Souk: An enduring chill-out spot at Chaoyang West

Every time I leave Chaoyang West after a visit to Suzie Wong, Black Sun Bar, or Block 8, I always kick myself for not stopping in at Souk. It ranks among the first spots I visited in Beijing, at a YPHH event, on a night that ended up taking in the former Big Easy, Latino’s, and New Get Lucky.

Anyway, it has been a couple of years since my last visit, so I dropped by earlier this week and found it pretty much remains the same. The beds, the hookahs, the private areas, the laid-back atmosphere – it all adds up to a place that I can only describe as pleasant. Souk has a half-dozen German beers, starting at RMB35 for a Bitburger, and I thought the three beef fajitas OK for RMB30.

The biggest problem is the toilets – not only did the men’s not flush, but the paper towel dispenser was broken. Even so, if you are looking for a spot to get away from it all, Souk will do.

Top Five Watering Holes: Ben Shaw

top-five-watering-holes-beijing-boyce-blog-benjamin-ben-shaw
In part eleven of this series, Ben Shaw, who manages a start-up in Beijing and runs the Beijing Gourmand blog, lists his top five places to drink in the city. His blog’s Chinese name translates as “Taotie in Beijing“, with taotie being a mythical Chinese demon that devoured its own body.

Entero
I always look forward to the 29th of every month. That’s when Entero invites a Japanese butcher to serve Beijing’s tenderest steaks. The steak set comes with a side of bean sprouts, miso soup and rice, and at only 50 RMB is a great deal. The best part about the steak is that the second and third helpings get progressively tastier.

Entero has a decent, if not expansive, selection of single malts, both Scottish and Japanese, as well as bourbon and cocktails. The atmosphere is laid-back and it is one of the few places where it is comfortable to sit at the bar for long stretches of time. Entero will score well with music lovers with the option of watching videos of blues and jazz legends in the main bar, or heading into the private karaoke room to make some music of your own.

Ichikura
One of the classiest places in Beijing; going to Ichikura always makes me feel sexy. Others have already covered Ichikura pretty well, so I’ll just say that they have a great single malt selection and know the meaning of service.

G-zou
There are now several whisky bars in Beijing, but I think G-zou is the only place focusing exclusively on shochu, a Japanese spirit. The fun thing about shochu is that it can be made from nearly anything, barley, potatoes, sweet potatoes, sourgham, rice, or a combination of any of these. The flavors range from those similar to vodka, baijiu, or even tequila.

I think of G-zou as the yang to Ichikura’s yin; its also a small bar, but it’s very light and airy. The bartenders are friendly, and always remember your preferences, or remember which shochu you’ve already tried so they can recommend something new.

Lugar
Lugar is an excellent choice for a romantic night out. It has a unique single malt selection, great cocktails, awesome tapas, and the pool table is always free. It distinguishes itself from the rest of the Gulou/Nanluoguxiang joints by avoiding the whole bohemian thing. In the summer you can sit on the roof under their giant umbrellas and sip cocktails.

Tun
I don’t often go to places that get really crowded, but if I’m in the mood for a lively atmosphere then I’ll head to Tun, particularly for the Friday ladies night. Tun has a good selection of American microbrews, and it is nice to drink beer that you can actually taste.

-

Top fives:

    Yabao Lu tour: Chocolate, Treasure Island, Maggie’s, Hollywood

    More chandeliers than you could shake Tiffany’s at, more gilded pillars than you could shake Fort Knox at, morev elvet chairs than you could shake what’s left of Louis XVI at, more… well, you get the idea. Chocolate, just around the corner from Treasure Island, is over the top and in this case it is a good thing.

    Patrons get to Chocolate by riding down an escalator and entering a cavernous room that takes a page from LAN Club, complete with that sense you could pack the entire place up and move it to, say, Chengdu overnight. Three big differences: it is a lot less pretentious, the drinks are about half the price, and it has the vibe that something risque could happen at any moment.

    Expect plenty of velvet, gilding, elaborate pictures frames holding oil prints, mind-numbing techno music, and a floor show that I hear mirrors that at Treasure Island (we didn’t arrive at the right time to catch it). Oh, and faux solid gold urinals and toilets, at least in the boy’s loo.

    As for prices: A Beijing draft is RMB20, other beers start at RMB30, and a Black Russian sets you back RMB38 (so does a Mojito, though it was unavailable on this night).

    Also in the area:

    Hollywood: This place remains under chain and lock. I have to say I don’t miss the impromptu shoulder massages – and requests for tips – from the toilet attendants.

    Treasure Island: Closed on this night, though a note on the door indicated it would be open late this week, which means now.

    Maggie’s: For some time, the lads showed up but the ladies stayed away, apparently due to frequent police checks.  On this night, the demographics were reversed.

    -

    See also:
    Treasure Island:
    Where vodka meets fire breathers and pole dancers

    Sips and bites: Pepper, Song, Hatsune, All-Star, Cro-bar, and more

    The extremely annoying “lady bar” touts on the Sanlitun Village side of Sanlitun North appear to be gone – let us hope it is not just for the holidays. On my last five visits at night I have heard not a single “Sir, lady bar,” “Massage-e”, or “Sexy girl!”

    Other happenings…

    Rooftop Pepper, known for flair bartending shows that delayed drink delivery, is closed. (Hat tip to Mr. Brau and apologies to him for taking two weeks to follow up).

    Timeout reports that Song has joined the likes of places such as China Doll 3.3 that have closed for “renovations”. I thought the design was the main selling point? Or maybe the place is finally getting toilets.

    Hatsune is slated to open its Sanlitun Village branch in March, while sibling restaurant Karaiya is due a month later. Next month, the current Hatsune outlet will offer a free appetizer and bottle of sake if you say “Samurai sushi” upon ordering.

    Maxim’s in Solana has a handful of new French liqueurs, five new flavored coffees, and stocks several Chinese wines, including a Xi Xia Chardonnay at RMB88.

    All-Star, which in my mind still needs to earn the words “Sports Bar” behind its name, will reopen for dinner on the 31st. It appears the “open 24 hours” concept is falling by the wayside. A sign on the door lists the hours as 5 PM to 2 AM.

    Across the way, a new Banana Leaf is under construction, while a bit further on, Water Bar & Restaurant is slated to re-open on February 6. Meanwhile, the long-awaited Crobar is giving new meaning to the words “opening soon.”

    And over on Lucky Street, Tao gets back to business on February 1 and The Stumble Inn is looking to increase its list of 54 beers. One patron has already tried the lot.