A different kind of ladies night: Playboy go-go dancers at Bling

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According to clubzone.cn, Bling (map) will hold a different kind of ladies night on May 8 and 9 when it hosts “Playboy go-go dancers” at the club. Promising to bring “a Real Taste of L.A.” – hmm, I always thought that was a hot dog from Dodgers Stadium, but I digress – it appears the event will feature Liza Kaye, Thai Cali, Sasha Singleton, and Amber Scott breaking out their best bikinis for some Beijing booty shaking. Hmm, I may have to don my Speedo for this one. In any case, the event is sponsored by Pommery Champagne and there is a RMB50 cover charge.

By the way, the poster notes that the dancers are “real.” I didn’t realize there were hordes of fake Playboy dancers out there…

(Hat tip to Andrew “The Beijing Hugh Hefner” S.)

Weekday walkabout: Lugar, Salud, Chocolate, Maggie’s, The Den

Mondays nights should mean a relaxing meal, perhaps a drink or two, and turning in early. Unless you end up with  DJ Chunky, Dr Doom, Mr Brau, and B-Daze. Then it means shooting the shit, shooting homemade rum,  and shooting down any hopes of getting home before the wee hours of the morning. Places visited…

Lugar (map): With the pool table eliminated downstairs, this place now has a slight Le Petit Gourmand feel, one that would be strengthened if those empty shelves end up lined with books. I could see myself popping in to check my email or read a book, then sampling some of the signature cocktails or dozens of single malts. The rooftop offers views of the surrounding hutongs and sports new furniture,  including patio-style chairs and tables, although sitting atop the glass floor is a bit unnerving.

The food menu has shifted from Vietnamese and Taiwanese snacks to salads, sandwiches, pastas, and the like. One patron found the lasagna tasty, while I thought the bread used for my sandwich too dry. Finally, the service could be better. The staff is friendly, but the two dozen people gathered on the roof for a “tweet-up” – a gathering of Twitter users – too often found themselves with empty bottles and glasses, to the point that people had to go downstairs to refresh their drinks.

Salud (map) (also known as e.a.t.): We sauntered down Nanluoguxiang and found that places either had a decent crowd (Reef Bar, Guitar Bar, Salud, etc) or were pretty much empty. We parked at Salud and did a few rounds of the homemade infused rums. I liked the Salud special, with its spicy aromas (cumin, cloves, etc) and strong cinnamon finish. The orange and clove would be better with added citrus power to balance the spices (add more rinds to the recipe?).

Chocolate (map): DJ Chunky, Mr Brau, and I figured this would be the one place with a solid crowd and we were right.

Maggie’s (map): The previous venue on Workers Stadium East had an earthy atmosphere that the newer spot on Ritan Park has been unable to evoke. The place is well-designed, with the traditional painted ceiling beams exposed, the bar nicely lit, and seating options that include lounge areas, a square bar, and space near the dance floor. And the service is quick and professional. It simply misses the vibe of the old place.

The Den (map): A final pit stop for fuel. As always, a late night at The Den draws a clientele almost as diverse as that at the Star Wars Cantina. I went for the least healthy item on the menu – The Den combo – which includes deep-fried mushrooms, potatoes, spring rolls, and two or three other items. There is no faster way to end a night than to put yourself into a food coma…

Chocolate Nightclub: Sweetening every night of the week

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Out on a weekday in Beijing and looking for a late-night option? Check out Chocolate (map), which offers an over-the-top decor, a fun atmosphere, good service, and reasonably priced food and drinks. Even better, this place seems to be rocking every night of the week:

- Monday: Mr Brau, DJ Chunky and I arrived to find the dance floor packed with a mix of men and women, locals and expats. We ordered a bottle of Russian Standard vodka, an excellent deal at RMB238 per bottle. (Mixers are RMB20 per can, for those who don’t like their spirits straight up.) DJ Chunky, with the confidence meter cranked to high, approached two tables of ladies and got people at both up to dance.

- Wednesday: I went with a group of journos, including P-Jimmy, and found the place even busier. Not a table nor a seat at the long bar near the entrance was to be had, so we parked at the smaller bar. We passed on vodka and stuck to Corona (RMB30). Again, a good atmosphere, a packed dance floor, and a fun Russian band.

- Sunday: Two readers tell me they visited Chocolate and happily found the place busy and fun.

As Mr Brau says, “This place continues to impress. There are very few bars in this town that can deliver on a Monday night. And it delivers night in, night out.”

One criticism: On Wednesday, we ordered and paid for three beers and the staff only brought two. Later, I ordered and paid for a Corona, waited 15 minutes for the beer, then asked the staff for my drink. One of the bar employees suggested I had already consumed it – she pointed at the several empty bottles on the bar. They eventually gave me a beer. I found these incidents strange as I had not one problem with service on my previous dozen or so visits to Chocolate.

Kitchen kingpins: Three restaurateurs talk about succeeding in Beijing

Last Thursday night at The Bookworm, the Beijing Entrepreneurs Organization organized an event titled, “An Evening with Three Influential Beijing Restaurant Entrepreneurs.” Thanks to Shane Crombie, public relations guy, online advertising expert, and co-organizer of the “First Thursday” monthly ad industry event, for providing this write-up:

“We learned that Gaby Alves (SALT) was once a pro volleyball player in Brazil and sold bread from the back of a motorcycle, that Fred Lin (Bellagio) grew up in the Pacific island of Guam, worked for his family’s furniture and lighting business, then heard the call of big city life and joined a small restaurant business in China that now has more than 1000 employees, and that Bob Boyce (Blue Frog), who studied Mandarin in the mid-1990s, worked for a moving company in Guangzhou and then ended up in Shanghai where he decided to tackle, on his own terms, the shortage of good Western fare there.

“Opening a restaurant is a high risk venture in any market, and each of the speakers recounted scary moments along the way. After the closing of the Shanghai street on which his first establishment was located, Bob Boyce managed to keep his place open by convincing the police that he was doing a dinner for the British High Commissioner, while Lin remembers the “chicken and egg” challenge of obtaining a business license and safety permit when one was needed to get the other. Meanwhile, Alves had to wait nine months to get her license.

“The 437-kuai question on the night was what each saw as the key to success. Alves mentioned the introduction of a set menu and a focus on quality produce, Lin talked about providing simple Chinese food that “you can’t get mad at”, and Boyce emphasized the role of service with a smile and a focus on the needs of foreigners. It sounds simple, doesnt it? Roll the dice, take a few knocks, and hey, presto, you are a big success. Not so fast.

“What each speaker had in common was a recognition of the overarching role that staff development and training plays  in each of their businesses. From Alves providing accommodation for her staff to Lin building a dedicated employee training centre to Boyce developing a phone book-sized training manual, each has invested significant working capital in empowering their employees to succeed. If you want to emulate the success of these culinary pioneers, expect to dedicate yourself every day to the recruitment and retention of great people.

“PS:  In case you were wondering, the waittresses at Bellagio have those short haircuts for hygeine reasons, and this extends to the kitchen, where the policy first began, and cleaning staff.

Pub patrol: Super Bar Street, Purple Haze, Danger Doyle’s, Club Juicy Spot, and more

Whenever I go for a post-work drink with the Canadian guys from China Radio International, the likelihood of a late night is high (are they all issued with an extra liver?). Add Mr Brau to the mix and it is guaranteed. Places visited Friday night…

Purple Haze (Workers Stadium North): I stopped here with DJ Chunky, P-Jimmy, and his friend that I will simply call The Swede on Speed. Beijing draft is RMB15 and appears within a minute or two of ordering. Even better, the staff asks if you want a new beer about three sips before you finish your current one. The good atmosphere and service explains at least in part why every table was taken.

Danger Doyle’s: Lads outnumbered lasses more than two to one on this place’s inaugural ladies night, prompting a friend to declare it a “sausage fest” (the main floor was somewhat busy, with a few people upstairs and the deck empty due to weather). On top of this, the staff struggled: An employee took our order, another approached a few minutes later to confirm it, someone brought our change a few minutes after that, and finally, after another five mnutes, a waittress delivered our drinks (unfortunately the service led one patron to go over-the-top in chastising the staff). Possibly the worst ladies night I have attended this past year, though it has potential if DD’s can a) attract more ladies, who booze free from 8 to 11:30 PM, and b) provide better service for the gents paying for drinks.

(Note: As I walked home Saturday night, I returned to DD’s and was happily surprised to find the NBA playoffs on. That beer fridge, stocked with more than 70 different kinds of brew, looked very enticing.)

Super Bar Street: I arrived with Mr Brau and KZ after midnight to find most establishments closed and very few people in the area, making the place seem even bleaker than usual ahead of its slated destruction. We stopped at Shamba, which had one table of patrons, an unfortunate situation given the place has an attractive decor (black and burgundy laquered tables, comfortable bar stools, etc) and layout (seating inside arranged for intimacy, a deck out back that faces a pond and its croaking frogs, etc), and Tim’s Texas BBQ, which had about a half-dozen patrons.

Club Juicy Spot: With the second floor closed (ongoing renovations?), we headed upstairs to find a light crowd of about 20 people. I like the earthy atmosphere, the airiness, and the high sloped ceiling, but this place needs to find a niche (a new option for the salsa crowd?)

Black Sun Bar: A good turnout at this Chaoyang Park old-timer, with groups of four to eight people parked around tables and chatting, drinking, and having fun. If I lived closer to Black Sun, I would make it one of my regular chill-out spots.

TUN: As usual on Friday, insanely busy during ladies night, with a door charge (huh?) even at 3 AM. The crowd tends to get younger as the night wears on, which makes me tend to feel more and more like a chaperone (hmm, do I know the parents of anyone here?). By the way, here is a list of five songs played in order:

  • Grease Lightning
  • Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley
  • Wouldn’t It Be Nice? -   The Beach Boys
  • Queen (forgot which song)
  • Let’s Get It Started – Black Eyed Peas

This sounds like the lineup you might get from pressing “random” on an iPod. That people danced to it says less about their musical taste and more about their blood-alcohol levels, which makes them willing to get down to anything, be it – I am guessing – Yanni remixes, CDs of mating whale sounds, or a 40-minute version of Tub Thumbing.

Nanjie: Upstairs full, downstairs half-full, quick service, cheap drinks, eclectic crowd… in other words, the Nanjie I have come to know and tolerate.