UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, management of the Pontiac Stardust has been assumed by Flat Stanley.
Desert rock, 1950s and ’60s California vibes, and “progressive cocktails” are at the heart of the Pontiac Stardust, the new Bali bar from Beckaly Franks, the award-winning mixologist behind Hong Kong favorite The Pontiac.
Situated inside the Alila Seminyak, the Petitenget-area bar opened with a bang recently, throwing a cosmic-themed grand opening where three new signature drinks — the P.O.G. Daiquiri, Stardust Americano and Hobnail #2 (we’ll cover these in more detail later) — flowed into the wee hours.
The party was lit, as Franks is fond of saying, driven by her forceful yet playful presence behind the bar, a crew of disco dancers, and plenty of funky beats. But while we knew we were getting an exciting preview of ragers to come, we decided to head back on a somewhat quieter evening to chat with the boss lady over a burger and margarita about the bar she’s calling her “second album.”
The origin story, it turns out, involves a serendipitous road trip through California’s Mojave Desert, roughly following in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and rockstar Josh Homme, along with a coincidental-run with Jude Law in a Pontiac hot rod.
Hong Kong Success
So, when space opened up in Bali’s Alila Seminyak, she was approached about opening another Pontiac, a venture that would team her long-time business partners Harsh and Rohit Roopchand (co-founders of the OG Pontiac as well as Hong Kong’s Rummin’ Tings, and Amalfitana) with the Dandy Partnership (of Singapore’s Neon Pigeon, Fat Prince, and Summerlong).
Franks, however, had no interest in simply replicating her Hong Kong hit.
“I refuse to do copy and paste. I’ve thrown that party. I want to throw a different party,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I miss the Hong Kong Pontiac so much, I love that party, but I want to grow as well.”
A fast-talking and charismatic American, Franks frequently finds herself turning to music-related metaphors to express her ideas and “ethos.”
Hong Kong’s Pontiac, she explains, was a self-titled first album, while the Bali edition is a follow-up, a chance to reinvent while staying true to her core values — think Lady Gaga or Madonna.
The original, located along a steep stretch of Hong Kong’s Old Bailey Street, is all about rock ‘n’ roll (in both the music and lifestyle sense) and emphasizes inclusivity. Its ethos goes back at least two levels: to the legendary muscle car producer from which it gets it name, and the Native American chief, from whom the carmaker gets its name.
“What a hot rod does, and the only thing it does well, is it goes fucking fast,” she says, putting her drink down and leaning in for emphasis. “[The Pontiac’s] got the inherent drive of a hot rod engine blindly going for it, but with community, passion, and spirit.”
While Franks clearly knows “what’s going on inside the glass” (she’s a widely recognized American whiskey expert), an essential part of her vision is this notion of bar as community watering hole.
“It’s bringing that idea that a bar is your home base, where you belong, where you’re most accepted, where everyone can be your friend,” she says.
That was something she knew she had to translate to the Bali bar. Aesthetically, Pontiac Stardust looks nothing at all like its Hong Kong sister — the “ethos,” however, is identical.
The all-women-staffed Pontiac in Hong Kong conjures up a dive bar straight out of blue-collar Detroit crossed with New York’s famed Coyote Ugly. The Pontiac Stardust, meanwhile, feels like taking a time machine back to the California of the ’60s, or at least stepping onto the set of Mad Men — the episode where Don Draper goes to Palm Springs, specifically.
“It’s a completely different look, but you know it’s the Pontiac,” she says. “It’s a completely different journey, it’s a completely different narrative, but you know it’s the Pontiac.”
The menu has also been reinvented, with new signature drinks mixed up fresh for Bali. Hong Kong’s bestselling drink, one sometimes covered in master classes she teaches, the Hobnail — a gingery, scotch-based favorite that blends Drambuie and Averna liqueurs together — has been reincarnated at Stardust as the Hobnail #2 (IDR135k/US$9.5), with the key addition of the local Indonesian ingredient jamu.
The other two cocktails that featured at the opening party were the P.O.G. Daiquiri, a blend of rum, absinthe, passion fruit, orange and guava (IDR100k/US$7), and the Stardust Americano, made of vermouth, dragon bitter and soda water (IDR115k/US$8).
The Road Trip
Her partners gave her a week to come up with a concept, so she hit the recording studio — as one does — then the road looking for inspiration. She was ensconced in a chair in Hong Kong’s Record Room, blaring Foo Fighters and drinking wine, when she hit on the idea of a road trip through the California desert.
You can blame that on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series lodged deep in her “memory bank.” In that episode (Ep. 13, Season 7, if you want to check it out), Joshua Tree native and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme (a Franks favorite) hosts Bourdain, driving him through the desert in a classic car.
“I pay attention to music, it’s what feeds my soul,” Franks says. “So I listened to Foo Fighters, but really my heart belongs to Queens of the Stone Age and desert rock. … Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters was also in Queens of the Stone Age, so those were the dots that got connected.”
Not long after that night in Hong Kong, Franks and her best friend were on an empty stretch of California highway, looking for a little of the magic Bourdain and Homme had uncovered, along with a few choice side trips recommended by hotel reception — namely a “transcendental” sound bath at the Integratron (the UFO-inspired dome) and a visit to biker bar Pappy + Harriet’s.
Given the bar’s location in roughly “the middle of nowhere,” it was a happy coincidence to find one of her favorite bands, the Mojave Lords, playing the night they hit up Pappy’s. And that’s when she bumped into actor Jude Law.
“Think like ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ middle of nowhere,” she says, of the desert bar. “Next thing I know, Jude Law is talking to me. Jude Law comes up to me and is like ‘This is really cool.’ And I was like ‘Am I on peyote? Why are you talking to me? Why are you here? What the fuck is going on?’”
She mentioned her bar in Hong Kong to Law, only for him to reveal that he just so happened to love Pontiacs and had driven to Pappy’s in a 1974 soft-top White Pontiac Grand Ville Convertible that was parked outside.
“It’s so aligned it’s obnoxious,” she said of the connections piling up in her mind. “I think that’s what makes it so right for Bali. The entirety is massively authentic. I’m so grateful to do this project. It’s gonna be hard, but it’s real as shit.”
A day after leaving the desert, Franks and her BFF sat down in a Portland, Oregon, tattoo studio to get matching ink — starbursts inspired by a piece of decor at the Palm Springs Hotel.
“My bestie and I were just hanging in the pool, then she looked up and saw the starburst icon … and said, ‘that’s it, that’s our tat.’ Obviously, it’s taken on a life of its own and become our beacon and brand.”
Indeed, it provided the “missing piece,” she says, of the Pontiac Starburst’s final logo.
But while she’ll take credit for the new bar’s vision, it took a team to make it reality.
“That’s where my partners come in,” she says. “We’ve all had a very intricate hand in everything. I came up with the idea of the evolution, and as a group, we produced the album.”
EDG, the design firm of Michael Goodman of the Dandy Partnership, transformed what had once been a restaurant into the Pontiac Stardust and its adjoining eatery, Flat Stanley. For nights when things are really cooking, the back bar flips up and the two spaces combine Voltron-style into what she dubs a “party palace.”
“We are two separate businesses, but we’re like conjoined twins. Two different brains, two different personalities that just happened to be connected in one body,” she says.
Franks put together the cocktail list for Flat Stanley, while her short, food-truck inspired menu at Stardust comes straight out of the Flat Stanley kitchen.
EDG did the design for Flat Stanley as well, with a retro chic ’50s-’60s California vibe that perfectly complements the Stardust’s more cosmic, hippie elements (a tie-dyed teepee, for instance).
Based on the nibbles we sampled during the grand opening and the burger we later tried at Stardust, we think it would be tough to hit the bar for a drink without wanting to eat as well. The flatbread pizza from chef Matt White (the man behind Alt. Pizza and Extra Virgin Pizza in Singapore) was some of the best we’ve had in Bali, with a phenomenal sourdough crust that goes through a 48-hour double fermentation process. Our personal favorites were the Peppered Salami (IDR125k/US$9) and the Truffle (IDR125k/US$9).
As for the Stardust food menu, we can absolutely recommend the burger (IDR90k/US$6.46), with American cheddar, onion, and tomato jam (which definitely deserves a spot on this list) and the fries (IDR50k/US$3.59), which had that perfect crispy-to-fluffy ratio with Old Bay seasoning, Sriracha mayonnaise, and Parmesan for flavor.
While it’s early days, Franks has a clear vision for the Pontiac Stardust — an inclusive, creative space for anyone to hang out.
“We want to do funky stuff,” she says. “Anything. Fashion shows, art events, drag queen bingo. We’re just barely getting our toes in and understanding the market.”
Case(s) in point, the bar recently hosted a pair of mixologists from NYC’s Dead Rabbit (a former “World’s Best Bar” winner), and before that, ran a women’s yoga workshop.
“Desert disco” and a rotation of resident DJs are also on the menu to get things moving for the Pontiac’s Bali version, she says.
One thing she knows for certain, her newest project owes its DNA to the journey that got them there.
“All the variables at play helped the journey. If we were to open up the Pontiac somewhere else, the album would’ve looked different.”