By Karen Day
Is skateboarding big in Bali, an island with rocky roads known most for its tremendous surf scene? If Maree Suteja has her way, it will be soon enough. One year ago the vibrant Australian expat built Pretty Poison, a warehouse-style cocktail bar with a skate bowl out back. It’s a rice paddy field of dreams for Indonesian locals and international skaters who need their holiday fix.
Pretty Poison can also be summarized as the late-night antidote to Suteja’s popular daytime cafe, Crate, which she opened in 2014. The light and airy Crate quickly became a hub for Canggu’s creative community, so she started hosting artistic nights there to help people connect. But nothing fuels inspiration quite like alcohol, it seems, and many of the regulars suggested she open a nocturnal venue to keep the collaborative synergy going at all hours. We met up with Suteja in Bali on the eve of Pretty Poison’s first birthday to find out more about its origins and where she sees it heading.
Pretty Poison seems like a pretty radical idea juxtaposed with the chill atmosphere of Crate. What prompted you to open a bar with a skate bowl?
I was doing Crate Creative Nights and they got bigger and bigger and bigger. I would do them once a month and we’d allow a person to come in and show their work, whether it be hanging something, singing something, dancing. I would just do complementary pizza and it was a real community get together—it was really great. Well, when I say “community,” it was all expats that live in Canggu. One night a guy came up to me and said, “You really should think about taking this creative space and do a bigger space, and attach a bar to it or something.” So that was always in my mind, and then March of last year  it was raining like cats and dogs here and I said to my daughter and her boyfriend, “Have you got a video I can watch?” They handed me “Lords of Dogtown” and said I’d love it. I watched the movie and it was like this epiphany, this light went off, and I ran out of the room and said, “Oh my god, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to build a bar with a warehouse with a dog bowl.”
The next day I started to research like crazy the ‘70s, the Zephyr team, Jay Adams, that whole revolution, what they did in skating; the words they used, the terminology, the set-up that they had. I just did loads of research and this [Pretty Poison] is what I came up with.
And you built this bar from scratch?
This was a rice field. I had one guy doing this whole bar section and I had another going doing the pool and they met in the middle. I started building it on the 29th of April and we opened on the 29th of August last year. It’s kind of phenomenal the responses I’ve had from the people who’ve been here. A lot of the people from the states, from California, feel I’ve really nailed the theme.
Why’d you name it Pretty Poison and not something more on the nose?
Up until the night we opened I was calling it Dogtown Bali, and the kids were saying, “You just can’t do that. You’re taking an iconic era and you’re gonna rip it off? They’ll write you off.” I was freaking out thinking, “We open tomorrow!” My daughter came up with something and we Googled it and it was a Britney Spears album so that was a no, and then her boyfriend just said out of the blue, “Why don’t you just call it Pretty Poison?” We quickly went through and changed it all—Facebook, Instagram, email. Anyway we try to stick to what our website says: we’re a backyard bar with a California-style pool to shred. I think the only difference between our dog bowl and the one the kids skated in Dogtown is that I don’t have a death box. I did have a light but the kids kept skating it and knocking it out.
You do different nights at Pretty Poison now?
From the moment we opened we started these creative nights where we would get underground bands in, underground DJs, have guys painting skateboards… The first Thursday of the month we have a skate competition, but every night there’ll be heaps of people skating the bowl. We picked out Tuesday night as the acoustic open mic night. We have an Indonesian host that sings a few songs and then asks if anyone wants to get up an jam; a guy came in with a saxophone last night and just nailed it. Every Thursday we have the skin stickers set up, so we have four guys giving tats and a guy that does pop-up haircuts. Thursday nights are a little like walking into Cirque du Soleil. Monday is movie night, Saturdays are hip-hop.
What’s on the horizon for Pretty Poison?
Our book/magazine launch. We’re not sure what it is because we get it back on Thursday, but what we did is we sat down for five months and went through every single photo that was ever taken here. We approached about 150 photographers, we ended up getting 35 that we decided to reprint as high-res photos. The other 100+ were Instagram photos, some were so amazing, but we just couldn’t reproduce them. So we’ve come up with a sort of large-format idea, whether it will be a magazine or a coffee table book. Whatever it is, it won’t be more than $10.
And any new establishments in the works?
The next place will be homestay. I like this pipe idea. You get sewage pipes, and you turn them into homes. I need to research it a lot more, how to add the toilet on the back or something.
Are there a lot of those here?
No, there’s none. That’s why I would do it. If you don’t try you never know.
Pretty Poison is located at Shortcut Canggu aka Jalan Subak Canggu, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Canggu, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali.
To celebrate their Round The World offering Star Alliance partnered with Marriott TRAVELER to offer Cool Hunting Editor-at-Large Karen Day her dream trip. She chose to explore locations she’d visit on a professional gap year, taking a break from the grind of NYC to explore places that inspire the creative spirit.
Images by Karen Day