Stay home on Saturday night after a full day of staff training and before a Sunday in the office, or answer an SMS from Eddie O and go out for “just one drink.” I recklessly chose the latter and was soon riding shotgun on a high-speed Sanlitun pub-crawl. Here are the highlights.
The Tree: With good portions of metro-sexuals (designer leather jackets mandatory), sporty types (“dress” sweatshirts mandatory), twenty-something women (heavy makeup mandatory) and groups celebrating who knows what (mugs of Qingdao mandatory), and with a dash of old-timers thrown in, The Tree is an anomaly in this student-heavy section of Sanlitun. The Tree has a nice Whiskey collection, with more than a half-dozen varieties of Bowmore and Macallan, as well as Talisker, Glenfiddich and others. (Note: It’s impossible to read the Whisky price list glued to the wall behind the bar, so a few copies for the customers would be nice.) Twelve-year-old Macallan is 50 kuai, 15-year-old Balvenie is 70 kuai and, on the cheaper end, shots of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels are 25 kuai. Fun times trying to match up Whiskey – or Belgian beer – with The Tree’s tasty pizzas.
Shooters: This place is fast becoming my favorite quick stop. Eddie O and I ordered two Qingdao at 9:30 PM and received a bill for a jaw-dropping 10 kuai. This caused him to spurt out “that’s almost grocery store prices!” He then grinned, clapped his hands three times, and pumped his arms up and down as if they were pistons. (This latter act was entirely appropriate given that he works in the car industry.) Previous visits to Shooters gave me chaperone-like symptoms, but this night saw patrons of all ages and reminded me of the early days at Browns. The music was eclectic, covering The Bee-Gees, Run DMC, Clint Black (?), ABBA and some mid-90s rock. The staff was friendly and efficient, with a “we’ve seen everything” attitude. The shooters came fast and furious as the place was bustling. Fun times again. (Note: How long before that giant pitchfork mounted on the wall is a prop in a tiff involving a drunk and/or jilted lover? Should it happen, how long after that before this place creates a commemorative shooter in honor of the victim? Just asking…)
Taniwha: We looked in, spotted only two patrons (playing pool), and headed across the hall to Cheers. Last issue I called this place Taniwhy, but now I’m leaning toward Taniwhatswrong or Taniwhawful. It is early days yet for this bar, but one hopes the management makes some changes so that we can soon call the place Taiwhanderful.
Cheers: They have Wild Turkey. They have a good happy hour. They have live Xinjiang music. One problem: when there aren’t 100 bodies in the place to absorb the sound of the drums, it is LOUD. Twenty minutes of brain-piercing snare was driving me near migraine territory, so we fled and headed to…The Dark Side…otherwise known as…
Mystique: I made my umpteenth prayer that bartenders at these kinds of places spend less time tossing bottles behind their backs, to each other, and off disco balls and into cocktail shakers, and more properly mixing the liquids within into a palatable drink. The martinis (40 kuai each) were watery, and the olives had pits, as Eddie O and I (painfully) discovered. Fortunately, the olive pick came with a sparkly bit of ribbon that distracted me from my abused molars. Other “highlights” of the visit included the subtitled karaoke-type videos playing on TVs near the bar and the high percentage of women dancing to their reflections in a shiny wall fronting the dance floor (really, who could resist an extremely long version of an Eminem song mixed to background noise from Space Invaders).
By the way, no one on staff could understand “Where’s the toilet?” in English, forcing me to act out my needs, after which the staff bent over backwards to direct me to the loo. I can see the manager leading that training session:
“Listen up, staff, when directing people to the bathroom, make them seem as though they are kings or queens heading to the throne, and what awaits them is a royal flush. As they approach, make a small circular motion with your arm as though you are winding it up, and then smoothly thrust it forth, hand extended, palm up, toward the toilet, leaning every so slightly forward as you smile widely to underscore your eagerness to serve. Okay, let’s practice that a few times and then get back to tossing bottles behind our backs…”
Shooters: We needed some mouthwash after those “martinis” and headed back to Shooters for a Qingdao. The place was still bustling… the pitchfork was still on the wall… The Knack was playing… “Come a little closer, huh, a-will ya, huh? Close enough to look in my eyes, Sharona”…
Side by Side: As Eddie O and I headed down the main strip of Sanlitun South, maneuvering around “lady bar” touts, beggars and fake CD sellers, a place called Side by Side caught my eye. Actually, the band inside caught my ear because it was playing Joan Jett‘s “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” *This* looked promising. As they say, looks are deceiving and we lasted one over-priced Qingdao (35 kuai!).
Browns: This place was comfortably packed and the Wild Turkey generously poured. We regained our breath, I made some notes and, given that I had a date with the office the next day and that Eddie O teaches free English classes on Sundays to his neighborhood peeps, we did a final gumbai and headed home.