Oh, it doesn’t matter what they say in the papers
‘Cause it’s always been the same old scene
There’s a new band in town
But you can’t get the sound
From a story in a magazine…
Billy Joel, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
“The Smugglers is packed.” Never did I think those words would appear on my blog, but such was the state of affairs in Sanlitun on Friday night. I kicked off the evening with a tasting at soon-to-open Japanese restaurant Makoto (thanks to Miao Wang for the invite) and a visit to 1/5 bar, the newest component of 1949: The Hidden City. But first, the lowdown on Sanlitun less than two weeks ahead of The Olympics.
Not only was The Smugglers full but the street out front – bordered by Kai, Butterfly, and Shooters – seethed with hundreds of punters. The street at nearby Tongli Studio, where outdoor seating has been removed, saw lighter traffic although Luga’s was packed as usual.
Meanwhile, China Doll had a busy lounge, a crowded bar and dance floor, and a lineup, even before the witching hour had struck. This place has been a quick hit. By the way: 1) Expect a pat down by China Doll security at both the upstairs and downstairs entrances; 2) the place has a “no shorts or flip flops” rule; and 3) the RMB60 Gin Tonic continues to be weak, though this may soon change.
Finally, most bars on the main Sanlitun North bar strip had outdoor seating and solid crowds. Again, not one “lady bar” solicitation as I walked that strip.
On the south side, Q Bar had the atmosphere of a sauna, but I guess patrons found it tolerable given how tightly they were jammed into the place. Meanwhile, the street fronting Nanjie held hundreds of nightlife lovers, with the second-floor wraparound balcony the busiest I have seen it since the opening party.
I ended up at Tun, which had the lightest turnout of the night. I’m liking this place: the cavernous space, the high ceilings, the hutong touches, the Great Wall of China DJ booth, and, last but not least, the theme – “One World, One Drink.” Tun has excellent potential as an events venue.
Even better, its Friday night ten-kuai drink special makes “I’ll buy the next round” hard to resist, so I parked with music scene acquaintances RT and DM. The latter expounded on the need for “a great dive bar” in Beijing, what he describes as a “lowdown, last call, no hope place.” With its rough and ready fixtures, signs proclaiming “ignorance is strength” and “protect your daughters,” and a diverse and sometimes dubious clientele, the former Sunset Bar & Grill once served that niche, says he. I am hoping he takes up my offer to expand, in writing, on the “great dive bar” theme.
Anyway, I started the night at Japanese restaurant Makoto, which will open in China Central Place on Tuesday (RSVP-only until August 15). Some items I sampled might be too subtle for my rough tastes – these include “cucumber mint ‘noodle’ salad’” and “tomato tartare with bean salad.” But others I did like, including: the tempura (the prawns remained juicy inside); the sea scallop on pork belly and potato puree, with cubes of spiced apple around the sides (an interesting mix of tastes and textures; and the fresh ginger. Makoto is large, with seating at both tables and at cooking stations, and a lounge that looks nearly finished.
As for 1/5, I now know what 1949: The Hidden City considers to be “old school” music – The Stones, The Beatles, and Billy Joel (hence the quote above). The building was formerly a factory for making the blades on meat-slicing machines. Now the first floor is dominated by an island bar – with a soft arm rest – about ten meters long. Expect dark wood, leather, and cream paint, and what feels a bit like a hotel bar but with the added luxury of views of a pleasant courtyard. The upper floor includes private areas and two dancing poles. RMB39 and up for beer, RMB49 and up for drinks; expect a friendly but aggressive staff.
Note: I’ll soon have the Saturday and Sunday night parts of the weekend wrap and will also begin running my Olympics bar picks this week.