- Opening Shots, including Sanlitun South renaissance, Neo Lounge reborn and Beijing Cheese Society
- Beijing Saturday Night: Beer Mania, Browns, Palms, Nashville and Maggie’s
- Live from Oregon: Pinot Noir
- Mexican Wave
- House Party
- 42 new bars
- We Got Mail
- Closing Shots.
Is it just me or is Sanlitun South Street going through a renaissance? The past six months have seen Midnight, Browns (see review below) and The Bookworm open, all good places and nice complements to decent longer-established spots, such as First Cafe and The Pink Loft. A reader calls it a “golden age” for the area, especially as the beggars, fake-CD sellers and “lady bar” touts are conspicuously absent. Enjoy it while it lasts, my friends. ~ Speaking of which, that entire plot of land, which encompasses the aforementioned spots as well as places such as Banana Leaf and The Loft has apparently just been bought. What does fate hold? ~ Henry Li, the brains behind the now-defunct Vogue and Neo Lounge, as well as Public Space in Sanlitun, will open a new spot at February’s end. He said the 800-square-meter will be named after Duan Qirui, an early twentieth-century premier and warlord, on Pingan Avenue, four blocks west of Poly Plaza. ~ Mike W. reports that the Red Capital empire – comprising the Red Capital Club, Red Capital Guest House and Red Capital Ranch – has grown by hiring a new GM (from Indonesia) and floor manager (from Britain). Expect a full write-up next issue about Red Capital’s most interesting bomb shelter bar (and its “Lin Biao’s Crash” cocktail). ~ One year in and the Beijing Cheese Society, co-founded by Sharon Ruwart and Perri Dong, has matured into a most excellent club. With events featuring Spanish, South African, British, American and French cheeses under its belt; the society now fills its 50-seat events within two hours of sending out invites. Join the events list by emailing email@example.com ~ Speaking of which, Perri, formerly known as that’s Beijing’s Cai Guy, is now working for ASC Fine Wines. ~ Yvonne C. passes on info that Le Palais Desserts and Lounge (www.lepalais.cn) has opened close to the Kerry Centre and has excellent sweets prepared by a Belgian pastry chef. ~ Phil, of Phil’s Pub fame, is opening a bar in Qingdao. I suspect the main reason is to be closer to his beer source. ~ Last issue, I mentioned that IKEA is moving. Reader Eric H. reports that the new store will open in Wangjing in April and will be IKEA’s largest store in Asia Pacific and second largest worldwide. ~ I’m hearing good things about Saddle, across from Apertivo, whether the place is filling up for NFL playoff games or doling out breakfast burritos. It’s a snug spot. ~ The Pomegranate, in Shunyi, has an e-newsletter covering its televised sports schedule, weekly quiz and directions on finding the bar. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with “subscribe” in the subject line. ~ Based on my careful observations of the past six months, about half of the men in Beijing bars do not wash their hands after using the toilet. Be careful with whom you share those complimentary peanuts.
A BEIJING SATURDAY NIGHT
Last Saturday night was supposed to entail getting together with friends for a few drinks. Instead, it turned into a bar-hopping marathon. I don’t stay out until the wee hours any more, but this was an exception:
BEER MANIA (Sanlitun South; 20:15): You rarely go wrong by starting a night with a few Belgian brews, so RJ, SW and I met at Beer Mania. We pretty much had the place to ourselves as we sampled seven different beers, including a nice Rochefort. Manager Marc van Bever is planning to do beer tastings every Thursday. Patrons get to sample ten beers for 150 kuai. Call 13126-904-396 for details.
BROWNS (Sanlitun South; 22:45) Carnegie’s in Taipei is famous (infamous?) as the city’s most raucous night spot, featuring great service, a massive beverage selection (including 366 shooters), an admirable layout and a long bar where the wilder (and usually drunker) clients get up and dance the night and early morning away. It’s a runaway success and now Browns is seeking to emulate it in Beijing (there are also Carnegie’s in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumper and Perth, and Browns in Britain). With RJ heading home, Agent Red Wolf and WF joined us to check it out.
Although only open for two days, and having details to work out – the menu desperately needs a spell check: “Soff drinks”, “Carlsbery”, and on and on; there are some weird prices: 42 kuai for a martini, 43 kuai for a “martini favorite”; and the toilets need a cleaning – Browns has the potential to be a great bar and possibly the best of the year.
The martini was decent (though not particularly dry), the beer was reasonably priced (pints of Kilkenny and Guinness at 35 kuai), and the thin-crust pizza was tasty. The staff, which includes five Filipinos, was polite and efficient (though they could drop the “ma’am” and “sir” stuff). Lisa, who handled our table, was excellent. And when Agent Red Wolf felt her Long Island Iced Tea needed more rum and lime, it was quickly topped up.
The long bar has a brass railing up top to keep the expected dancers from falling into the employees and massive shelves of alcohol. In front of the bar is a standing / dancing area, and behind that two levels of seating. The decor is flat black and white, with dark wood, brass and glass accents, and the walls contain music-themed pictures and instruments. The high ceilings will minimize smoke.
We had a nice chat with Lawrence Chen, the general manager, and Jacky Kong, the supervisor, who said they plan to open adjoining Mexican, Japanese and other themed rooms. Hmmm. In any case, a great start for Browns, with the only downside being that the spotlights and dance music were out of sync with the feel of the bar, especially given the sparse crowd. It just doesn’t seem right to have electric guitars and pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the walls and then only play music typified by Black Eyed Peas “My Humps.”
PALMS (Chaoyang Park, South Gate; 00:30) Some random observations during my second visit to Palms: It’s in a mall; the menus are shaped like pianos and wine bottles; there are too many chairs; the men’s and women’s toilets are far from spotless and there was no toilet paper (again). When I ordered a martini, the waiter asked, “With ice?”
On the positive side, the management and staff at Palms are extremely friendly and open to comments. But something is amiss. Maybe it simply needs some fine-tuning with the drinks (my martini was sub-par) and decor. Or maybe the live music doesn’t fit the environment (or maybe it’s good in a bad way, depending on your taste). When I hear a band member shout out “everyone, sing along!” for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” I have to ask myself: Does anyone in the place know that song, let alone the words? Would it not be better to have fewer songs in English and more in Mandarin (a la Teresa Teng and Faye Wong), thus drawing a moneyed Chinese crowd that would enjoy being in a big interactive KTV lounge?
By the by, after the set ended, SW started shouting out “Phantom of the Opera!” and got into in protracted negotiations with the singer that eventually ended with the band doing a raucous, if slightly over the top, rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” That was the high point.
NASHVILLE (Maizidian; 01:40) When we rolled into Nashville, we figured the place would be half empty and the band finished. Instead, there was a good crowd on hand and singer-guitarist Chris had the place rocking. Bar-goers hooted out requests and sang along, and one patron got up and sang The House of the Rising Sun. (Note: This is the kind of atmosphere that Palms should be trying to create.) Good times all around as Chris cranked out everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Bryan Adams to Johnny Cash. Agent Red Wolf and WB both thought the Long Island Iced Teas were good.
MAGGIE’S (Ritan Park, South Gate; 02:50) We dropped SW off on our way home and then decided last-minute to keep the night going. The new Maggie’s is much tamer than the old and the layout is too narrow, but as Agent Red Wolf points out, they play fun music. We unloaded a few of the calories picked up earlier in the night.
As usual, there were ample people-watching opportunities, with the guy beside us falling asleep on, and then falling off, his chair. He lay on the floor, apparently unconscious, for a few minutes. The security guards propped him up and then he suddenly popped back to life. I suspect something stronger than alcohol was in his system. Anyway, this incident seemed to inspire another man to move in on WF and it wasn’t long before we spirited her away. To our horror, the hot dog stand outside had already closed!
Agent Red Wolf and I dropped off WF and decided that, sans hot dogs, we needed food. Where to go? The Den? Bellagio’s? 7-ELEVEN? We ended up at Dacheng Jia (next to Gino’s) and pigged out on dumplings, xiaolongbao, soybean milk and more. We briefly considered hitting one more spot, but decided to end the morning on a high note and get some sleep before Sunday brunch.
LIVE FROM OREGON: PINOT NOIR
Fifteen people gathered at Sequoia Cafe on January 20 for what we believe to be the first Oregon Pinot Noir tasting of its size in China. The wines were presented by Andrew Macdonald, whose family owns Seven Springs vineyard, ranked by Food and Wine magazine as one of America’s ten best. Andrew knows some of the winemakers whose products we tried and gave insights into planting, pruning, cloning and harvesting. There were plenty of questions as he explained everything from the history of Oregon wine to the trials and tribulations of growing grapes.
“The wines tonight are all pioneers in one way or another,” said Andrew. So, onward ho!” (Comments in quotation marks are his. The rest are mine and, as mentioned ad infinitum, I’m not an expert.)
2003 King Estate: lots of berry and cherry, more fruit in the body, a light finish. 2003 Ponzi: “The first producer in Oregon [and tending to follow traditional Burgundy styles]”; a pungent, alcoholic, slightly spicy nose; tasted like apples at the end. 2000 St. Innocent Seven Springs: “[This winemaker] started making wine with our grapes in the back of his Datsun pickup truck”; great nose, nice body, I didn’t take notes here, because I was too busy drinking; this was easily my favorite. 2001 Amity Vineyards: spicy, hot nose, fruity body and finish. 2003 Rex Hill: “the oak gives it a buttery taste”; maybe, but there was so much wood in this I felt like getting out the Pledge – lemon-scented, of course. In any case, it was good times and good wine all around, and you can’t ask for more.
Note: I was lucky enough to have Galia Stern (Torres), Ethan Perk (Montrose), and Dan Sieber and a co-worker (Summergate) at my table. In addition to soaking up some wine, I absorbed a great deal of knowledge about the wine industry in China. (And Dan dispelled my belief that I could let wine breath by popping out the cork in a taxi. Apparently, you have to pour the wine into another vessel – my mouth? – and then back into the bottle for it to work.)
M-dawg and I decided to check out Charlie’s, the oldest bar in town, but it was closed for renovations so we visited another “old timer” in Beijing – Mexican Wave. Home of the Beijing Hash, it is fairly comfy with some interesting wall murals, though the fish tank in the back room seems out of place. Even though it was a Wednesday night, the place was pretty busy.
Our burritos (RMB30) were delivered fairly quickly. Mine was lukewarm and a bit bland in contrast with the salsa which left my mouth burning. On the positive side, it was, um, filling. The trademark Mexican Wave beer was sold out, so we settled for Qingdao. They were, um, filling too. What else can you say about the place? M-dawg marveled at how it had been around since 1988: “It demonstrates staying power and has miraculously avoided being chai’d.”
The only major downsides were the eight-point, all-cap font in the menu (it looks better than it reads) and waiters continually slamming the kitchen door as they came out to deliver food.
Yvonne Chin (Canadian Embassy) and Dan Segall (the brains behind Louisiana Restaurant’s excellent chow) threw a house party a couple of weeks back. I can’t remember the last time I saw such an eclectic mix of bottles in a home bar: Yeni Raki (from Turkey), Opal Nera, Buttershots Liqueur and Oh Canada Maple Syrup Liqueur, to name about four out of forty, all on the same countertop (I didn’t even think to combine them into a shooter). Add 30 people, some food and you’ve got a party. So what does one of Beijing’s top chefs serve? Nothing less than chicken wings from Indian Kitchen and a bunch of pizzas from Buono – what, you expect him to cook after a long day in the kitchen?
42 NEW BARS
As we approach the Year of the Dog, here are the bars and clubs I predict will emerge from Beijing’s mist (okay, it’s probably smog, but let’s be optimistic).
Lady Bar: If you’re male and walking down Sanlitun North, you’ve heard of this place hundreds of times – “Mister, lady bar, lady bar, massa-gee, looka looka!” Now what seemed to be only myth will become reality as an official Lady Bar opens, complete with velour furniture, painted cement floors, karaoke machines and a hundred touts out front.
I sense people are embracing the challenges of life in Beijing and thus expect some bars with realist names, including Black Lung, The Dirty Glass, Meiyou Fapiao, Spit-stained Sidewalk, Traffic Jam, Bu Zhidao and Red Tape.
I also foresee a litter of Year of the Dog-themed bars (except for Doodoo, already taken by Zing). These will include Suzy Wang Wang, Bar-k, Arfa, Pooper Scooper, Gou Gou Bar, Ace of Spayed, Doghouse, Ruff house, and The Golden Fire Hydrant.
Given the popularity of Mix and Vics, I predict the following niche clubs: Fix (drug users), Hicks (farm clothing mandatory), Ticks (a place that bugs people), Wicks (gothic interior), Twix (chocolate fans), Trix (cereal fans), Matrix (Keanu Reeves fans) and Dominatrix (leather fans), as well as Dicks, Chix, Rick’s, Lix, Nix, Pix, Quix, and Bricks and Clicks, among others.
5:18, most likely between 5:17 and 5:19 (the latter two are real bars and nearly side by side on the same street).
Finally, as the Olympics get closer, entrepreneurs are gearing up to target tourists. Expect places such as The Five Rings, Do-Ping, Cheaters, The Pommel Horse, Opening Ceremony and, side by side, The Parallel Bars.
WE GOT MAIL
“Just wanted to let you know I wholeheartedly agree that Taiwan Beer rules! (Picture me giving you the devil’s horns with my right hand).”- C.P.
What makes Taiwan Beer great – and I’m referring to the draft in the big green bottles – is its freshness. This stuff is like milk in that it has a due date of a few weeks. No preservatives means better taste and fewer hangovers, my friends, and like many locals, I ignore the heckling of foreign devils and chuck a few ice cubes in my brew as I’m chowing down on some gongbao jiding. If anyone knows where Taiwan Beer is available in Beijing, please let me know.
That’s Beijing’s funk party last year to fund a heart operation for an orphan named Tian Yue raised less money than expected due to club management letting in too many people for free. A number of BB readers stepped up and donated to the cause and I’m happy to report that Tian Yue had surgery on Boxing Day and the orphanage writes: “Tian Yue is back with us… She is doing great.” ~ As I finish the newsletter, I have received an SMS: “The row of Russian and Eastern European restaurants north of Ritan Park, including the original Elephant, has been torn down.” People, when will the killing stop? ~ As usual, if you know someone else who would like this e-newsletter, pass it on. A person just has to send me a message to get on the mailing list. ~ Finally, I wish everyone a most excellent holiday and prosperous Year of the Dog. Eat (not the dog), drink and be merry, Beijing Boyce.