Beijing Boyce VII

  • Opening Shots: Riverside Cafe, Le Quai, The Bookworm Torres Wines, and more
  • First Impressions: American Café, Brewery Tap, Café Pause and Shin Yeh
  • We Got Mail
  • Parting Shots: New Year resolutions for bar managers and employees.

OPENING SHOTS

Riverside Café has closed and will, it appears, become another Schindler’s. Good news for sausage and sauerkraut lovers, bad news for fans of the café and its excellent RMB20 wine glasses. (I should have stocked up. Anyone know where I can get more?) ~ Black Jack Garden (where I once coaxed a bartender into making me a Jagermeister martini. Ah, the memories) has also been uprooted. ~ The back loft in Le Quai (inside Gongti West) is a great place to spend a few hours while watching people ice fish, skate and play hockey on the river outside. Cozy couches and a good selection of drinks (RMB25-50; try the fruit cocktail), the only drawback is that sound really carries from the room below. ~ Until Chinese New Year, Icehouse will only open for events, such as the Chopschticks comedy shows (next one: January 14). The owners have hired Guy Duarte as GM. The restaurant and lounge to which Icehouse is attached are open as usual. ~ It started with Babyface a year ago and now Gongti West is becoming club central. Angel, Cargo (backed by Mix), Queen Club and the soon-to-open Coco Banana (backed by Banana) and Cutie Club are like peas in the pod there, with Vics and Mix around the corner. That hundred-meter strip could become the world’s biggest market for Chivas and green tea. Good. We must isolate such drinkers from society at large. ~ That gargantuan, half-finished and long-dormant building behind the Sanlitun beer mug is now host to a flurry of construction, the attendant noise intruding upon The Bookworm. There could be a double whammy on book and wireless lovers when drilling starts on the huge nearby Sanlitun South project. The Bookworm has a growing collection of new books and magazines for sale, a jewelry corner by Things of The Jing and 2006 seminars planned with Kent Kedl (The China Ready Company), Tim Clissold (Mr. China) and “Maggot Detective” Mark Benecke (his slide shows are not for the weak of stomach), among others. ~ Jenny Lou’s continues to expand its empire with a takeover of Eight over Eight’s space (Sanlitun North). (Note: I went there and four other stores in a vain search for a plunger – the staff at each spot were amused as I used body language to demonstrate unblocking a toilet. I tell you, there’s nothing worse than having a dozen full-bladdered house guests waiting for the maintenance guy to come and fix the loo.) ~ Thanks to BB readers Ro King, Agent Hidden Dragon and Agent Gold Monkey for donating money to help fund a heart operation for a two-month-old orphan named Tian Yue. (See last issue for the Scrooge-like details as to why an extra drive for cash was needed.) GE also came through with major support. Tian Yue had surgery on Boxing Day and so far, so good. ~ Thanks also to my boss, who seemed to be the only laoban in Beijing who didn’t require the staff to wear Christmas hats – as was required by workers at Shin Yeh, Le Quai, Starbuck’s, ad infinitum – the past few weeks. (I simply don’t look good in red with white fringe.) ~ Torres Wine has moved its office to near Green T. House (I couldn’t find the actual address since, like that of Summergate Wines, the Torres website is not working. C’mon guys, it’s almost 2006!). Torres will have a free tasting every Friday, 4-6 PM and until the end of December (short notice!) offers “buy two, get one free” on Baron Philippe de Rothschild Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (RMB67), Signos Shiraz (RMB55) and Prosecco Angela Viano (RMB 85). ~ I went to Pinnacle Plaza with friends to buy a Christmas tree and popped into Palette Wines (good deal on Stickleback: RMB85 per bottle) and then into Jenny Lou’s where, lo and behold, they had over 500 different wines and a wine tasting to boot (it consisted of a “blind tasting” where one guessed if the wine was a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Okay, I guessed right. Now what? Do I win something? No? I don’t get the concept). ~ Finally, I was busy apartment hunting and moving the past two weeks, so this issue is heavy on First Impressions and light on in-depth pieces. I’ll have more next time around.

AMERICAN CAFE

Light and airy, with pine furniture and a tile floor, the American Café is rumored to have Beijing’s best burgers. It’s decorated with posters and prints with, um, eclectic themes. One side has Toy Story and the Muppets, the back has the all-too-predictable James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combo, while the front left has a black and white photo of Jackie Robinson stealing home during the 1955 World Series (nice!), among others. Anyway, the Boston burger (RMB40) came with fried mushrooms, cheese and bacon, plus tomato, onion, pickle and lettuce on a sesame bun. It was tasty, though the patty could have been firmer, and came with crispy fries seasoned with herbs. Said a dinner mate: “The Boston burger was quite satisfying in terms of size and flavor, even though (a) it appeared to have nothing to do with my hometown of Boston, and (b) had a little too much of that charcoal-grilled taste. That could be because I asked for it well done. Try it at 70 percent done (qi fen shou).” All in all, we were a satisfied crew and recommend giving the place a try.

BREWERY TAP

Who would have thunk that a pub in an apartment complex (Blue Castle) could be so snug? This long and narrow place features two floors, with the upper level accessible by two staircases, and plenty of cubby holes for small groups of friends. There is a nice side room, though some among us found the wallpaper (yes, some places have moved beyond paint and cinder blocks) a bit psychedelic. “The bathroom shouldn’t be upstairs,” said one in our group. “The orange juice is good,” said another. “The upper level is faintly reminiscent of the Big Easy,” said a third. The staff could afford to be a bit more attentive (empty glasses over here!), though the French bartender is friendly. Wobbly chairs at the bar. Guinness and Kilkenny on tap. Free hot peanuts. If I lived nearby, Brewery Tap might become a favorite haunt.

CAFE PAUSE

Somewhere in Dashanzi, Café Pause has minimalist design in velvety auburn and moss green, with a stainless steel bar and dark chairs and tables (why does the décor remind me of Leiderhosen – perhaps it comes from the subconscious of the Austrian and German owner?). Creative and delicious tapas, including pork and spinach dumplings drizzled with red pesto sauce – my vote for snack of the year. A focus on German and Austrian wines, though they have others. The best gluvine (mulled wine) I’ve had in Beijing (a family recipe of Stefan Fleischer, a co-owner). Friendly and competent staff, a fun and diverse clientele, less-than-comfy chairs. The small and open layout works against a sense of intimacy and means that every entrance and exit lets in a gust of cold air, which can be a relief if a lot of people are smoking. Café Pause: it’s out in Dashanzi, but isn’t a good dumpling worth the trek?

SHIN YEH

MyTaiwanese friend Sherry, among the biggest food lovers around and a Taipei native to boot, raved about this place, so I dragged her along as a consultant. We started off with tasty stewed bamboo and pork with soy sauce, garlic and green onion, followed by sweet and sour breaded fish fillets (excellent: the best dish of the night). Rolling up our sleeves, we dug into steamed pork with salty egg (it’s potent, so best to have it with rice), an oyster pancake (the most recognizable Taiwanese dish, though the large globules of starch make it quite gluey), a wooden bucket of fried rice with peas, egg, onion and pork (enough to serve three to four) and three-cup mushrooms, which were pungent with heaps of basil and spicy with a generous helping of red peppers (I initially found the mushrooms too chewy, but they softened up and were quite addictive, though they brought no hallucinations). Last but not least were the deep-fried shrimp and taro rolls in flaky pastry. “These are very famous in southern Taiwan, though you rarely find them in the north,” said Sherry. They were a bit sweet for my liking and served as dessert, while she had a couple of “ma ji,” a Hakka treat that consists of warm and soft sticky rice coated in peanut powder (these usually come free back home, said Sherry. Shin Yeh charges RMB1 per piece). In addition to the food being excellent, the servers were spot on. As we finished one dish, another would appear, and we only had three items on the table at the end, even more impressive given that the place was busy. Shin Yeh is large, with a dining area split down the middle and private rooms, though it is drafty near the doors. The bathrooms are spotless and well-designed. Absolutely stuffed, and having finished a bottle of Qingdao (they don’t have Taiwan beer, among Asia’s best), we faced a very reasonable bill of RMB213. Good food, good service, good value.

Note: Shin Yeh does not serve stinky tofu – chodofu – nor does another nearby Taiwanese restaurant, Bellagio, despite this odorous food being among the Taiwan ’s most ubiquitous – well, at least in olfactory terms – and famous. Is this because the smell bothers customers? In any case, it’s a pity because a proper chodofu fits in with kimchi, sauerkraut and blue cheese in the family of smelly but tasty foods.

WE GOT MAIL

In response to last issue’s story on 5:19 bar, the establishment’s owner writes:

“Boyce, thanks for the mention in your last yet-to-be-named newsletter. I hadn’t thought of the 80s rec room analogy, but I like it. My only comment is that we have more wines than just the four Moldovan wines. Other than that, two of the draughts are now installed (Yanjing and Carlsberg) and we move the sofas when darts are played [I was the first to break the “dart board above the sofa” story. Dow Jones and WSJ, eat your hearts out.]” – D.M.

Note: Based on the author’s friendliness, I’m guessing he would be willing to stand by during dart games and yell things such as “one hundred and forrrrrrty!”, like they do on TV.

PARTING SHOTS

Resolutions for Beijing bar managers and employees (just trying to be helpful):

I shall not ask customers to pay for my mistakes, such as the difference between the RMB60 I have programmed into the cash register for a pint of Guinness and the RMB50 I’ve errantly printed on the menu; I shall accept the one-time loss of revenue rather than the permanent loss of the customer.

I shall not remove, nor lay hand upon, any glass containing more than a half-mouthful of liquid unless the patron whose glass it is has exited the premises or indicated that it be taken away; nor will I hover above said patron waiting for him/her to finish that final mouthful; if I do so because of a shortage of glasses, I will take measures to have more purchased.

I will not pick my nose or ears, scratch my armpits or nether regions, or engage in any other unseemly conduct before handling food; nor will I regurgitate phlegm and mull it in my mouth in front of customers.

I will not practice my Chinese / English / other language with customers who do not wish to do so (and will learn to recognize when they are doing so out of politeness), bore them with lengthy stories about a particular alcohol’s history, or make asides on what are obviously their private conversations.

[Specifically for managers] I will not chastise, denigrate or mock my employees in front of patrons as it makes me look unprofessional and my customers feel uncomfortable; I will defend those same employees from unreasonable and obnoxious patrons.

In coming issues: New Year resolutions for drinkers; The Pomegranate; ranking Beijing’s free English-language magazines; CD Jazz Café; the promise of Summergate Wines; the 400-kuai move; Dongbei dumplings; and more. Happy New Year and cheers everyone! Eat, drink and be merry – Beijing Boyce.

Beijing Boyce VI

IN THIS ISSUE

  • Opening Shots
  • Be a Funky Santa
  • First Impressions: Nashville; 5:19
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Sparkling Wine
  • Zing: The Sequel
  • Maligayang Pasko!
  • Kat and John Come to Town
  • We Got Mail
  • Final Sips.

OPENING SHOTS

Check out the Sunday buffet breakfast at The Pavillion: sausages, ham, baked beans, bread, fried potatoes, baked tomatoes, fruit and cereal; omelets made on the spot; coffee and tea (RMB68). It’s simple, hearty fare to enjoy while gazing upon the woods out back. Also, kudos to The Pavilion for installing a brass foot rail and coat hooks beneath the bar. ~ John Bull Pub now has Strongbow draft cider (RMB49 / pint) and Shanghai beer (RMB25 / pint) on tap. ~ Icehouse has “let go” its general manager. I doubt you can blame the problems there on one guy. Prime example: Icehouse is a blues bar, but first hired an Australian rock band and then Matt Roberts’ local jazz outfit. Who (and this goes beyond – and specifically above – the ex-GM) with any knowledge of music or Beijing nightlife doesn’t know that a) rock is not blues, b) Roberts specializes in jazz, and c) jazz is also not blues? Icehouse has done right by attracting events by Beijing Cheese Society and Chopschticks, and seems to have good marketers, since YPHH will hold an event there next week and describes the place as having “live entertainment from international [sic] acclaimed artist [sic]” (really? Who would those artists be?). Rumor has it that Icehouse will shut down for a month. If so, let’s see what they come up with next. ~ Stefan Fleisher (Palette Wines big wig) and Johannes Neubacher (Timeout magazine bigwig) have opened Café Pause in Dashanzi, with a focus on Mediterranean cuisine, Spanish tapes, German, Austrian and other wines, and some fusion dishes. “A good example is our trademark Jiaozi, a cooking concept that you not only find in China and Italy, but also in Russia, Germany and a number of other places,” says Stefan. ~ Midnight bar is off to a strong start, but here’s a thought: what are the odds the owners will decide they can do it all by themselves and force out the dynamic bartending duo of George and Echo, the ex-First Café bartenders who help bring in the business? (Yes, we’ve heard rumors.) By the way, the hot buttered rum at Midnight is a nice warmer-upper.

BE A FUNKY SANTA

Here’s a story in the spirit of A Christmas Carol: that’s Beijing held its annual charity funk party last Saturday to fund heart surgery for an orphan named Dang Tianyue in Ping An. Partygoers were having a funktastic time, oblivious to a Scrooge-like subplot. The club decided, at the last minute, to make the RMB100 entrance fee voluntary so that regulars and others could get in free. The funk party raised RMB20000 in years past, but this time – despite a large turnout – only made a disappointing RMB9000. I’m not going to bombard readers with pleas for charities, but this case is unique given the time of year and the organizers’ good intentions. BB reader Ro King has donated RMB1600 to the cause and another reader, Agent Gold Monkey, has given RMB700. Anyone else interested in helping should contact the GM of that’s Beijing (who was exposed in the last issue for ordering a Grand Marnier and soda – perhaps this is his punishment from the Gods). His email address is michaelwester@thatsbj.com and he promises a that’s Beijing winter hat (known as a toque in Canada) and a 2006 calendar to anyone donating RMB250 or more. No pressure people, since many out there already have their favorite charities. But if you have been wondering lately, “Gee, how can I help an orphan AND get a toque?” this is your chance. For more info, check here: http://www.thatsbj.com/blogging/blogs/index.php/2005/12/05/club_house_getting_down_for_a_good_cause.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS (AND FAIR REVIEWS)

A Beijing-based chef sent me a nice email because of “the fact that you went to the Pavillion THREE TIMES BEFORE REVIEWING IT.” (I guess triple visits aren’t the norm for most writers.) It was a nice compliment although to be honest it helps that this newsletter is a hobby, I don’t have to cater to advertisers and, frankly, I like the research. That being said, I can’t always guarantee three visits. So, in cases where I pop in once to check out a new spot, I’ve created a “first impressions” section that includes a string of random observations on a given establishment. Here are two places I recently visited with Agent Red Socks (his comments in quotes):

Nashville (reincarnated after being demolished earlier this year on Sanlitun South Road). The second floor: Lots of wood and leather, with comfy chairs by the windows… “The mixture of John Cougar Mellancamp from the first floor and smooth jazz on the second is ‘interesting'”… decent pizza (RMB40, 8-inch), though the waiter stood a meter away, watched us eat and tried to remove the plates while we were holding the last slice… wall art includes Tibetan pictures, dart trophies and a Shania Twain poster… Taiwan folk music hero Luo Dayou was sitting nearby… pints of Qingdao (RMB25)… the warm colors were a nice contrast to the cold and blustery weather. Main floor: all the rough-hewn, rustic flavor of the old Nashville, and that’s a plus… even with 15 people on hand, a great vibe while the singer performed… “Luo Dayou is one of the most famous musicians from Taiwan. I can’t believe we’re sitting here and watching him playing the drums”… fans of the old Nashville are going to love this place.

5:19. Four kinds of wine from Moldova (!) (RMB40 / glass)… feels like a 1980s recreation room (where’s the Atari and Pong?)… a bit chilly given the stone block floor… still getting in gear, with the beer taps, maple syrup (for cocktails) and name cards expected soon… the dart board is right above the sofa (wear a helmet)… Four kinds of Moldova wine (!) (Sorry, had to repeat that again)… happy hour from 5:19 to 8 (PM)… bingo nights planned… owner is a former partner in the now-demolished Artifacts.

TWINKLE, TWINKLE SPARKLING WINES

A dozen of us gathered in Sequoia Café‘s newly refurbished front room on December 10 to taste five sparkling wines from Torres. Company General Manager Alberto Fernandez was on hand to help guides us through: 1) Nederburg Brut from South Africa (85% Chenin Blanc, 11% Chardonnay, 4% Colombar; light; fruity nose); 2) Freixenet Negro Brut (drier and, according to the notes provided, with lemon, licorice, pear and resin aromas and canned fruit and dried flower flavors); 3) Bisol Brut Crede from Italy (“scents of wildflowers”; I found this one a bit filling); 4) Bellavista Franciacorta, also from Italy (aged 36 months in the bottle, a wine to really swirl about in your mouth; “medium bodied, creamy in texture, and very long on the palate, with aromas / flavors reminiscent of baked bread, vanilla, toast, plum and lemon”); and 5) Christian Busin from France (20% Chardonnay, 80% Pinot Noir; “The attack on the palate is clean, balanced, fat and fresh”). Fernandez thoughtfully brought out another bottle: 6) a Prosecco from Italy that apparently, smells of burned apples. Penny, sitting beside me, said she liked number five for its taste, but number six overall, because of its nose. “That’s an inviting wine,” she said. Sequoia Café owner Frank Siegel decided to put it to a vote: #2 came out on top (5.5 votes), followed by #5 (4 votes) and #4 (1.5 votes), with Penny giving a “special vote” to #6. Of the three of Frank’s wine tastings I’ve attended, this was the bubbliest yet. (Event fee: RMB150.)

ZING: THE SEQUEL

When I wrote in an earlier newsletter about service at Zing at Doodoo’s, someone told me to give the new management another chance. So I did, last Sunday, accompanied by the ever-dynamic Agent Red Wolf (RW). Let’s start with positives: The place has good hardware, with plenty of comfy seating (though the sofas are a bit low), two bars, a central area with tables and high chairs, and a nifty little dance club downstairs. (The trick will be to attract enough people upstairs to make the place lively and to maintain the dance floor between empty and overcrowded, not easy with such a limited space.) But Zing has some definite potential.

As for the food, it was okay, with the steak and cheese on baguette (RMB55) beating out the salami pizza (RMB 58), which had a leaden crust. And Agent Red Wolf liked the music. There was some negligence, such as the waiters forgetting ketchup and new plates, the lack of toilet paper in the WC, and so on, even though there were five employees and only two patrons (us). We were also charged the regular prices for drinks instead of happy hour ones. An honest mistake, perhaps, but the waiter asked us to pay full fare anyway because “the bill is already printed.” (A second waiter later explained that the guy was new, but c’mon.) Finally, the table menu advertises Boys Night Out, Girls Night Out, Ladies Night, All About Tapas, and Brunch Buffet, but the staff says these events are no longer held. Even so, although Zing has some glitches to work out, this trip was definitely better than the last and it seems like a good place for a small party (though give the place some advance warning).

MALIGAYANG PASKO!

Beijing’s Filipino community – and it really does define “community” – was out in full force last Sunday for the annual Christmas party in the Philippines Embassy. The only people that are more fun than Filipinos are… are… are… wait, I can’t think of anyone else. Filipino bands from five-star hotels, the Hard Rock Café and Blue Fox had the place hopping, and with plenty of tasty food, raffles prizes and games, it was an enjoyable afternoon. There was one game, based on musical chairs, where a group of eight women danced around a group of seven men and, when the music stopped, each tried to grab a man’s belt, with the one left beltless being eliminated from the game. Then it went down to seven women and six men, and so on. Highly entertaining. This is my second time to the party – all thanks to my Filipina pal Cherry – and I highly recommend finding someone to tag along with next year.

(Philippines footnote: My last trip to the islands was in 1999. I landed with an American friend in Manila at midnight and within minutes a Filipina-American we just met invited us to her house in Roxas, Panay Island, to visit with her family. We accepted the offer and spent two days hanging out with about 70 of her nieces and nephews – eating, drinking, eating, visiting markets, eating and, of course, singing. That’s hospitality.)

KAT AND JOHN COME TO TOWN

My old Taiwan buddies John Isacs and Kat Tao were in town last week. John is a “grape American hero” in Taipei as he writes bilingual books about wine (the newest covers 250 brands), teaches wine lessons, organizes wine dinners for corporate bigwigs and does all kinds of wine promotion via PDAs and the Internet (check www.enjoygourmet.com). Kat handles operations and cranks out a slick quarterly magazine about Taipei’s gourmet scene.

After a nice hot pot and some lamb kebabs on Ghost Street, we headed to Pavillion for two fine bottle of wine: a Garvey Amont Tio Guillermo sherry (picked by John, who was recently certified in Spain as an expert on this drink) followed by a Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2003 (ASC Big Wig Campbell Thompson informed me by email that this wine, produced by a family outfit in Sonoma, is on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines for 2005). Whiling away a few hours in the Pavillion’s big leather chairs is a comfy way to enjoy a chilly winter evening, especially as the wine is reasonably priced (even bigger ASC Big Wig Don St. Pierre said the company has sold more wine at The Pavillion in one month than it did at Frank’s Place in two years). Expect to here more from John and Kat, who are looking to expand their wine info empire into the Middle Kingdom.

WE GOT MAIL

Re My statement last issue that drinkers who mix Chivas with green tea should be executed.

Why should you have any problem with those philistines who drink mass-market blended whisky? Let them do what they want with it – you can make it any more bland or innocuous by mixing it with whatever Chinese ingredients you have lying around. That leaves the nice single malts to us! – KR

A good point, but what if those people are on a slippery slope, at the bottom of which they start mixing those nice single malts with green tea? Not a pretty situation and one that is bound to increase prices. No, best to nip this in the bud, perhaps by death by poisoning. Then again, come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly what Chivas and green tea does to people.

FINAL SIPS

Summergate Fine Wines & Spirits has moved to Han Wei Plaza (17F, 7 Guanghua Road / 6562-1800). Unfortunately, they still – and this is beyond me – have no website. ~ The Pavillion is offering patrons a chance to be a bartender for a day. Pick up the application forms at the bar. ~ I generally get good service at Centro at night; not so during the afternoons. Recently, after receiving no attention from the staff, I left my cozy chair twice and went to the bar to order my drinks and then get my bill. Plus, is there some kind of staff no-smiling rule during the afternoon? Customers paying RMB50 or more for a coffee deserve better. ~ ASC has three new mixed-case promotions. Each 13-bottle set, ranging from RMB1200 to RMB2400, includes Laurent-Perrier Champagne (if you haven’t tried it, here’s you chance) at 32% to 40% off list prices. ASC is also offering 30% off select sets of four Vinum series Riedel glasses, including Bordeaux (RMB670), Chianti Classico (RMB599) and Cuvee Prestige (RMB599). (Though I wish they wouldn’t always use that same Robert Parker quote about Riedel crystal. Mix it up a bit, guys!) ~ I met the Aussino wine company people at a party a few weeks back and they are planning some Beijing events in the New Year. I’ll keep you informed. ~ Journalist, China specialist and logician (how does he make so much sense after so many beers!?) Ralph Jennings has a crafty little blog at www.livejournal.com/users/lalaoshi ~ Plans for my rap band Bling Dynasty are coming along nicely. We’ve already got several songs in the works: Yo! Mae Yo!, Hot Mama Huhu and Mi Bad, Yu Bad, Mai Bad. I’ll keep you updated on any concert dates. ~ Last, but not least, best wishes to everyone during the holidays. Eat, drink and be merry people. Cheers! JB.

Beijing Boyce V

In issue V:

  • Grande Move for Le Petit Gourmand
  • Dirty Deeds (Qingdao Cheap)
  • Maggie’s: See and Don’t Be Seen
  • Chillin’ at Pavillion
  • We Got Mail
  • Final Sips
  • Plus: A Boy’s Story (in six parts).

Next issue: Bling Dynasty: My New Rap Band.

As always, if you like the newsletter, please let others know about the website. BB.

Grande Move for Le Petit Gourmand

First The Bookworm relocated and became a runaway success with its 14000-plus books, high ceilings, excellent seminars and tasty eats. Now Le Petit Gourmand (LPG), once home of The Bookworm and recent victim of Sanlitun’s chai campaign, has new digs.

LPG is in Tongli Studio, below Bar Blu, and is a cozy spot to enjoy a coffee, flip through books and surf the net. While Bookworm has a university library feel (with beer), LPG is more café/restaurant. Said one friend: “It’s cozy and nookie [whatever that means].”

LPG offers bigger mugs of coffee (same price: RMB15) and a more extensive menu (though the food is so-so). It is also more peaceful, primarily because it is emptier or, to put it diplomatically, “sparsely populated.” I spent four hours with friends there last Sunday and we all gave it thumbs up, although the service was spotty. More good news: LPG has an excellent deck that, come spring, will be ideal for getting comfy with a paperback and a hot cup of java.

A Boy’s Story I: It started off as a gaggle of consonants and vowels flying to and fro along a telephone wire. “C’mon out for a drink, Mikey boy!” After a dozen such gaggles, Mikey – also known by his rapper name, M-West– arrived in a sweater tailor-made for a peacock’s wardrobe. It was a portentous sign.

Dirty Deeds (Qingdao Cheap)

I caught the one-set AC/DC tribute show by the aptly named Dirty Deeds band, November 23 at Yugong Yishan. The lead singer howled through a dozen songs, including some classics, which he naturally derided since you’re not cool unless you know the arcane stuff. The songs I recall: Sin City, Let Me Put My Love into You, Big Balls, High Voltage, Hells Bells, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Highway to Hell, Girls Got Rhythm, and T.N.T. Have a Drink on Me was a trip down memory lane (specifically to a few years back when I dressed up and played a cardboard guitar to that song in front of 200 Korean female university students. Enough said).

The singer encouraged the crowd to drink, smoke and use vile language. Many complied, so it was kind of like hanging out with 14-year-olds who have a few bottles of beer, a pack of cigarettes and just discovered the F-word. People bobbed their heads during the set, but only got dancing during the last song. No worries: the band came out for a two-song and a one-song encore, taking the singer’s vocal chords to the edge of their raspy limits. Unfortunately, it was Dirty Deeds’ last show of 2005. Tickets: RMB30. Qingdao: RMB10.

A Boy’s Story II: Given his colorful attire, what perchance do you think M-West ordered? A Blue Hawaii? A strawberry-mango Daiquiri? Perhaps he went so far as to have a Doggie’s Breakfast? My friends, he was far beyond that; he was on a trip without boundaries; he was, in essence, thinking outside the bottle.

Maggie’s: See and Don’t Be Seen

Agent Red Wolf and I stopped into the new Maggie’s last Saturday. The Maggie’s of old was popularly known as a place for male members of the species to engage with what we’ll call female Mongolian ambassadors, but also had an excellent layout and DJ, decent food (including the best hotdogs in town), spotless bathrooms and unparalleled people watching opportunities. The new one, just across from Zing by Doodoo’s and on the fringe of Ritan Park, offers much of this – including the hotdog cart out front – although the narrow layout and slicker décor has less charm.

Once inside, and with a hotdog (figuratively) under her belt, Red Wolf became annoyed at her inability to procure a drink. Strangely, I managed to get one in about 4.2 seconds. We parked near the dance floor to watch men who were apparently unaware of the nature of the place. The guy wearing a cowboy hat and doing the “you stole my heart” dance, complete with hand motions, was the best. I also liked the guy dancing alone – how that happens when women outnumber men two to one, I do not know. In any case, we had to leave after 20 minutes before the trickle of bids for Red Wolf’s carnal treasure turned into a flood. Qingdao: RMB20; hotdogs: RMB20.

A Boy’s Story III: Ever experimental (with an emphasis on mental), our young imbiber tossed aside all tradition, all decorum, all signs from a queasy stomach prepared to pounce on any content even slightly offensive. He grinned his grin, flicked his eyelashes at the bartender, and uttered words that shall forever be remembered in Beijing bar history: “Grand Marnier and soda, please.” I repeat (in bold): Grand Marnier and soda.

Chillin’ at Pavillion

When Frank’s Place (between The Den and City Hotel) closed a while back, its two partners went separate ways. One opened the Pavillion two weeks ago while the other is completing a 1400 square meter monster of a bar, due open in January, near Lido Hotel. Last issue, I included random observations about The Pavillion’s opening night. I’ve since returned thrice, including trips with Agent Red Wolf and Agent Hidden Dragon, and can provide a fuller report.

The Pavillion has done an excellent job with layout and décor. It has large and comfy leather chairs, a faux fireplace, two stand-up bars, various cubby holes, a glass-walled wine room and a forest out back (spend a few moments looking at it and feel your blood pressure drop). It’s a bit too spic and span, but character will come in time. The staff is friendly, the service is solid, and one hopes the employees can walk the fine line between friendliness and obtrusiveness, a little known skill in this town.

In any case, Agent Hidden Dragon liked the Champagne (Laurent Perrier; RMB78 per glass) and the décor, but thought the music was “too common.” Agent Red Wolf also liked the décor (“it’s like a five-star hotel lounge”) and the spring rolls (excellent presentation, though pricey at RMB45), although she didn’t find the Americano cocktail strong enough and thought the martini sub-par (I gave it a sip and she was right). She also thought the music “too old” and “not sexy enough.” Let’s face it, RW is a hard agent to please, but she did have a point: it was odd to be reclining in luxury in the early eve and listening to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and Prince’s “1999.”

This mismatch is reflected elsewhere in the Pavillion and suggests the place is still finding down its identity. Let’s take a couple that arrives, sits by the fireplace and orders a nice bottle of wine. How happy will they be when, 30 minutes later, the music cuts out and the TVs come on, high volume, with the pre-game analysis for a rugby game? What is the Pavillion? A sports bar? A wine bar? A restaurant? A cigar lounge? A dance club (there was live band on opening night)? All of the above?

The other issue is clientele: Based on my visits, the target market appears to be over-35 expatriates with decent salaries. I’m guessing the new bar in Lido, not to mention other establishments, are targeting the same crowd. Given the finite number of moneyed foreigners, will there be enough to go around or will The Pavillion have to seek patrons elsewhere? In any case, it is a welcome addition to Beijing’s bar scene and definitely worth a look. It’s just across the street from Babyface, about 10 meters to the south.

Two final notes: 1) Last issue I griped that the The Pavillion lacked a foot rail. The proprietor, Russell, said they didn’t like the rail they ordered and will get another one. Fair enough. 2) The Pavillion plans to have barbecues out back once the weather warms up and this should be an excellent place to sit back with some food and drinks.

A Boy’s Story IV: I repeat, Grand Marnier and soda.

We got mail: From the nimble fingers of more than a half-dozen readers comes the following query.

Who else reads this newsletter? As of today, there are just over 200 people on the mailing list. This includes people who own, manage or work in bars, restaurants and food companies (9%), hotels and clubs (7%), and wine companies (7%). About 12% of readers are in the media and another 3% run groups such as the Beijing Cheese Society. The remaining 62% are mainly people who love to eat and drink, and include everyone from co-workers and business acquaintances to my friends (including my First Café buddies) and the people they’ve referred. I think it’s a nice mix of people who are involved in the food and beverage industry and those who patronize it.

A Boy’s Story V: M-West sipped his drink. His wee eyes became beady, a drop of sweat slid down his goiter and hung there seemingly forever, his blood sugar rose to a threatening near-diabetic level, his masculinity ebbed like the soul of a monk turned lady bar tout. For he ordered the drink that should not be named and whose name hath not been uttered by any of our planet’s six million citizens: Grand Marnier and soda.

Final Sips

I generally oppose capital punishment, but make a few exceptions. People who habitually enter elevators before letting those inside get out and taxi drivers who haven’t brushed their teeth for more than six months are two of them. I’m adding another group: those who mix 12-year-old Chivas Regal with green tea. Yes, I’m willing to pull the switch on you guys. ~ Montrose has a half-price sale on select wines in its Kerry Centre store, until December 3. ~ This just in: HBO Asia recently sent out a memo informing staff to play at least three Indiana Jones movies per day. Well, at least it seems that way. ~ Coming next issue, reports on a Bordeaux wine tasting, a Yunan restaurant, and a rap band I’m creating called Bling Dynasty. Cheers.

A Boy’s Story VI: It ends not with a bang, but a whisper: Grand Marnier and soda.