Hard to find? Pop-up maps for Chocolate, Ichikura, Chuan Ban, and more

beijing-boyce-obiwan-kenobi
If only I had a pop-up map...

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I regularly get asked about how to find a particular bar or restaurant (note: I prefer those types of calls before midnight on weekdays). Given the new pop-up map feature on this site, I’ll run a couple of posts about some of the harder to find places in town.

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Where is Chocolate?

Two parts LAN (décor), two parts Treasure Island (entertainment and clientele), one dash CJW (ascending seating areas), and a handful of potential trouble (those vodka shots can catch up on you), this over-the-top, put-you-under-the-table club is here.

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Where is Ichikura?

This cozy Japanese whiskey and cocktail joint, with room for 12 along the bar, a couple of small private rooms, about 100 single malts, and a get-away-from-it-all vibe, is here.

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Where is Ginkgo?

Formerly known as Room 101 and currently the beachhead for drinkers in Andingmen, this place, with a decent range of beers, a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, and regular live music, is here.

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Where is Chuan Ban?

This typically packed Sichuan restaurant, with reasonable prices and more than enough pepper power for the vast majority of spicy food fans, is here.

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Where is Obiwan?

This three-story joint with a dance floor, bars, lounge spaces, and a rooftop deck, not to mention the honor of nearly causing Mr. Brau’s shaved head to freeze solid when we spent an hour circling Houhai in an attempt to find it late one winter night, is here.

First hockey, now curling? With Shanghai dumplings to boot…

beijing-boyce-shanghai-dumplings-curling-men-with-broomsI popped into Shanghai Dumpings & Noodles, just around the corner from Apertivio, with NC last night for a bite to eat. The chicken, mushroom, and rice combo was tasty except, well, there were no mushrooms and RMB18 is a bit pricey for such basic fare. We also ordered two trays of dumplings – pork (RMB16) and shrimp (RMB21). While the fillings were OK, the wraps were too dry and hung in my stomach like half-cooked French fries. As for drinks, a Coke runs RMB5, while Tsingtao is RMB10. On the value scale, it didn’t quite cut it, given that a burrito and soda at Side Saddle is RMB50 or a sandwich and soda at Le Petit Gourmand is RMB47 and up.

What made the place memorable is that its lone TV showed… curling. Yes, that fast-paced sport where a player – between smoke breaks – throws “rocks” down a sheet of ice, while his or her teammates “sweep” with brooms, all an attempt to get their marker closest to the bull’s eye.

First hockey at Goose and Duck, and now curling (Sweden versus Canada) at Shanghai Dumplings and Noodles. It’s enough to warm a Canadian’s heart…

How to get a hangover: Punk, Centro, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Chocolate, and more

I go out quite a bit but usually display enough self-control to avoid hangovers. The problem is events where the booze is free and flowing – an all-you-can-drink Japanese joint, a wine tasting with unlimited pours, a wedding or business dinner where “ganbei” is the rule.

A few of those converged over a thirty-hour period at the tail end of last week and gave me the worst brain-pounding, I-will-never-drink-again hangover of the millennium. The key event: my best friend’s wedding, which involved a few too many baijiu shots. An unexpected follow-up: I had a first date afterward and, having forewarned the poor woman ahead of time of the state of my condition, showed up to find out her preferred cocktail was… milk.

A few notes on some places visited during a two-night spree:

- Hong Kong Jockey Club: Near the Legendale Hotel, this spacious and luxurious venue has a large lobby, high ceilings, and plenty of marble and plush carpets. I attended an event for Louis Roderer wines, organized by Links Concept, and downed a few glasses of Kristal (a bottle in a restaurant would cost about as much as, uh, the rent on my apartment for a month, so, yes, I indulged).

- Chocolate: The best combination of over-the-top fun, good service, reasonably priced drinks, and decor in town. We ordered the Russian Standard vodka, which is great value at RMB238 per bottle (mixers cost extra), and enjoyed the floor show, the general wildness, and a few shots. (Apparently, I became engaged in a dispute about my country’s virtues but it, fortunately for me, turned into hugs all around.)

- Punk: I know people who love this place, so we will have to agree to disagree. I find the drinks are overpriced (RMB50 for a Rum and Coke), the layout mundane, and the place to have as much charm as a school auditorium.

- Golden [Something]: I can’t remember the full name, which is fine, since I won’t be back. This is one of those hostess bars where half-bored female employees feed patrons pieces of fruit on sticks, keep the Johnnie Walker and Heineken flowing, occasionally say “ganbei”, and grimace as people take turns slaughtering songs KTV-style. I just don’t get the appeal of these places. Next…

- Suzie Wong: This old standby remains among the “must see” bars when I take visitors on a Beijing bar crawl. We had a bottle of Jose Cuervo 1800, which people at my table, when they weren’t dancing, mixed with… cranberry juice? I’ll have mine straight, please.

- Centro: Another old standby, the place was packed to the max on Saturday night, with every table full and plenty of people standing about. Despite this being a pretty pricey place, there was no sign of an economic recession here.

An Xiang Fu Dong: A Hubei restaurant across from the Kuntai Hotel. Though I was saturated with baijiu (this would be at the wedding), the food stood out as tasty and extremely good value.

The Rickshaw: The reality show that could (should) have been

When The Rickshaw picked up a handful of prizes at the then-that’s Beijing (now The Beijinger) bar and clubs awards in 2007, I suggested that a reality TV would be perfect to capture the antics of the three main personalities at the place: (from left to right) Chad lager, Kris Ryan, and Luga. To quote that post:

The Rickshaw’s Chad, Kris and Luge [Luga] need their own reality show. It’d be hard to find three guys who have a better time but differ more in personality and looks. An American, an Aussie and a Chinese – they could be packaged as a young Harry Morgan [later changed to Bruce Willis], the Crocodile Dundee of Beijing and China’s Fonz (heyyy!), teaming up to run a bar with all the craziness that comes from happy hours, drunk patrons and cultural misunderstandings among a diverse clientele. Just stick a few cameras on the first floor, second fl0or and deck, and one in that public bathroom around the side (none in the kitchen – the wings recipe needs protection). Seriously, three fun characters in a funky spot called The Rickshaw in a city with global attention in the run-up to the Olympics – you wouldn’t watch this?

Too bad it didn’t happen. At that time, the empire consisted of The Rickshaw and The Saddle. Since then?

The Rickshaw guys went on to open The Saddle Cantina, then DIY burrito joint Side Saddle, and now a cafe in the Volkswagen building on Sanlitun North.

Luga grabbed hold of The Saddle and turned it into Luga’s, then opened Luga’s Villa, with a bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, and will soon expand Lug’as by taking over the apartment above (complete with a balcony).

And Lager left and then managed TUN, which has exploded in popularity due to its Friday ladies night and Tuesday open mic night, among other things, and plans to soon open a new place.

These guys have collectively had a major impact on the Sanlitun bar scene over the past few years and now – or, rather, will soon – account for 7.5 places (I’m giving .5 for Luga’s expansion). About the only Beijing equivalent that comes to mind is how Alameda eventually spun off SALT and Mosto, all good places in their own rights.

By the way, look for The Saddle Cantina to officially open its deck this Thursday with half-price Margaritas and five-kuai beers.

Bites and sips: Room, El Fognicito, Meat & Wine, Fez, and more

Room: Look for this much-anticipated venue from chef Brian McKenna (ex-Blu Lobster) to open in early July in the Yintai building. Word is that Room will have meals at ~RMB200, a cocktail bar, and a few surprises for the dining scene.

The Meat & Wine Co. has opened in the Legation Quarter, in the corner between Maison Boulud and Sadler. Meanwhile, Fez, the rooftop venue above Agua, is readying for the spring season.

El Fognicito has reopened in the Wanda Plaza area, though the branch across from The Place looks as though it will not get off the ground. Meanwhile in The Place, Song is undergoing renovations and expected to reopen in a few weeks.

Duck de Chine, in the 1949: The Hidden City complex, is offering half-price dim sum, from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM daily. Prices start at RMB11 for duck spring rolls, steamed spare ribs, and pan-fried turnip cake.

A branch of Ganges has opened in Sanlitun Village – sharing third-floor space with Blue Frog, Union Bar & Grille, Va Va Voom, Herbal Cafe, and Element Fresh – and offers the RMB38 lunch buffet for which it is known elsewhere. Next door, in new Nali Studio, Mughal is offering a RMB45 lunch special.

(Aside: I had a dream last night that City Weekend would run a graphic of Shiva holding a business card in each hand from an Indian restaurant in Beijing. Why do I feel this will actually happen?)