Black partiers descended on Sanlitun last night to enjoy a bar scene from which the South China Morning Post says they will soon be banned. In an update, SCMP cited another owner yesterday to bolster its claim that Beijing is telling bars to ban blacks and Mongolians during the Olympics. The owner is cited as saying the measures “will all happen in 24 hours.” SCMP ends its update with an attempt to define the word “anticlimactic”:
Tony Perkins, an African-American sports presenter for China Central Television, said he had not experienced any racism during his six months in China while working for the state TV station, but he said he was concerned by the bar owners’ complaints.
“If this is policy, then it is a very bad policy – more so for a country holding an Olympics,” he said.
I don’t know if Tony is a reader, but it might ease his mind to know I talked to three Sanlitun bar owners yesterday who said the police did not tell them to ban blacks. To be fair, SCMP acknowledges the dearth of evidence – and even posits a reason: “Further investigation found that not all bars in the newly revamped area known for its nightlife had been ordered to refuse black customers, suggesting police are targeting specific bars.” Apparently the policy is so secret that the police are keeping it from all but a few bar owners who can be trusted to reveal it to foreign journalists.
Here are my notes from a pub crawl last night that covered Sanlitun north and south. To maintain the sensationalism, I bold the name of each bar where I saw black patrons. (An asterisk denotes a bar in which I looked in but did not stay, mostly because it was too crowded.)
The North Side
Luga’s: Since that two-day shutdown a few weeks back, this place is busy, busy, busy. The staff pumps out comfort food, beer, and margaritas to a ravenous crowd. I see black people eat burritos.
Cheers: Though traffic is lighter than usual, the Xinjiang band rocks the joint as always. Black people play pool.
Kokomo: Partiers are shank to flank on the rooftop and it’s a struggle to reach the bar. Black people enjoy beverages.
The Saddle: The deck holds a good-sized crowd, though there are only a few patrons inside. I see black people upstairs and downstairs, including an acquaintance from the bar business who says the media is calling him with interview requests. (The obvious question: How do you plan to ban yourself?)
Second Floor: There is not one black person to be found! Then again, there are only four patrons. Sample size is too small …
Poachers*: The place seethes with dancers, including… you got it… black people.
Shooters*: The street outside is curb to curb partiers and there is barely breathing room in Shooters. It wins tonight’s “first place I heard ‘Hips Don’t Lie'” award. It ain’t 2008 Sanlitun if you don’t hear Shakira.
The South Side
Nanjie*: What can I say – the partiers are out in force tonight. This place is full and dozens of patrons – including black ones – spill into the street.
Salsa Caribe*: Black people hang out in the entranceway.
The mom-and-pop shop near Caribe *: Black people enjoy beverages (again!)
Tun: The place has a light crowd, but the vibe is OK. It needs to clean the beer lines or change the Stella keg, because my draft is off.
Final results: 10 bars checked, 8 bars with blacks. I also saw black patrons pretty much everywhere I walked. In fact, while I stood with my black friend in front of Tongli Studio, I saw black people go by, which is observing blacks to the second degree. (Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t in the spirit of my research, given that the contestants for a Club China Doll bikini contest were pouring out of the building.)
What I didn’t see, and this is a first, is any lady bar or DVD touts as I walked along that strip of copycat bars on Sanlitun North proper (I usually get more than a dozen “offers”). In fact, the only proposition I received was on the south side, at the corner linking The Rickshaw and The Bookworm, from a stranger – people will ask so, yes, he was black – who approached me and mumbled, “Hey man, do you smoke?” I got a feeling he wasn’t talking about cigarettes.
Finally, if groups are to be banned from the bars during the Olympics, I think patrons should have a say. My vote goes to drunken frat boys wearing backwards baseball caps.