Knights of the Square Table

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

So you want to know more about Bali?

All this time while I’ve been crying myself hoarse about culture, people, food and high-jinx on Kuta Beach, you are probably bored and need a fix of the real world.

Well it’s time to introduce you to a place affectionately referred to by many locals and travelers as one of ill repute. No, I‘m not talking about you-know-what and you-know-where. But about a warung that has gained in reputation as a place to be seen, heard and then felt. There are Chinese whispers about the shenanigans of the irregulars at Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud.

I admit I am one of the irregulars at this warung, along with the likes of Victor Mason, the bird and butterfly man; Wolfgang Widmoser, the famous surrealist painter who worked with Salvador Dali; “John.” a legend in his own mind; a curious bevy of beautiful visitors (Donna Karan, Barbara Streisand, Anthony Bourdain etc.) from around the globe; and the ubiquitous “Do you know who I used to be?” long-time resident.

Folks, this is a warung that takes no prisoners. It’s not for the fainted-hearted nor for the toffee-nosed. It’s sheer magic when you sit behind Dad’s New York Martini with a delicately placed olive that glistens in the tungsten light, golden rays reflecting off the rippling surface. And when you bend over to sip, the ambrosia reality hits you. What you think is a martini in the classical sense is really very cold neat vodka or gin. No vermouth or anything else. A few gasps later, one usually gets the drift and then a rhythm forms. Many rounds later there is no “last man standing” or, for that matter, woman standing … most are either head down on the table or under the table. I have had the privilege of witnessing such displays and once, on a full moon when sanity and insanity met for a night, I was there gazing at the stars on the surface beneath the table.

I walked into Nuri’s sometime ago, when I needed to wet my whistle late one afternoon while driving through Ubud on my way back from Kintamani to Seminyak. A few irregulars were lounging around at the long wooden tables that are characteristic of warungs. They are sort of community tables where everyone sits anywhere and next to anybody. It’s a great way to meet new people. At Nuri’s there’s a special table that is square and at which all the irregulars congregate from 8am to 10:30pm. These are the knights of the square table. Many days wallowing at this waterhole has made me feel at one with them. It’s only recently that I have been referred to as an irregular, a badge of honor that I wear with pride. I am now officially a knight of the square table.

At the entrance is an open, overworked barbeque that functions tirelessly to gently grill their famed pork spareribs smothered in homemade sauce. Of course, pork or chicken satay and steak are also on offer. The menu that reads like a dyslexic person has written it covers most Indonesian dishes, with Western sensibilities punctuating the monotony – like Wolfgang’s favorite Slice Steak (made with succulent Australian beef). The sambal that rests inconspicuously on every table in a light-blue plastic container has been the fall of many an intrepid traveler who has generously helped himself or herself to it, oblivious to the aftereffects. Often the results are instant, which show on their faces in the colors of the rainbow.

Brian and his wife Nuri started Naughty Nuri’s. How many years ago, you may ask? This question is irrelevant. In Bali you must remember that fantasy and fiction are bedfellows and facts are normally what’s in front of you – like their margaritas.

This is a reception centre for newly arrived wannabes who assume setting up residence in Ubud is a cinch and that life here is quite laidback. They come to the warung with stories that are often incredulous. After a few draft beers or martinis the truth emerges and then life begins for them in earnest. They are accepted and invited to the square table. Sometimes in a generous mood, a knight may offer to buy them a drink.

An interesting aspect of the warung is that it doubles up as a meeting point for the Hash House Harriers. Victor Mason, who is a veteran of the hash, invites people to join in the “runs.” The hash was started at The Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur in 1938 as a great pastime where everyone runs along a given path strewn with telltale signs of paper strips left by a “hare.” The people who follow the trail are called hounds. The race is open to all and ends in a blaze of beer drinking and gaiety. Victor terms the Hash House Harriers drinkers with a running problem.

Every Thursday, when it is Sushi night, the warung fills up with expats, knights and many Chinese tourists. But the best time to be there is when most of the knights are around to create a ruckus. Often when a knight uses purple prose, Brian moves in to half-heartedly announce that it is a “family restaurant” but no one really pays heed. The only time I have seen things get out of control is when an inebriated young lady’s garment fell off as she waited on the sidewalk for a taxi. Surprisingly, there was little or no response from the irregulars or other guests.

Just the other day I bumped into Danny and his gorgeous wife Mairead at the warung. This lively Irish couple, on the first pint, began serenading the knights at the square table with the song Danny Boy. Soon the revelry turned to ditties and “other songs.” All we needed was a campfire and the picture would have been complete. This is what it is all about. Instant karma.

Naughty Nuri’s is not just a restaurant or warung or bar or pub or whatever. It’s an institution dedicated to the sublime and the ridicule.

I wonder what Papa Hemingway would have to say about it?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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