Bali is now considered a lost Eden by some. The Indonesian island’s transformation from untouched paradise to thrumming tourist mecca has been well documented. While some of its rural charm remains (the east is still relatively unspoilt), the south, particularly around Seminyak, is almost unrecognisable, with warungs (Indonesian roadside cafes) and tin-roofed houses increasingly being replaced by international beach clubs, hotels, restaurants and bars.
That magnetism has attracted a number of Sydney hospitality operators, from the Mrs Sippy group, which opened the Mrs Sippy Pool Club; to Maurice Terzini and his Osteria-style Da Maria; and Ksubi founders Gareth Moody and George Gorrow, who brought The Slow.
After building a brand in Bondi, Sydney's Bucket List team is the latest to extend its formula by opening a sand-fringed beach club in Seminyak named Tropicola. Not too far from their Mexican restaurant Motel Mexicola, the new club has three bars spread over multiple levels and a soon-to-be opened retro 60-room hotel and rooftop bar.
It’s the team’s most ambitious project yet and looks like the kind of ’80s-style pool club you’d find in Miami, Acapulco or Tulum.
Asked how running a club and hotel differs from a restaurant or bar, Brett Robinson, CEO across the venues, says “service is service”. “Every moment has to be well considered in hospitality; the same goes for a hotel room. You’re either good at it or you’re not. It’s the crispness of the sheets; it’s the fluffiness of a towel, an ice-cold water by the pool, a chilled face washer, [or] a well-made drink at the bar.”
Tropicola doesn’t look like the kind of place you visit to wind down. By day it transforms into a heaving beach club (and it’s a few paces away from notoriously party venues the W and Potato Head). “A lot of people come to Bali with a seven-day plan in mind, [so] you’ve got to work to make sure people include you in their ‘top 10 best things to do’. We’ve been very fortunate over here so far,” says Robinson.
The group has worked with designer James Brown before, and this time his brief was an old-school pool club. The result is a bold design of geometric lines, pops of red and yellow, and foliage to shelter from the sun.
Staff mill about in tennis outfits, delivering brightly coloured drinks on white trays to guests lying beneath canary yellow umbrellas. Others swim in the acid blue-coloured pool, flanked by tiered amphitheatre-style seating with blue-and-white striped lounges and views of the beach.
On drinks duty is the Bucket List’s Denny Deluca Del Paso, who creates stylish cocktails that look as if they belong in Tom Cruise’s 1988 film Cocktail. The Tropicolada is a spin on the Pina Colada but incorporates jackfruit instead of pineapple, while Arak N Roll is an Espresso Martini of sorts. Balinese arak is used in place of vodka, and infused with coffee beans and mandarin peels.
The soundtrack is an important element here. Argentinian Juan Ego was flown in from Mexico to curate the music, which has been described as “tropical groove.”
You can smell the woodfired cooking waft from the poolside restaurant as soon as you enter. It’s the work of British-born chef Steve Skelly (ex Da Maria and Mexicola) who executes dishes such as a raw-salmon salad, tuna tartare and a modern version of a prawn cocktail, made with young coconut, cucumber, avocado, chilli, lime and tajin (a Mexican spice mix). There’s also baked squash with burrata, zucchini flowers and macadamia nuts; a spit-roasted pork taco topped with pineapple, onion, coriander and jalapeno salsa; and a hot dog on a brioche bun from local Caangu bakery Farin, which is crowned with onion, ketchup and organic pickles.
“We’ve discovered through our experience at Mexicola you’ve got to be part of the culture and local fabric. You can’t come in here like someone that’s been successful in Bondi and think you’re going to apply the same theory or thinking to doing business here,” says Robinson. “There’s also a big language barrier you’ve got to overcome. But the Indonesians are beautiful people – they’re hard working, loyal and successful. You’ve got to be on the same level and go in respectfully to them, do it their way.”
Over the next year, stages two and three of the club will be rolled out, beginning with a 60-seat restaurant by chef Steve Skelly and ending with a rooftop bar and event space with sweeping views. The $100 a night, 60-room hotel will follow.
This Friday (August 17), to help celebrate Independence Day in Indonesia, Tropicola will donate all of its earnings to displaced families to help them rebuild their lives following the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that struck the tourist island of Lombok on August 5.