Coming soon – The Legation Quarter: Ex-US Embassy turned restaurant and bar complex

This is the first in a series of posts on four places projected to open over the next few months. Tomorrow: the new China Doll.

(Photos: The Legation Quarter)

I had yet to enjoy watching the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, I remained unaware that the Black Eyed Peas provide the ideal beat for apartment cleaning, and I could still fit into my good black jeans – all these things were true when The Legation Quarter, the most anticipated food and beverage project in this city, was first scheduled to open more than a year ago.

How times have changed.

I toured The Legation Quarter last week and ran into the man most associated with the project, Handel Lee (Three on the Bund, The Courtyard, RBL), who outlined several buildings before marketing director Lulu Liu took over. Word is that some venues will open in mid-May (see below).

The Legation Quarter is big and, in many ways, beautiful, so in the words of BEP, “Let’s get it started.”

Like many of Lee’s projects, this venue is laden with history. According to the company brochure, five of the Legation Quarter’s buildings date from 1903 and were built to house the U.S. Embassy during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty. The 170,000-square-foot space later served as the Dalai Lama’s residence, a state guest house, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices. Additional buildings and an underground space have been added to house a club, a bar, and other establishments.

Here’s a lineup of some key projects.

Projected opening: mid-May

- Maison Boulud (back center in image above), “a French concept restaurant by award-winning chef Daniel Boulud from New York,” according to the brochure. The ground floor includes a bar, lounge and main dining room; the second floor, accessible by two staircases, holds smaller dining rooms.

- The Legation Center for the Arts (right front), which will host exhibitions, film programs and lectures. The rooftop offers good views of the old post office and train station as well as Tiananmen.

Projected opening: mid-June

- Mission (right top), the 1400-square-meter nightclub portion of Legation Quarter, which will include a lounge, VIP rooms and deck space. Lee says that a New York-London outfit is handling the project. The brochure says Mission “is sure to blaze a trail across the sky of Beijing’s nightlife” (let’s hope they have fire extinguishers).

- Teatro (right middle), an Italian restaurant; this building will include a wine cellar and a shop that sells bread, cheese, olive oil, and other goods.

Projected opening: mid-July

- Shiro Matsu (left top), a Japanese restaurant.

- Tian Di Yi Jian (left bottom, barely in image), a Chinese restaurant “embedded” in a furniture showroom.

The Legation Quarter will also include a 650-square-meter underground theater.

This project is ambitious and, given the delays, obviously not an easy one to complete. I have no idea about the rent, but large expatriate kitchen staffs do not come cheap. Maison Boulud seems especially promising as it could become a must visit for US business and government delegations, among others. The Legation Quarter has potential for event launches, weddings and so on. It’s hard to say how many people will come for, say, Italian or Japanese food, but I guess individual vendors will shoulder at least some of the responsibility of bringing in patrons.

A cutaway of Maison Boulod

7 thoughts on “Coming soon – The Legation Quarter: Ex-US Embassy turned restaurant and bar complex”

  1. Any chance the rumor of Icehouse making a comeback at this location is true?

    I have a feeling though that location will be the demise of the Legation Quarter. Who regularly hangs out in Qianmen?

  2. @ Chris,

    I asked about Icehouse and was told it will not reopen in The Legation Quarter.

    Re location, the owners will need smart niche promotion and marketing. For example, Maison Boulod should target US government and business delegations, as it plans to offer high-end cuisine in a historical setting (besides being the former US Embassy, it was here that Zhou and Kissinger met ahead of Nixon’s 1971 visit).

    Making the project work as a whole won’t be easy, but I have to give Handel Lee credit – this thing is a wonder of logistics given the numerous tenants and that he has put it together on ministry-owned land. If it works, he is going to look like a genius.

    Cheers, Boyce

  3. @ Yan Xishan,

    Well, you are going to have to get past at least three security guards first. Better get your troops training.

    Cheers, Boyce

  4. The Legation Quarter has opened a new set of restaurants and bars under one roof – Shiro Matsu Japanese, Agua Spanish, a bar/club called Hex and rooftop bar – Fez.
    All very sexy looking spaces.
    I ate at the Tapas Bar in Agua – great flavoured tapas in a warm and fun environment.

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