Yikes! I promised to make my picks before that’s Beijing announces the winners of its bars and clubs awards tonight. Here are ten quick ones, with five qualifiers -I don’t necessarily think my picks will win awards, they aren’t necessarily my favorite places, I haven’t been to every spot nominated, I’m no bars or club expert nor do I play one on TV, and I’m spending only an hour on this and might have missed someone (Zing by Doodoo’s still open?).
Best new bar: The Rickshaw – This place has delivered, with excellent wings and burritos, a friendly staff, an unpretentious atmosphere and a good happy hour – it’s a nice fit to the Beijing market. It’s also increasingly popular with the wireless crowd. A shout out to co-nominees China Doll (it would get my vote as best new club, if there only were such a category) and Pepper (I’ve only visited once, but it has potential).
Best wine selection: My definition of “best” includes a combination of quantity of choice, quality of choice, and price. My vote goes to Palette Vino, which has an excellent selection, reasonable prices and a tasteful tasting area where you can give a bottle or two a test run. Write-in vote consideration goes to Café Europa.
Best place to start the night: In support of those who line their stomachs with food before liquor, this is a three-way tie among The Den (half-price pizzas and drinks, 5-10 PM), The Tree (more pizza, this time with Belgian beer) and The Rickshaw (great pub grub and cheap Qingdao, 4-8 PM). If it’s Friday night, they take second billing behind Sequoia Café (Sanlitun branch) and its weekly wine tasting / BBQ.
Best outdoor terrace: Again, it’s a three-way tie, this time between a rooftop (Q Bar), a patio (Pavillion) and something more secluded, yet still central (The Stone Boat Café).
Best for cheap drinks: For a few quick drinks before heading to other nearby bars, it’s Shooters; for a longer stop and a chat with friends, it’s Phil’s Pub.
Best sports bar: Given the hurdles I faced trying to catch NBA playoff games a few months ago, this is an easy (and, yes, a personal) one. The winner is – well, there is no winner.
Best happy hour: For its food and drink combination, The Den, though Bar Blu gets kudos for its creative concept, Cheers for its 15-kuai Wild Turkey shots, and Centro for providing high-end value.
Best place to bring a date: The Tree is an all-purpose date place – with plenty of good drink, good food, and a no-pressure environment that can still feel intimate even when it’s crowded. An added bonus is that it won’t break most people’s budgets.
Best events / parties: Frank Siegel gets this one not for the popular quiz night he leads at Tim’s Texas BBQ, but for – and this is a write-in vote – the creative events and relaxed atmosphere he creates for the Friday night wine events at Sequoia Café (Sanlitun branch).
Best cocktails: The Press Club has good drinks and short-lived Wonder Bar put together a decent martini or two, but for a mix of quality and creativity, nobody beats Q Bar.
I’ll be back at noon to cover the Bar / Club of the Year award…