With the Olympics officially over, it’s time to award some alternative hardware… to my winners in the Beijing nightlife scene these past few weeks.
Discipline: Bars and clubs
Every one of my half-dozen visits found this rooftop bar rocking, with some nights seeing lineups wind down the stairs of Tongli Studio. People danced, drank, and delighted in showing their national colors – and occasionally medals – thus giving the place some serious Olympic spirit. How heavy was the traffic? One co-owner says Kokomo sold 55 cases of Corona last Friday night alone.
SILVER: China Doll / Block 8
Athletes and celebrities showed up regularly and partied until the wee hours at these clubs, though the fluctuating cover charges were annoying. China Doll drew hundreds of athletes during the last week.
My four visits in three weeks had less to do with the Games and more to do with the tasty tapas, homemade rum, friendly staff, nice mix of locals and expatriates, and earthy feel. Salud transformed from an occasional stop to a regular haunt.
Discipline: Sports bars*
GOLD: The Den
With excellent pub grub (four-cheese pizza, Den burger, Den combo), a polite and efficient staff, and five TV screens (set to different events), it served sports fans well, not just Danes (the place became “The DenMark” for the Games). Add in a special menu (one beef-potato dish was shaped to look like the Olympics chop), a medals standings chart (the Mongolians clamored to update it after winning boxing gold on Sunday), and a fresh pile of China Dailies each day.
SILVER: Paddy O’Shea’s
This Irish pub endeared itself to its regulars by serving up not only the Olympics, but also a healthy dose of regular sport broadcasts, including football and hurling. On one visit, the pints poured, the “Redeem Team” scored (US-China men’s basketball game), and the patrons roared upstairs, while the hurlers, uh, hurled on the main floor.
Bronze: The concession booths
Saturday night. Check. Live beach volleyball. Check. Music. Check. Buddies. Check. What’s missing? Oh yeah. Five-kuai beer!
Hello, People’s Olympics!
(Having said that, it’s too bad the food was a disaster. If Beijing plans to feed visitors for the Paralympics the same dry goods – chocolate bars, crackers, chips, and the like – I suggest at least getting 7-ELEVEN to provide some California rolls and sandwiches.)
* Candidates: All Star, Blue Frog, Den, Hooters, Paddy O’Shea’s, Rickshaw, Room 101, and Stadium.
I originally thought these mascots silly, but every time their inflatable versions appeared on field, I couldn’t help but grin. They shimmered and jiggled, bounced and tumbled, and provided a light-hearted touch to the heavy-duty sports action. Given their behavior, I’m guessing they received unlimited quantities of that five-kuai beer.
In terms of security checks, providing directions to seats, and waving goodbye – thumb up. I also asked a volunteer in Sanlitun if she knew of any Mexican food and she directed me to the Saddle – another thumb up. However, inefficiency tended to plague the concession stands, whether in the form of a half-dozen employees processing a single order (why not start on the next person in line?) or a lack of initiative (instead of spending two hours answering “I don’t know” to hundreds of people asking if the next stand, unlike yours, has beer, why not have one of the half-dozen idea volunteers walk over and find out?). To be fair, they did say “I don’t know” with a smile.
Hotel guests could try a flight of wines that included China’s own Grace Vineyards, thus providing a nice introduction to the local vino.
The Ghana flag
I carried one of these with me and took photos of it in stadiums so I could send them to two former classmates who hail from that country but did not make it to Beijing for the Olympics. That flag drew a lot of attention, resulted in a few free drinks, and is now back in storage – pending the 2010 World Cup qualifications.
Their orange outfits were ubiquitous and so was their sense of good-natured fun.
Including a front-row seat in the upper tier for the US-Brazil women’s football final – RMB600 for 13.
The Beijing nightlife scene
People partied in bars and clubs, on rooftops and in the streets, with friends and strangers, long past 2 AM. Over the 16 days, I did a mammoth opening ceremony pub crawl, spent almost every night out with friends, met Michael Phelps and dozens of other athletes, watched incredible sports action (both on TV and in person) and, last but not least, drank with journalists who had interviewed me about whether the Olympics would be fun. Fun? Indeed.