The Revival of Sarinah

A dramatic overhaul has breathed new life into an old favorite on Jakarta’s retail scene.

Left to right: An installation by Sulawesi-born artist Iwan Yusuf at the on-site gallery; Sarinah’s new-look facade. (Photos: James Louie, Cristian Rahadiansyah)

Inaugurated in 1966 as the first modern shopping center and department store in Indonesia, Sarinah was the brainchild of the country’s first president, Soekarno, who intended it to become the place to shop in Jakarta. But the 15-story landmark eventually lost its luster as successive generations of higher-end malls, each larger and glitzier than the last, lured visitors elsewhere. No longer. Sarinah reopened in March after a two-year, US$48 million makeover, and the transformation has been nothing short of extraordinary. The tower shed its ungainly additions from a previous refurb, while the expanded podium sports louvers inspired by traditional textiles. Instead of a featureless car park, Sarinah is now accessed through stepped gardens featuring native flora, lily ponds, and ample sitting areas (there’s also a third-floor terrace that comes alive at night). Indoors, the formerly cramped spaces are oriented around a soaring skylit atrium whose centerpiece is a rediscovered ’60s relief depicting farmers, fishermen, and market vendors. Its creator is unknown, though the style matches that of the late sculptor Edhi Sunarso, who designed the Welcome Monument just down the road.

The new-look Sarinah hasn’t strayed from its original mission to showcase Indonesian products. Mallgoers will find everything from pewter masks and contemporary home accessories to delicate kebaya, ikat shawls from Sumba, and tribal-inspired outfits by local designers like Oscar Lawalata. Also noteworthy is the culinary lineup, which includes a handful of Bali-born eateries. Dewata by Monsieur Spoon serves flaky French pastries and Balinese favorites such as ayam betutu; the menu at cozy coffee shop Titik Temu features a modern take on Jakarta specialty soto Betawi — think soy-glazed lamb shank served in coconut milk–infused broth. Another standout is Bali Timbungan, whose signature dish consists of a whole duck marinated in spices, stuffed into a bamboo stalk, and cooked low and slow for up to 12 hours.

Upstairs, the entire sixth floor has been given over to a contemporary art gallery: don’t miss the main installation by Iwan Yusuf, a self-taught artist from Sulawesi who used fishing nets to create a striking interpretation of the atrium relief, already a popular photo backdrop for weekend visitors.

Left to right: Modernized soto Betawi is featured on the menu at Titik Temu; ikat for sale. (Photo courtesy of Titik Temu, James Louie)

A section showcasing contemporary Indonesian-made furniture.

Sarinah also highlights the creations of local fashion designers.

This article originally appeared in the June/August 2022 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Sarinah’s Second Act”).

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