If you’ve been barred from El Nacional, you must be good, as bad behavior is positively encouraged and dancing on tables is almost required.
Following on from the crazed Speakeasy whisky bar, 40 Thieves, that fills our nights with friends, funk and hilarity, El Nacional is the latest incarnation from the genius behind the bar, Shah Dillon. For someone with a total obsession with secrecy (the bars are located by groping your way through unassuming dark curtains hidden at the back of funky Asian restaurants), the guy has charisma in spades.
El Nacional could have gone the way of so many bars, slipping into total obscurity, especially as it’s just doors away from the runaway success of 40 Thieves. But no. Curiosity got the better of the Bali fun crowd and those who loved the original, found a second home here.
Firstly, we can tick off what there is to love: With 40 Thieves, whisky reigns. At El Nacional, it is the largest stock of rum in Indonesia (or so the flyer goes). Tick that box if you’re a rum lover.
Secondly, there is a shared distaste for doof doof music. Forty Thieves loves to funk, they’ve even been known to disco. El Nacional is for those who love a Latin-inspired beat and have been known to spontaneously tango (or something resembling it).
Then things start to get interesting. These are bars that are all about making friends. You may come alone but chances are you’ll leave with a whole new set of friends. The fact you may not recognize them in the light of day is another matter. Love stories have been told and unravelled here. The main bar is where the party happens, while the dimly lit corners are perfect for those who have something on their minds, or think they do.
Both bars share an over-abundance of enthusiasm, spiked in no small measure by Dillon himself. The cocktails are king and the liquor runs deep. El Nacional is a bar, first, second and third. Dancing is optional, and encouraged, although there is no dance floor.
Surviving the night is also optional, more than one punter has needed assistance making an exit, but there’s no judgement here. The only thing that will get you thrown out of this bar is a bad attitude, or even worse, ambivalence. If you are going to slip behind the curtain at El Nacional, be prepared to have fun and be fun.
And whether you like rum or not, at some point, it will be thrust upon you, possibly by a perfect stranger. If he’s dark and grinning, you may have met the man himself, the irrepressible Mr. Shah Dillon. S.D.