In Jakarta, Indonesia, there is an obscure-looking bar and art gallery that is quietly inviting. I passed it while on my ojek (Indonesian slang for motorbikes), and after it caught my eye, I turned around and went to check out the place. It’s called the Tree House.
The interior is like walking into a friend’s living room, with couches and very little individual seating that carve a small-yet-cozy spot. Conversation starters are everywhere, from the art pieces on display from young up-and-coming Jakarta artists, to the wide variety of menu items, to the outgoing personalities of the bartenders. Then upon meeting Tree House’s founder and owner, Anton Massoni, I realized that this was both a TCK-run and TCK-friendly establishment.
Anton was born in Rome to an Italian father and Indonesian mother, and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia when he was 6 years-old. There, he attended North Jakarta International School and British International School, graduating in 2004. Afterwards, he studied Hospitality Management in New Zealand and Sydney, and worked two years in Melbourne upon graduation. He returned to Jakarta and opened the Tree House in 2011.
The Tree House has now become the weekend hangout for Third Culture Kids from the nearby international schools, and for returning denizens to come relive the glory days. It’s also a great spot for vagabonds new to Jakarta looking to meet like-minded individuals who offer a blend of both local wisdom and international outlook to help navigate the city.
What inspired you to create The Tree House?
I identified a lack of creative space in Jakarta, and wanted to make a bar whose focus was on Jakarta’s young artistic community. Before the Tree House, there was not a free art space for up-and-coming artists and creative individuals to express themselves and have the opportunity to make an exhibition. My inherent interest and fascination with “street” and “low-brow” art pushed me to create a space where I could contribute and give a platform to the new generation of creative individuals in Jakarta.
Where does the design, look, and feel of the Tree House come from?
My inspiration was drawn from several bars I had fallen in love with during my travels. One such bar is in a small alley-way or “hu tong” in Beijing, whose cozy vibes, small intimate space, and super-friendly bar keeper inspired the approach I would take in my design. I also took many aesthetic and management cues from various bars in Melbourne, whose nightlife I grew to love while I was working there.
I also I realized that there was a large gap in Jakarta’s market for small, independently owned, concept-bars – which were ubiquitous in Melbourne. Bars that not only looked different and were smaller, but also played music not heard on local radio or at popular nightclubs and restaurants. Not knowing whether the concept would be welcomed in a city largely dominated by very serious and stiff establishments, I took a chance in bringing a piece of overseas, urban bar culture that I was passionate about to Indonesian shores.
What makes the Tree House different from other bars?
The conversation and vibe are noticeably different. Customers interact openly with the bartenders and make it a point to sit at the bar and converse with the staff – this is very rare elsewhere in Jakarta. Customers also talk openly and join in each others’ conversation which, in a city where the social scene is very cliquey and people are apprehensive to strike up conversations with strangers, is a welcome change. TCKs including myself seem to be much more open and receptive to random conversation and encounters, and that’s what I’m trying to encourage – people to be more open and friendly around each other.
Additionally, we are also quite possibly the only pet-friendly indoor venue, who openly welcomes all animals. We’ve had corn and garter snakes, all sorts of dogs and cats as well.
What’s in the future for The Tree House?
I’d like to continue making Tree House a destination for good conversation, a place for like-minded individuals to congregate, and to help push the local art scene forward with new exhibitions and fun, alternative music events. I’d also like to set up a website where prints from previous art exhibitions are made available for purchase to overseas customers who may not have the opportunity to travel out here, so maybe they can feel like a part of the “tree house family.”
The Tree House is that unusual a spot where customers have shared stories of heartbreak with the bar staff, played pranks on each other, and struck up conversations with new people they have met. There’s a regular group on Tuesday for philosophical debates, and those discussions have lead to an ever-changing and expanding circle of strong friendships – folks who now meet up outside of the Tree House, have traveled together, and remain in contact account the world. It’s the global nomad loneliness and “what the hell” kind of openness that Tree House encourages, which helps build these relationships between customers and staff alike.
The idea that “strangers are only friends you haven’t met yet” vibrates through every inch of Tree House. Visiting during my third week in Indonesia, it was the first time I felt “at home” because of the people and the environment. If you’re the kind of person who wants to make friends, and find a home away from home, Tree House is waiting for you.
More information about The Tree House can be found at https://www.facebook.com/