Night three began at KAAB, in Xintiendi, a contrived area reminiscent of, though more upscale than our in Houhai. KABB has a warm and cozy feel, but the seating is overly tight, with tables barely big enough to hold a plate and a drink, thus bringing us to, Conversation II: musical chairs:
in Houhai. KABB has a warm and cozy feel, but the seating is overly tight, with tables barely big enough to hold a plate and a drink, thus bringing us to, Conversation II: musical chairs:
[Two attractive - by some standard in some place, surely. No!? Oh well - patrons enter the bar, planning to have drinks and dinner with two friends who will arrive a bit later.]
D-Rock: “Table for four.”
Hostess looks around, and around, and around, seeming unable to decide, or to care about, where to seat us. I optimistically motion to a nearby table.
Hostess: “That’s reserved.”
We swivel some more. Just as I’m getting dizzy, she turns and points to a table in the corner. “There.”
D-Rock: “That has a reservation sign, too.”
She frowns for a second, then steps forward and removes the sign, and says, “There.“
Guess what happens five minutes later? A group of eight comes in and sits down beside us. They obviously lack space since, ta da, the hostess just gave it to us. So much for planning ahead. We offer them one of our TV-tray sized tables. That leaves us one and D-Rock loses his happy shiny feeling. “I want to go to a place where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came,” he says, and since we no longer have room for Kraft-D and Alpha Veda, we decide to skip dinner, have a quick drink, and meet them elsewhere. This brings us to, Conversation III: Shaky, not stirring:
A waitress approaches our table and gives us a blank look. I translate this as having four possible meanings: 1) “What would you like to order?”, 2) “Why did you people have to come here and make my life more difficult?”; 3) “If we switch to a PDA-based F&B ordering system linked to all Blue Frog and KABB branches, we could realize economies of scale, save on HR costs and invest in bigger tables; 4) “If the chicken came before the egg, did the burger come before the bun?”
Me: “Martini, please.”
Nods and starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. I would like vodka, not gin.”
Starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. I want it stirred, not shaken. “
Looks both bored and bewildered, if that’s possible, and in KABB it apparently is.
“I want it stirred [stirring motion], not shaken [shaking motion].”
Nods and starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. No olives, please.”
Perhaps it was the stop-and-go nature of our conversation, but this last request seemed to cause a spark, a kind of brain ignition, a realization that I cared about my drink, even if she didn’t.
“Okay, you want a martini, vodka, stirred, no olives.”
And there you go: even sans Ouija board it IS possible to reach a disembodied spirit if you try hard enough. The martini (50 kuai) won’t win any awards, but it was okay, and anyway, Bob suggested I test his staff on that drink, so with my mission completed, we headed for…
Paulaner, where in the early eve they seem to have 10 employees per patron, with every one of them trying to be helpful in a get-in-the-way kind of way. There is all the lebensraum you would expect from a place that charges 65 kuai for a gin and tonic and 68 kuai for draft beer (I had Munich dark; it lacked any bite at all.) Nice ambience and decor, especially the main bar, but perhaps we were too early to feel the Zeitgeist. Kraft-D, ever the number cruncher, was unimpressed. “They have ambitious pricing here,” he said. “It’s just upsetting to me to pay that price for this beer.” I was perturbed that the staff was so evasive about giving me an official receipt. They eventually told me to take their house receipt to the door for an official one. (Are you kidding?) Let’s see, I pay 68 for a beer and it’s my job to run around for a receipt. Pass.
Since we skipped out on the food at KABB and Paulaner, we headed to the Manchurian Special Flavor Jiaozi Restaurant (the branch in Beijing ranks among my favorite spots for cheap Chinese food). You want service? How about a place that gets the beer flowing – 8 kuai, 500 ML bottle – while you wait in line? We feasted on very tender pork ribs, three kinds of dumplings, eggplant, a beef and potato dish, and steamed tofu with gravy, chili and cilantro. It was solid fare, and the staff was friendly, though the service is quicker and the food hotter in Beijing (try the Dongzhimen branch).
After going relatively low end, we decided to move up a dozen notches and head to the new South Beauty. This place is lovely, being surrounded by water fountains and plenty of lawn. The bar has an intimate feeling and from where we sat we could hear only the murmur of distant conversation and an occasional burst of laughter. I felt like I was at a ritzy guest house where the owners had said, “We’ll be back in a few hours. Just relax and the staff will look after you.” Of course, in this case we had to pay, but with the myriad rooms and seating options, the garden out back and the relaxed atmosphere, it was worth it, if only to feel my blood pressure drop and my muscles relax by the minute. There is a blackjack table nearby, though you can only play for drinks. As for the drinks, AV described her fruit smoothie (50 kuai) as “creamy and fresh,” while my martini (65 kuai) was decent, but came with three olives, despite my polite requests for an olive-free world. D-Rock noted that given the place’s potential for cigar and Whisky lovers, the selection of the latter is quite weak, with only a few widely available brands. Even so, South Beauty is a nice change of pace and about the most extreme contrast you could get to…
Zapata’s, Shanghai’s equivalent of Browns in Beijing and Carnegie’s in Taipei, which means wild, all-night fun. The place has a nice open Mexico-themed layout on two levels, both of which have dancing areas. The bottom one includes a large bar top, on which people get up and dance (in fact, that’s the whole point). From a Grease medley to ABBA, the music had the unpretentious clientele in high spirits and at one point a staff member jumped on the bar and started pouring tequila into the mouths of patrons below. As much fun as that sounds, the catch-22 is that you always end up with a few people who get too drunk and turn into jerks, but such is life. You can’t have everything (including, in one case, drinks. side of the bar to order drinks and a bouncer back there crudely waved me away, pointing to the front, which was completely packed. As he stood there with arms crossed in a macho pose and stared at the crowd, someone moved in front of me and ordered. Now the bouncer realized that he was in the wrong, but rather than help me get my drink and salvage the situation – in other words, be “professional” – he stayed in tough-guy mode. The bartender finally spotted me and just as he handed over the drinks, the bouncer waves me away again. Nice job, Einstein. Yes, these things happen, but these things also need to be pointed out so we can minimize their occurrence). Anyway, Zapata’s is a fun place, especially if you’re with a group of friends, and is apparently crazy on ladies’ night (Wednesdays). If you get claustrophobic, pop into the spacious courtyard outside for a breather (it backs onto Sasha’s). By the way, the coat check and lockers are nice touches.
Next up was Cotton’s, which seemed to be headquarters for the young white professional crowd. It’s in a three-floor house, with seating outside, although we stuck to the first floor (I know, I know, I missed out on the fireplaces). “It’s like a big house party,” said AV. Yes, except that you have to pay 40 kuai for a beer and get bumped nonstop by other patrons. “It’s 65-70 percent Caucasian and they are drinking, drinking, drinking,” said Kraft-D, marveling at the cash flow. Cotton’s is apparently a hip place to rent a room and play board games or just hang out with friends. Gin and tonic: 38; bottled beer: 38-45; martini: 45; sound system downstairs: 3/10.
D-Rock picked our last stop: Plan B. This place had a Wayne’s World / recreation room feel to it, evident in everything from the wall poster art to the rickety railing. D-Rock describes it as having “one of the world’s largest repositories of dot matrix printouts featuring men with mullets.” And if you love alternative rock and punk, then you’ll love Plan B. Funnily enough, I was talking to one of the owners and watching the Olympics when an employee walked over, stuck the remote control between our heads, and turned off the TV. Nice work, buddy. Fortunately, a firm word got the TV back on – just in time to see the end of the women’s 1500-meter speed skating gold medal race, among the most inspiring of the games (did I mention that curling is a sport?). With Plan B closing for the night, D-Rock and I initiated Plan C and headed home.
(From Beijing Boyce XII, first emailed on March 12, 2006)