1970s, heaps of kaki lima (food stalls) and impromptu eateries-in-tents have mushroomed around Jalan Pecenongan, taking advantage of cheap rents and immediate access to Jakarta's office crowds. Diners sit at plastic chairs and tables to chow down on inexpensive but flavorful Indonesia food originals, from seafood to sweet martabak pancakes.
The atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired: cigarette smoke and automobile exhaust compete with the scent of food rising in the evening air, but nothing beats an evening at Jalan Pecenongan for authentic Indonesian street food at a low, low price.
Fita and Vivi had plenty to say about Pecenongan's extensive menu – they filled me earlier in on what to find down the street.
Pork Skewers, Porridge, and Two Dueling Martabak Stands
For starters, roast pork skewers (sate babi) can be found right in front of Alila Jakarta. It's another surprise, considering the hotel's location in a Muslim majority country; nevertheless, the sate babi stall draws eaters from all over. “It's very famous… the best,” Vivi confided. “It's a must place for you to visit in this area – though it's very crowded.”
Another must-try experience is just 80 meters down the street from Alila Jakarta's entrance. “Bubur Kwang Tung has been here for 80 years now; it's a family business,” Fita told me. The establishment specializes in Chinese-Indonesian rice porridge (bubur) served with steamed vegetables and seafood. Location on Google Maps.
Finally, there's “martabak – it's an Indonesian pancake traditionally filled with peanut,” Fita explained. “Martabak shops in Pecenongan fill theirs with Toblerone chocolate, Ovomaltine powder… you can see martabak like this all over Jakarta, but the inventor is here in Pecenongan.”
Alila Jakarta: the Lowdown
Venturing into Pecenongan is an indispensable part of the Alila Jakarta experience, as is seeing the rest of Central Jakarta. It's all of a piece with the Alila's focus on immersion in the best of the local culture.
Inside the hotel, you can take in Balinese-inspired treatments at the Spa Alila, or indulge in Indonesian food favorites with a twist at the Buzz Restaurant. Outside it, you can board the Alila Jakarta's own London cab to head off to Old Batavia or Bogor; or just let your feet take you down to one of Pecenongan's many kaki lima for an authentic food experience on the streets.
If Alila is founded on “surprises”, the pleasant ones you'll see at the Alila Jakarta certainly live up to the brand's premise.
Alila Jakarta at a Glance
Location: Jalan Pecenongan Kav. 7-17, Central Jakarta, Indonesia. Location of the Alila Jakarta (Google Maps). 30-60 minutes from Soekarno-Hatta Airport by taxi.
Rooms: 246 guestrooms and suites, including 133 Deluxe rooms, 63 Executive Rooms, 30 Executive Premier Rooms, 12 Executive Suites, five Club Suites and two Alila Suites. Suite classes include work desk, large bathroom built for two, in-room safe, 32-inch TV, iPod dock, and minibar. All rooms provide WiFi.
Amenities: Executive Lounge and privileges for suite guests only. The third-floor wellness floor houses Spa Alila, which specializes in traditional Indonesian spa healing techniques, aromatherapy, and reflexology; Gym Alila; and an outdoor swimming pool. Alila Living store sells Alila’s toiletries, massage oils, and beauty products. One ballroom and 12 meeting rooms can accommodate up to 700 people.
At the lobby level, Buzz Restaurant serves Western and Indonesian cuisine, either buffet style or a la carte. On street level (accessible by escalator from the lobby), Shanghai Storm Restaurant serves Chinese cuisine through an open kitchen format; and TNC Café provides sandwiches, cakes, juices, and coffee in the day, transforming into a bar at night.
Contact Details: Phone +62 21 231 6008, site alilahotels.com/jakarta.
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