Browns: Love It…?

In tomorrow’s blog Browns: … or Hate It

I first stumbled into Browns one year ago, on its second day of business. The place was virtually empty, but the food, drinks, service and layout, including the tiered seating and high ceilings, showed great potential (Browns: Carnegie’s Comes to the Middle Kingdom). Brown’s excellent hard launch party reinforced this:

Browns put its money where its mouth is by holding an all-night two-for-one party two weeks ago. The special didn’t suddenly end halfway through the evening when the owner panicked about losing money. It wasn’t limited to those drinks that are dirt cheap to make. And the drinks themselves were not watered down. It all raised the question: Was this really happening in Beijing? I mean, did I really witness from opening to closing – which came sometime after I left at 4 AM – Guinness and Kilkenny for a mere 17.5 kuai per pint?

I’ve now been to Browns about ten times, either for drinks or food, and it has the potential of becoming the year’s best bar.  (See No Blues for Browns for the full review.)

That potential was due to investment in hardware and software, a decent location in Sanlitun south, the unpretentiousness of the clientele and the uniqueness of the bar, at least in the Beijing market (although Agent Red Wolf called it “a big Suzie Wong’s”).

There were problems – typos littered the menu, some employees struggled with taking orders and the music left something to be desired. It was also sobering to hear someone describe Browns as “the hottest bar in town” while I listened to Michael Jackson‘s Beat It, sipped an average Gin Tonic and watched two nerdy expatriates try to pick up.

But Browns was on its way. That party kick-started many a night of good clean fun, and a few months later, it won as best new bar and best overall bar at the that’s Beijing annual awards.

A year on, Browns is slightly battered and bruised. Some key employees have recently left, most notably the supervisor, who had been on board since day one. The space behind the main room, which was to hold whiskey and tequila bars, remains unfinished. And while Browns still makes for a fun night out with friends, the crowds are sparse at times. There is also more competition, with the newest kid on the block being China Doll.

Two weeks ago, Browns marked its anniversary, and M-Dawg and I showed up to find a 50-kuai cover charge and a two-for-one special where the free drink was a beer from a serving station near the coat check. Not exactly 17.5-kuai pints of Guinness. To be fair, though, the music was good, the crowd fun, and the blue cheese wings tasty, making for a good night. (Thanks to owner Philip for giving me one of the “best customer” plaques.) 

Overall, Browns deserves credit for a solid year – its excellent Halloween party, its great selection of draft beers and the many memories it has given to those brave enough to dance on the bar top and those sensible enough to remain on solid ground. Now that the rookie campaign is over, Browns faces a substantial challenge, in Beijing’s increasingly competitive and unforgiving bar scene, of raising its game and maintaining momentum.

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