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Things I Miss About Living in Bali But is Probably Not the Same During the Pandemic: Hidden Gems of Denpasar

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During my second period living on the island, I was introduced to two new worlds: the luxury hospitality of the south, and the artful indie scene of the province capital.

The first part comes with the job of being part of a lifestyle and travel media. Room reviews, spa experience, fine dining invitations, thematic party celebrations were my weekly agenda. But the second part comes from the occasional real journalism work. Things such as interviewing notable figures, reviewing third wave coffee shops, observing local art scenes. It is in this second part that I began to notice the interesting side of Denpasar – which is ironic, considering in my first period, I lived there for more than ten years.

Starting with my specialty, the F&B gems. With the rise of the local coffee scene, it was just natural that Denpasar, with its many nooks and crannies, became the hub for artisanal breweries. But everything else still encompassed the same master: Bhineka Djaja at downtown Gajah Mada old shopping district. The family business started in 1935 by selling beans or ground coffee. They introduced the farm to table mode by building networks with local coffee farmers and selling the products in their store. The business later grew into the vintage shop that we still know now.

Next comes a simple spot which over the time grew into an establishment, and you will surely never going to believe this. It’s a humble fritter hawker in one corner of Renon’s one way traffic, aptly named Pisang Molen Renon. And the reason I put them here is because I think they’re just genius. Their fritters are bigger than most, and for that they charge more. Also, they don’t open shop until around 1pm. What’s so smart about these are, both factors are targeting a specific demographic, which is the office workers around the area who are either looking for afternoon snacks or for something to bring home after work. Usually by 5pm they’ve sold out and I really can’t blame their customers. It’s that good.

Now coming into retails, I may not be the expert at this, but the ones I’m going to list are quite interesting. First are the Tondo and Substore combo. When I was there, the shops were located in Merdeka. Last time I checked, they moved a little to Hayam Wuruk, but still together. What’s fun is that Tondo is an arts and craft store, selling many variations of paints, brushes, canvases, threads, pencils – you name it. Meanwhile, Substore is like its indie little brother. The second floor shop is dedicated to another form of art: music. A vinyl and physical copy mecca for record lovers and hunters, you can browse almost limitless genres of different eras here.

After that is probably a combination of both retail and F&B, since they are located side-by-side, and owned by the same people, but provide different services. The retail is Electrohell, one of Bali’s senior names in Bali’s clothing label industry, and the cafe is Voltvet, which serves really good coffee. What’s great about them is that being owned by a local rockstar, makes the property have the best events. Live musics, group gatherings, and my favorite of all, trivia night. So awesome. Sadly, I heard that recently Voltvet had been closed permanently. Let’s hope for its return after the pandemic.

Lastly is for the culture community in general, Taman Baca Kesiman. From its name, you know exactly that this is not an ordinary garden. The venue is known for hosting seminars, talk shows and workshops – mostly about culture, social, political, and book studies. The outdoor area is such a lovely place for having quality discussions over fritters and coffee with your friends. They have a library as well, and their regular agenda, just like its namesake states, is book club. A niche crowd, but interesting to be involved with once in a while.

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