Beijing Boyce: A year of booze news…

Time flies faster than a bottle of free Johnnie Walker Blue empties: October marks year one of this blog and year two of my e-newsletter. Both have steadily grown in circulation and I owe thanks to all those who have taken time to read them and to give support, inside information and constructive criticism.

In the end, the blog and newsletter come down to people. I have enjoyed meeting that broad swath of Beijing’s diverse (and often eccentric) bar population. They include the following (no doubt, I’ve forgotten some people – let me know and I’ll append this list):

– Owners such as Leo (Cheers), Keiko & Roger (First Cafe), Henry Li (Rui Fui), Phil & Sally (Phil’s Pub), Stefan & Johannes (Cafe Pause), Russell & Christine (The Pavilion), Roger (TRIO), Philip (Browns), Dave (5:19), Joseph & Lee (Cafe Europa), Cho (Bed), Amy & Jon (Stone Boat), Ai Wan (China Doll), and Jennifer & Frank (John Bull Pub, Sequoia Cafe)

– Managers such as Glenn (Pavillion, Browns, Frank’s Place, Paddy O’Shea’s), Joop (China Doll, The Bank, Mingle), Chad & Luge (The Rickshaw), Phoebe (Icehouse) and Jacky (Browns, Suzie Wong), and bartenders such as George & Echo (First Cafe, Midnight, Q Bar), Austin (Midnight), Alex (Phil’s Pub) and Badr (I’ve only had his drinks once, but they were good).

– Fellow patrons such as Agent Red Wolf, M-Dawg, Eddie O, Sir Campell T, Special K, Jolly, Winopete, O-Zone, The Flash, P-Dong, p3wong, The Cellar Rat, Kraft-D, The Rock, Funky Walker and Doctor E.

– Those who have helped bring readers, including Will at Imagethief and Dan at China Law Blog for links, the guys at Chinalyst for the blog award, Mark at CRI, Mike & Paul at that’s Beijing, and Adam, Reid & Gabe at the Insider’s Guide, whoever is behind the Yan Xishan blog, as well as everyone who has passed on the newsletter or passed on the link to the blog.

Others who have helped out: Don, Trevor, Kenn, Dan, Ali, Roger, Samantha, Ro, Janalyn, Kay, ET, GL, SM, Tom, Peter, Desmond, Finella, Adhiyanto, Traci, Bjorn, Hugh, Katy, Ben, Greg, Meg… my First Cafe buddies Oliver, Stefan, Joan, Kay, Janet, Herbert, Jason, Ping, Ken & Ken… the Friday night Sequoia wine crew, especially Alain, Alan, Arnault, Paul, Gabe and Jenn… the members of the Bourbon Rye and Whisk(e)y League (sorry I haven’t organized more events)… Mark “The Prince of Pinyin” Swofford (a good friend in Taiwan crucial to getting my two blogs going)… and many, many more.

The bar industry is not an easy one. Great places disappear along with the not-so-great ones, and those who venture into it are a diverse and usually optimistic bunch – and are usually good fun, too.

Once again, thanks to all those who have supported the blog and the newsletter over the past two years. As always, eat, drink and be merry. Cheers, Boyce

(If you’d like to get the newsletter, send an email to beijingboyce@yahoo.com with “sign me up” in the subject line. )

Zimbu goes Zim-boo! The weekend Halloween party wrap-up

gracemonkey1.JPGHalloween in the Beijing Boyce household brings out the swinger in some. Specifically, it is the only time each year that Zimbu – the plush monkey left behind in South Korea ten years ago by my friend Jen who left for Hamburg to get married and asked me to hang on to her collectible Beanie Baby as it is apparently climbing in value by 20 percent annually – gets out on the town. (Jen better figure in some depreciation on this little critter given the amount of beer, lipstick and sweat with which he’s been anointed over the past decade).

Anyhow, safely affixed to my shoulder, Zimbu made his first stop last Friday at the Altruistic Alcoholics bash at The Rickshaw, held to raise funds for migrant children. Manager Chad Lager and owner Kris Ryan dressed as Homer and Marge Simpson – Kris seems surprisingly comfortable in a strapless. The spot overflowed with party-goers who drank enough Halloween spirits that the charity took home over 4,000 kuai.

rickshaw_marge_and_homer.jpg
Kris and Chad: A scary couple…

The next stop for the monkey on the move was Mingle – a scary place given the wait staff / models dressed as sexy nurses, maids and, in one case, Pipi Longstocking (with the emphasis on stockings). By scary, I mean that having a randy monkey, even a plush one, among models brings a certain risk that only a half dozen double banana daiquiris can mitigate. Meanwhile, yours truly indulged in the Halloween cocktail, which sported two red hot peppers attached to the glass as horns. The devil is in the details, as they say. Most of the patrons dressed as Block 8 regulars – oh wait, those weren’t costumes.

Saturday night saw Zimbu riding shotgun on the shoulder again as we headed to Alfa to hang with Special K, whose costume was either that of a prep boy or the best-dressed man in Newfoundland. As rain pounded the roof of the enclosed deck, Zimbu engaged in small talk with various devils, angels, French maids, and whatnot. All in all, quite a tame weekend in comparison to the near-fight that ensued last Halloween at Rui Fu.

TRIO: contenders in two fell swoops

Two recent moves by TRIO remind me of the overnight transformation of the Boston Celtics into contenders – sorry, the NBA is about to start and basketball is on my mind. Before I get to that, a little background:

TRIO opened in May 2006 in the Lido area and featured three components:

  • A reincarnation of the city’s oldest non-hotel bar, Frank’s Place, at ground level
  • A seventy-seat New York-style grill and piano bar, The Park Grill, up top
  • The high-end wine-centric The Cellar in, no surprise, the basement

Frank’s Place is doing fine, with regular improvements to the deck helping, but The Park Grill and The Cellar struggled. Two moves substantially shake things up.

First, The Cellar was rented to a company that operates eight wine bars in Seoul under the name Le Cave. Expect a diverse clientele as Cave aims to bring in the regulars and reach out to the large Korean and Japanese crowds patronizing the area.

Second, The Park Grill will transform into SALT, with former Alameda partner Gaby Alves and acquaintances taking over.

What does this have to do with the Boston Celtics? A few months ago, the Celtics were also-rans, with one all-star (Paul Pierce) and lots of players with potential. The team decided to win now, traded for two of the best players, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and became instant contenders.

TRIO also has its star (Frank’s Place) and now it’s teamed up with a wine bar chain with a record (Le Cave) and a former partner in an award-winning restaurant (Alameda)

There is no guarantee of success with the Celtics – one of the stars could blow out a knee, the bench might be too weak – nor is there with TRIO – maybe the location doesn’t work or maybe the new relationships will bring friction.

But shaking things up with SALT and Cave is a good move. These places stand to bring a new crowd to TRIO and give the spot a second shot.

Upping the steaks: Ex-Alameda partner to open SALT on TRIO’s top floor

This story has been sleeping in the blog queue Rip Van Winkle style…

Gaby Alves, former partner in award-winning Brazilian restaurant Alameda, plans to open a joint on the upper floor of TRIO, in the Lido area. According to someone involved in the project, Gaby will team up with another restaurateur to launch SALT – you might have seen the ads in the city’s free English-language magazines. Rumor has it the place – to focus on contemporary cuisine – will open in late November.

Whew.

I first heard about this story eight weeks ago, but have avoided posting due to requests from several of the parties involved.

Being on board with a former partner of Alameda, one of Beijing’s perennial restaurant award winners, is a nice move by TRIO, and I expect SALT will bring in new clients to the benefit of all. I’ll have more on this in my next post…

Trouble in Tongli II, The Cellar and the Cave

Renovations were apparently done with super speed as China Doll is open again (see Tongli in Trouble). They had just enough time to change some light bulbs and buy new bottle openers for the bar.

Meanwhile, in Lido, The Cellar is now Cave or, to be less cryptic, the wine bar called the Cellar that was part of Trio,  which includes Frank’s Place and Park Grill, has been sold to a Korean company that is re-launching it as Cave. Tonight’s opening party drew a sizeable crowd and I’ll have more on this soon.

For now, it’s time for Halloween fun…