Beijing Boyce IX

  • 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.

OPENING 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 sruwart@gmail.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 the_pomegranate@yahoo.com 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.)

MEXICAN WAVE

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.

HOUSE PARTY!

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.

CLOSING SHOTS

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.

Beijing Boyce VIII

  • Opening shots, including Zeta Bar, wining about Beijing and the plunger search
  • Belgian Beer Bliss
  • Past Midnight?
  • Roach, get out of my pizza!
  • First Impressions: Saddle, Palms, The Pomegranate, Liqueur, Sesame and Pipe’s Cafe
  • 3, 2, 1: happy New Year!
  • Resolutions for bar goers
  • Closing shots, including Big Easy, goodbye Li Yan, and thanks to key readers.

OPENING SHOTS

Ch-ch-changes: Is Neo Lounge set to reappear? The bar had a cult following before closing over a year ago and is the topic of a forthcoming documentary. Which will come first: the new bar or the movie? ~ Hilton Beijing is making over its restaurants and bars. It will add a signature Zeta Bar (a la the Sydney , Kuala Lumpur and London Hiltons). ~ Huxley, who popularized the none-too-subtle slogan Shut Up, Just Drink, is apparently readying another bar. In my crystal ball, I see… 10-kuai Qingdao… low-priced shooters… noisy dice games. ~ Has anyone else cringed at the new Cask of Amontillado-like structure behind Sun City (near Alfa)? Turning to my ball again, I see possible names… Public Execution… Abu Ghirab… Dungeons and Dragons… Hairy [sic] Potter… and a home for the city’s S&M scene.

Wining about Beijing: The family of my co-worker Andrew McDonald owns Seven Springs Vineyards (Oregon), ranked among American’s ten best by Food & Wine, and he will lead a tasting of five Pinot Noirs on January 20. The wines include 2001 Amity Pinot Noir, 2003 Rex Hill Pinot Noir, 2003 King Estates Pinot Noir, 2001 Ponzi Pinot Noir and the rare 2000 St. Innocent Seven Springs Pinot Noir. The event is RMB250 and limited to 18 tasters. Six spots are left. If you’re interested, let me know ASAP. First come, first served. ~ The Riedel crystal wine glass empire expands. ASC Fine Wines founder and Riedel distributor Don St. Pierre writes: “We are selling Riedel in about 40 cities now, including selected Carrefour outlets.”They start at 160 kuai per. ~ I didn’t list Torres Wines new address last issue because I couldn’t find it on the company’s website. Torres’ Galia Stern diplomatically noted that it was in all of her emails to me. Point taken: Annex House, Tian He Mansion, 7A Workers’ Stadium West Road, Chaoyang District (5165-5519). ~ Montrose’s Ethan Perk suggested I emulate that Johnny Mercer song (“accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”) and praise wine distributors with functioning sites, rather than complain about those without (Summergate, Torres, Palette). Here they are: Montrose, with the best site, is at www.montrosechina.com, while ASC is at www.asc-wines.com. ~ A few issues ago, I claimed that the six sparkling wines at a tasting at John Bull Pub came from Torres. In fact, only the Bellavista Franciacorta is distributed by the company. More shots: Try Polish, American, Russian, Mongolian and other vodkas on January 15 at John Bull Pub. The RMB150 fee includes a buffet with bratwurst, borsch, Russian salad and mash. Email frank_siegel@hotmail.com or call 13301-377-336 to reserve a spot. ~ If you’ve got the New Year’s blues and need some chuckles, catch ChopSchticks on January 14 at 7:30pm at icehouse (6522-1389). The show features stand-up comedian Jim Dunn (Boston) and opener Tony Moschetto. Tickets: RMB250 at the door; RMB220 in advance (13701-210-489 / Tickets@TheComedyTour.com). ~ Pavillion is planning a whisky club. And I plan to talk ideas with them as I’d like to start a whisky and bourbon society. Is anyone up for it? ~ Re my futile search for a toilet plunger, Damon Perry suggested I try Carrefour. Thanks for the tip. I also found some with wooden handles at Jingkelong on Gongti North Road and bought one with a steel handle (49 kuai) at Ikea. Note: Ikea will move sometime this year. I’ll let you know the exact address.

BELGIAN BEER BLISS

While Morel’s, The Tree and others sell Belgian beers, Beer Mania is smaller, cozier and has information about each brew, with manager Marc van Buren providing recommendations upon request. Thus, as I sipped a Maredsous Triple (10%), I flipped through Petite Fute: Guide to Belgian Beers and learned that my beer’s “acidity, softness and bitterness make this clear blond with a persistent head a harmonious beer, balanced, round and full.” Superb! As for the Westmalle Triple (9.5%), I noticed the fruitiness even before reading about its “fruity and herby nose accompanied by notes of fresh hops.” Excellent! These beers are 35 kuai each during happy hour (regular price: 50 kuai). I’ve thrice visited Beer Mania since mentioning it in issue II, including last Saturday night with Agent Red Wolf and K-Dog, who was in town from Shanghai. The place won’t win any awards for layout and decor, but is great for “shopping” for Belgian beers by perusing the glass-fronted refrigerator. K-Dog described Marc as a “perfect” manager: he isn’t intrusive and appears just in time to recommend another beer. My only suggestion: erect a wall or hang draperies in front of the toilet so patrons don’t get a view inside it each time the door is opened.

PAST MIDNIGHT?

When Midnight opened several months ago staffed with two of Beijing’s best bartenders, George and Echo, I wrote that the place was too big and the drinks would eventually suffer. Call me Kreskin: last Friday night I had an uncharacteristically bad martini as the bartenders were too rushed to make it properly (it had those “notes of gasoline” so typical of other establishment’s drinks). Even worse, the omnipresent cronies / relatives of the landlord / owner make the drinks when George and Echo are away. Such is the case now as a friend just sent an SMS, obviously written in a fit of a frustration: “the place is nuthin without the drinks.” Midnight is still the best bet for quality cocktails, but given current trends, I fear the situation is more likely to get worse than better.

ROACH, GET OUT OF MY PIZZA!

Reopened in new digs, Le Petit Gourmand (LPG) is a nice alternative to The Bookworm, which at times is overcrowded (you have to wait for a seat) and noisy (the sounds of nearby construction are bearable, but fellow patrons making business calls (“Wei!? Wei? Report yo mae yo!?“) are not). LPG has a growing book collection, solid wireless and a deck that has me anticipating spring. The latte is a good deal at 15 kuai — the same price as a regular coffee, but three times bigger. The staff is inefficient, whether its misunderstandings over orders or delivering entrees 15 minutes apart, even when the place is almost empty. The food is passable, whether it’s pasta or sandwiches (35-40 kuai). My pizza was the exception. The Parmesan I shook out was accompanied by a tiny live cockroach that landed on my pizza and made the most of it (I thought I ordered vegetarian). The bug is not the biggest issue. Such things happen (flashback to high school when I worked at a beach resort restaurant and we would find bees in the soft ice cream machine.) What matters is staff reaction. At LPG, they were very apologetic and offered to replace it. They quickly re-emerged with a pizza, seemingly too quickly (perhaps they turned up the oven), and the waiter opened a new can of Parmesan before my eyes. Personally, I would have provided the pizza for free, but then again, I’m not from the “40 kuai now is worth more than losing a customer for life” school. Aside from the roach, LPG was a pleasant place to relax, chat and check email. (This story’s title is a takeoff of the Shuffle Demons song, “Get out of My House, Roach” and the odds of anyone knowing that are about the same as … uh … a roach coming out of a can of Parmesan.)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Saddle: This little Tex-Mex spot across from Apertivo is decorated in warm reds and yellows and has sturdy wooden furniture. It’s a Spartan layout and seats 20, with one chair having, you guessed it, a saddle (patrons can lean back in it while alcohol is poured into their mouths. I passed, having watched Urban Cowboy one too many times). The chicken and rice burrito (35 kuai) was piping hot, though I would have loved some guacamole and sour cream. There was a bone chip in it so be careful (another patron had a similar experience). The nacho chips and salsa (RMB20) could have used a bit more salt and lime, but were a nice change from the bottled stuff. Qingdao: RMB15. Daily special, 6-8 PM: burritos, salsa and chips, and a beer for RMB50.

Palms: This bar in Palm Springs Apartments’ mall is apparently being positioned as an alternative to Centro. Palms is smaller and snugger than Centro, though in both places you have to go outside for the toilet (in this case there wasn’t any toilet paper). It has a friendly staff, comfy chairs and a decent, though lifeless at times, band (save for the energetic keyboardist). The beverage list is a bit sparse for a high-end bar (one Italian wine). At the time of my visit, Palms had been open only ten days and Agent Red Wolf and I talked at length with the owners and general manager about our first impressions. My biggest one was that the vodka martini (~60 kuai) was missing a key ingredient vodka — as was its replacement. Eventually, with the general manager’s help (he sipped my martini and realized, “Hey, this has no vodka”) I received a better-than-average and larger-than-normal drink. Red Wolf’s Mojito was light on the rum and she found the Screwdriver below par. Let’s hope Palms gets the drinks end of the business fixed ASAP.

Pomegranate: For citizens of Shunyi, this courtyard bar is a cozy retreat. It only has one beer on tap, but the burgers and quesadillas (~40 kuai) are good and apparently made by an ex-John Bull Pub chef. The ambience could use some work (someone labeled it as reminiscent of a student hangout of decades past), but Shunyi beggars cannot be choosers. Hopefully Pomegranate inspires more bars out that way. Our only problem: the driver the staff secured to get us downtown turned out to be a jerk, dropping off my friends and then refusing to drive me a further 400 meters home. This is normally not a big deal, but I was carrying six bottles of wine and several bags of groceries. (Note: I complained by email to the Pomegranate and Mike Hall — I assume he’s in management — said he would do his best to make sure that driver is not used again. “As you’re probably aware, the taxi drivers don’t actually work for us, we just have a list of numbers of local drivers to call so we don’t have much control over them: Once again, I’m sorry that your night ended on a sour note.” No worries, Mike, and thanks for the effort.)

Liqueur: Open about a year in the desolate stretch between the north end of Sanlitun Bar Street and Cappuccinos, Liqueur has a “rustic” decor that is heavy on red and includes burlap draped across the ceiling. The glossy chairs are wobbly and the bar consists of thick boards separated by bricks. The patrons seemed like regulars and were friendly and relaxed, as was the owner, Gun. The place had a strong neighborhood feel to it. Carlsberg: 20 kuai, Qingdao: 15 kuai. There’s a guitar on the premises, if patrons feel like playing, and a huge plate of candy by the door, though I’m not sure why (Halloween leftovers?).

Sesame: One of three remaining holdouts at the southern end of Sanlitun South, it’s your typical bar in a box: rectangular, tile floor, wooden tables, wooden bar, a few posters, a foosball machine. Qingdao: 10 kuai, Bacardi Breezer: 15 kuai. Sesame was empty, so we had a monopoly on the foosball as we listened to a CD on which every song title contained the word “America” David Bowie (“I’m Afraid of America”), Violent Femmes (“American Music”), James Brown (“Living in America”), you get the idea. Sesame is nothing special, but okay if you like foosball and cheap drinks.

Pipes Cafe: In contrast to its eye-catching and arty name cards, this place on Gongti North felt cluttered and disorderly. Unfortunately, I never fully experienced the ambience given the following dialogue with the waiter:

[Hands us a menu]

“It’s 40 kuai for all-you-can-drink Great Wall wine or draft beer.”

[I look at the menu and see bottled Qingdao for 15 kuai.]

“Can I just have a bottle of Qingdao?”

“Yes.”

“Great!”

“But it will cost 55 kuai (40 for the all-you-can-drink special and 15 for the Qingdao.)”

“That’s really smart, isn’t it”?

[Yes, I got sarcastic, which doesn't usually work in these places. They take you literally.] In any case, Pipes Cafe is supposedly a hangout for the lesbian crowd and my friend speculated that the 40-kuai deal is a way of keeping out riff raff like us (hey, I love women, too!).

3, 2, 1: HAPPY NEW YEAR

New Year’s Eve shenanigans started at an all-you-can-eat-and-drink Japanese restaurant before moving to Alfa, where the mood was effervescent, with flowing drinks, energetic pop music and lithesome dancers. At twelve, the staff sprayed snow foam everywhere, including into my martini, but unfortunately the Christmas was over and a free drink was not in the offering. Nice. Also, while it is fun to watch the staff clear the sofas and tables lickety-split so as to enlarge the dance space, it’s best to avoid ramming said furniture into the patrons. Afterward, I stopped at Midnight (it only seemed natural on New Year’s Eve), where people remained festive until the wee hours. Martinis, whiskey and bitters, Champagne cocktails ( they all made for a smooth entrance into 2005 (and our stomachs), thanks to the capable bartending triumvirate of Echo, George and Austin.

RESOLUTIONS FOR BAR PATRONSLast issue, I listed some resolutions for bar managers and employees and, based on my experience of the past two weeks, they don’t read or don’t care about my humble advice. In any case, one must not give up hope, and this time I offer some suggestions for bar goers in the New Year:

I shall not equate the intelligence of a bar owner or employee with his/her proficiency in my language and will thus refrain from voicing such things as “gin AND tonic”, “ginnnnnnnn and tonnnnnnic” or “gin and tonic” nor shall I become incensed for him/her misunderstanding my pathetic attempts at speaking his/her language.

I shall not assume that because I am in a boisterous mood, everyone else should be, and will thus refrain from hugging, giving high fives to, clinking glasses with at near-breakage speeds or inviting to be members of my luge team those patrons / strangers who are obviously uninterested.

I shall retreat to a secluded area when I expect to be on my cell phone for more than three minutes, thereby sparing fellow patrons from stories about last night’s “score,” pleas to an upset spouse, or details of the soap opera about so-and-so’s co-worker’s boyfriend’s best friend’s sister breaking up with “some guy who totally is, like, soooooo lame.”

I shall not take advantage of my position as a patron to fondle the bar’s owner, manager, bartenders, wait staff, cooks, cleaners, security guards or suppliers, or any of their relatives or pets that may happen to be on the premises.

I shall never reach behind the bar to grab objects, such as knives or corkscrews, nor stand there in an attempt to appear as part of the “in” clientele as I am only being a nuisance to the staff and as interesting as a coat rack to the patrons; should I go behind the bar, I will either wear a disguise or claim to be Da Shan, which would defeat the whole purpose of showing off, so instead I shall sit on my bar stool, drink my beer and relax.

CLOSING SHOTS

I don’t understand why Big Easy (Chaoyang Park, south gate) doesn’t get more exposure. The layout, bands, bar grub and Bloody Marys are all good. I’ve been there a half-dozen times and always enjoyed myself. ~ I’m increasingly finding myself at Pavillion. Last Saturday night, I sank into one of those huge leather chairs and split a bottle of sherry (RMB280) with a friend. I was back the next morning for the buffet brunch ( its hardy fare with bottomless coffee and tea (how about adding juice?) for 68 kuai. ~ My friend K-Dog wonders why every bar seems to use those bland bottled olives in their martinis. Is anyone out there using high-end garnishes? If not, why not? ~ Beijing ‘s service industry took a serious hit when Li Yan moved back to his hometown in Henan Province . He was a security guard at my office and was friendly, courteous and efficient. Whether helping to direct traffic, unloading parcels or loaning taxi money to office workers who had forgotten their wallets, he epitomized good service and will be missed. (Note: this is a guy who should be training the guards, not working as one.) ~ Finally, it being a new year and with the newsletter now eight issues and 20,000 words old, I extend thanks to six people who have gone above and beyond in backing my little e-newsletter project, whether it be in terms of testing the city’s establishments (Sherry Tan, Mike Wester), giving background on the food and drink scene (Frank Siegel, Don St. Pierre) or providing moral support (Ro King, Kevin Dempsey). I really do appreciate their help and that of everyone else who has written to me. Cheers, BB.