Seminyak and Legian beach bars

What we say: 3.5 stars

Open any inflight mag and the Bali beach bars that get name-dropped are inevitably the glossies like KuDeTa, Cocoon, Rock Bar, Potato Head, Tao Rooftop Bar and so on, but there’s one problem, none of these are actually on the beach.

Tao: No sand = no beach bar

Tao: No sand = no beach bar

Sure you can see the beach from any of these joints, but you’re certainly not going to be wiggling your toes in the sand while you chug down those $15 martinis.

So, at a loose end after a few days checking out fancy hotels in Legian, I decided to go check out a few beach bars along the Legian/Seminyak strip of sand. There was one requirement and one alone: my feet had to be in the sand when I had a drink in hand.

Ketut & Wayan’s esky
From Kuta right through to past Seminyak, much of the beach is dotted with deckchairs and umbrellas. In some cases the gear is managed by the fancier hotels specifically for their guests, but more often than not it’s ma and pa businesses with perhaps a dozen deckchairs and a half-dozen umbrellas that they rent out by the hour or day. As the sun slowly drops, the trade shifts from deckchairs to drinks, and so I found myself kicking back with Ketut and Wayan, who’ve been working the same stretch of sand since 1997.

Ketut and Wayan don't have an infinity pool - they don't need one

Ketut and Wayan don't have an infinity pool -- they don't need one.

In all those year’s Ketut never found the time to give surfing a go, but he rattled off the names of Australian surfers (and their hometowns) that he’s met over the past decade or so. Chat ranged from the tight times after the Bali bombings through to kids and family photos. It felt a world away from the faceless hassle on Jalan Padma Utara.

Where Ketut and Wayan’s was somewhat adrift in a less busy stretch of beach, Raymond’s, not far from where busy Jalan Double Six empties out onto the beach, is wedged in among a mass of deckchair-cum-dives. With at least a dozen bars (I’m being generous here when using that term) in rapid succession, some little more than a couple of locals, a handful of tourists and a guitar, the vibe is much more a case of lets chug the beers down and have a good time. Hand-painted signs like “Iced piss here” are aplenty and I skipped the first few bars because the punters were already hammered.

Nutty people watch nut seller. View from Raymond's

Nutty people watch nut seller. View from Raymond's.

I swerved around a dodgy drug deal (really guys, you were totally obvious) and plonked down at Raymond’s, a deckchair across from a British teenager almost as drunk as she was sunburnt. Her boyfriend eventually staggered out of the ocean, even drunker than she, and knocked back a few more cold ones. They’ve been hitting Raymond’s hard each night because it’s cheap (small Bintang 12,000 rupiah) and he’s a great guy. It’s their first time in Bali, they’ve been here a week and haven’t left Legian/Seminyak. They’re absolutely loving it.

Raymond is indeed a nice guy and was near mortally offended when I got up to leave after one drink. He wanted me to come back in a couple of hours when it would really start getting kickin’. Maybe next time.

Crystal Palace
After Raymond’s I wandered the maze of deckchairs and drunks, surfers and sunbathers. There were any one of a dozen Raymondesque “bars” I could have sat down at, each with its own distinct crowd and vibe. Some people were obviously having a temptingly great time, others were already in such a bad state they were better just avoided.

A magic mushroom infused Tsunami at Crystal Palace for just 100,000Rp. I went with a Coke.

A magic mushroom infused Tsunami at Crystal Palace for just 100,000 rupiah. I went with a Coke.

Immediately in front of Double Six there’s nothing, but not much further on I reached the very aptly named Crystal Palace. With a live band, which was actually pretty damn good, and a really, really good vibe, this was a place that I immediately felt at home. Excellent staff, and just to repeat, a great band, made this somewhere I’d certainly return to. It passes the “on-the-beach” test by way of lazy seating right on the beach, but there’s also some above-the-sand seating, including a second floor.

Great drinks range, good prices, fine staff and an ideal people-watching position make this a super spot as the sun really starts to sink.

Big, brightly-coloured beach bean bags are all the rage along here, but Champlung adds to them with these cool little decorative umbrellas adorned with dingle dangles that serve no useful purpose other than to make for nice sunset photos.

Champlung: Beach hippy sort of.

Champlung: Beach hippy sort of.

The Russian couple on the bean bags beside me spent a full half-hour photographing first each other, then their neighbours, then anyone who’d stay still long enough, with an obviously brand new, really huge, digital camera. Now perhaps they’d either never seen a sunset before, but more likely they were just inconsiderate dicks. Please, always try to ask someone before taking their photo!

Assuming Champlung isn’t awash with camera-wielding idiots, you’ll want to be settling in here for an hour or so. As with its neighbours, drink prices are moderate and the staff here were friendly, but it lacked the personal touch I felt at Crystal Palace.

La Plancha
This is the beach-bar favourite of the foreign press and you’ve no doubt read about it elsewhere in listings of cool beach bars… It was completely packed, so I kept on walking.

Juice Park
This place only just scraped in to meet our criteria, as most of the seating is off the beach so you can’t have a drink with your feet in the sand — that is, unless you do what I did and grab one of the lazy pillows out front.

Juice Park: The wooden chairs are tenderer than the squid

Juice Park: The wooden chairs are tenderer than the squid.

Cold drinks and a less hectic feel than its more famous neighbour, Juice Park was a friendly enough joint and the drinks were cheap and cold, but the food, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend the calamari.

The sun slipped behind the clouds just as I forced down the last of the calamari and as I had a date at one of the aforementioned fancy places (Potato Head) I cut the beach drinking short.

Mandatory sunset beach photo

Mandatory sunset beach photo.

Had I had time on my hands I would have left Juice Park, wandered back to Champlung for a bite to eat and then beelined it for Crystal Palace, where I’d have really put my ban on boozing to the test. As for Ketut and Wayan, I’ll be hitting them up for some deckchairs next time I’m in this part of the island.

Across the board, beers were priced around 12,000-15,000 rupiah for a small Bintang. Cocktails are around the 50,000 mark.

Have fun!

About the author
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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