First impressions: Havana

Havana, which opened last Sunday in the Grand Millennium Hotel, is a cozy bar with a high ceiling and comfy wicker chairs (a sturdy frame and firm cushions make for bar seating at its finest). Heavy on dark wood tones, Havana offers a long table for 12, five tables for four, and seating for 15 along the bar, behind which are several hundred Cuba-themed photos (apparently, two are identical, so those with nothing better to do can amuse themselves by trying to find them). The only annoyance is the overly harsh light emitting from beneath the bar lip.

The venue seems a bit small for a live band, but management informs that the patio just outside Havana will soon be opened with seating for 80. The band hails from San Francisco, played some rhythm and blues and some funk, and included a female singer who donned an extremely cool canary yellow Alice in Wonderland-style hat.

As for drinks, fellow patron PA said the GT suffices (the tonic is provided on the side thus allowing one to adjust its strength) and that the Margarita is “fine.” Cocktails are RMB60 up, with soft drinks and bottled beer starting at RMB45, all drinks coming with a 15 percent service charge. Oddly, there were no bar snacks.

First impressions: Tun

Expect a mix of historical and industrial at Tun, the newest spot from Huxley, whose joint Nanjie in the Sanlitun South zone is a shot glass’ throw away. Tun – from “tun” in “Sanlitun” – shares the same strip as Rock n’ Roll and is a spacious abode with high ceilings, a loft, and a décor that includes hutong touches, faux antique Chinese tables, and a turret style DJ booth you have to see to believe (think The Great Wall.

The main floor includes a mingling and dancing area with high tables and a bar. A smaller space behind features a second bar. The loft has potential, though it looks somewhat bleak at the moment with its white walls, dreary lighting, and seating more appropriate for an office lobby.

As for drinks, a rack of a dozen shooters is RMB100, with 44 options. Cocktails tend to be RMB25-35, with martinis at RMB40, while bottled beer ranges from Tiger and Qingdao at RMB15 to Duvel at RMB45. The menu defines annoying: small white lettering + a dark background + a dimly lit bar = headache. (Tip to bar owners: If your staff has to use lighters so customers can see the menu, you need to rethink the design.)

By the way, Huxley is no doubt aware of the potential of cannibalizing the Nanjie crowd and has a niche demographic in mind, but what that will be, who knows. One friend said this place might do well as a cross between Browns and Poachers: crank the tunes, let the drinks flow, get some sports on the screen… it could work.

Shots: Yin Bar, Stone Boat, Enoteca, Suzie’s Cafe

The “charity marathon” at the Emperor Hotel’s Yin Bar raised RMB26,000 for the Red Cross, says Miao Wong of Acupuncture, which spun tunes during the event.

Meanwhile, The Stone Boat reports that its earthquake relief concert last weekend raised RMB22,000 for Mercy Corps and RMB4,000 for The Red Cross.

Barring any last-minute problems, wine bar Enoteca - which has two branches in Shanghai – should open in The Place next week.

Finally, she has a club, she has a lounge, she has a deck, and now The World of Suzie Wong’s has a cafe. The cafe is on the first floor, next door to the double entendredly (yes, I realize that ain’t a word) restaurant named Fat Mother restaurant.

Sips and gulps: Ian Sherman benefit, Frank’s Place, Tao

Friday night (May 30, 7:30 PM) will see a slew of bands band together at a D-22 to raise funds for Time Out music editor Ian Sherman, who is fighting cancer. The lineup includes Carsicks Cars, Arrows Made of Desire, RandomK(e), PK14, and Snapline, among others (RMB100 at the door).

Saturday night sees Frank’s Place (v2) celebrate its second anniversary, from 7 PM. The event will raise funds for the Red Cross.

Those saddened by the closing of Mare Nostrum will be gladdened to know that two of the chefs have shifted to Tao (Lucky Street). (Thanks to reader S&B for the tip.) The weekend brunch (noon-3 PM) includes eight starters, seven main courses and three desserts, from RMB168 (30 percent off during June). Free-flow Spanish sparkling wine is an extra RMB50. To reserve a table, call 5867-0209.

(Nearly) free pour: 100 wines for 150 kuai

By Jim Boyce

I wrote it before and I will write it again: consumers in Beijing enjoy amazing value when it comes to wine tasting. One recent trend is that of wine distributors offering up good chunk of their portfolios for tasting at minimal cost. Over the past seven months, the city’s imbibers have enjoyed:

  • Torres China’s Taste of Nations, with more than 150 wines (RMB188)
  • Palette Vino’s late 2007 and early 2008 tastings of more than 100 wines (RMB100)
  • GELIPU’s and Winelink’s tasting of more than 100 wines from Australia and South Africa respectively (RMB 100).

Add in the Hilton’s Food and Wine Experience (RMB230) and it adds up to consumers being able to taste more than 1,000 wines for about less than RMB1,000. Not bad value, eh?

Next up: the Global Wine Extravaganza by ASC Fine Wines, which will feature more than 100 wines from 22 wineries for RMB150. This one comes with a twist: doing the pouring will be representatives from the wineries, which include Joseph Phelps, Seghesio, Trimbach, Meerlust, Santa Rita, Masi, Ginestet, Taylor, Robert Skalli, Henri Bourgeois, and more. The event will be held at 1949: The Hidden City on June 3 from 4 to 8 PM. To register, contact Helen Lu at HelenLu@asc-wines.com / 6587-3803.