Top five watering holes: Jon, Jackson, Richard, Adam, Andy of RandomK(e)

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RandomK(e)’s “Waiting” cover

Locally based band RandomK(e) recently released its first CD “Waiting” with a launch party at Mao Livehouse. According to the band’s MySpage page, “RandomK(e) was formed in 2004 and has been bringing its unlikely combination of spacey soundscapes, noise-funk-pop experimentalism and pummeling force that’s spelled R.O.C.K. to Beijing’s masses for over four years.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Actually, I couldn’t have come up with that description if I tried. Anyway, I asked each member of the band to list his favorite drinking hole in Beijing. Here they are…

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Jon Campbell (drums)

While it’s obvious because we had our CD release and fourth anniversary extravaganza there on March 21, we feel more than a lot of love for Mao Livehouse (map). Nobody will mistake it for a good place to get a drink (many tell me it is difficult, though I personally can’t complain because the bartender knows me well enough that I don’t have to even order, and sometimes, instead of giving me whiskey, he might pour a complimentary paper cup of Chinese apple cider-ish stuff masquerading as Champagne – OK, only once). So… forget your rules. I’m choosing two, one for the rock and one for the drink.

First, the rock: 2 Kolegas (map). The guys are so committed to music that how can you not revel in the love and the general vibe, despite the grime of the joint. For playing or watching music, this place rocks harder than anywhere other than Mao, even though this is rarely recognized. For almost four years they have managed to walk the fine line between eliciting the nostalgia of the so-called ‘good old days’ (when there was a small rock scene that wasn’t tainted by international media attention, where the music and venues sucked, but because it was small, everyone was happier), and bringing up the standards enough to make you believe that we’re in the good-now-days. And I haven’t even mentioned the grass area or the kebabs or the stiff drinks they pour.

Second, the drink: Jazz Ya (map). Every time I go back I catch myself not believing that they’ve been doing what they do for all these years – and are still doing it better than so many others. Sure, the Long Island is rave-worthy, but to delve into their cocktail menu is to be rewarded with well-crafted and well-presented treats. They could use a third CD for their stereo, but then again, it’s nice knowing exactly what you’re going to get, even after, what is it, 15 years?

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Jackson Garland (upright bass, laptop, samples,
sounds, knobs, buttons, vox)

For music and drinks: 2 Kolegas. I second everything said earlier by Jon about the place. Yeah, it’s grimy, but so is Beijing and everything I love about it. We’ve played some great gigs there, and I’ve seen and heard some great music there, occasional sound issues not withstanding. Dos Kolegas can’t be beat for both a late-night, borderline-sloppy drunken hangout and a music venue that could be called “daring” in its embrace of live music sporting all shapes, colors, and odors. Throw in a totally surreal location and regular evenings of cerebral joy and sonic assault in the form of Yan Jun’s Waterland Kwanyin series (hosted there on most Tuesday evenings), and you’ve got a winner in my book. I dig most of the live venues in town, but I always find myself coming back to the lawn.

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Richard Todd (guitar/vox)

Cafe Zarah (map). Because it has a drink called The Swimming Pool in which it is possible to become lost for days on end. And a toilet into which several peering cats watch you pee.

Adam Pillsbury (bass)

Salud (map): Friendly, festive and effortlessly cool, this is a neighborhood joint worth traveling across town to frequent. As is the case at sibling establishments Ginkgo (map) and Cafe de la Poste (map), the good vibes here originate with French manager Nico, whose smile is unperturbed by thirsty crowds or, during a RandomK(e) set, visits from the local constabulary. He and his staff have good reason to grin, for they offer arguably the best pours in Beijing – wine glasses are filled to the rim – at prices more than fair. In the afternoon and early evening, Salud’s vaguely Mediterranean design – warm woods and terracotta paint – and the semi-privacy of its second story tables make it a fine spot in which to catch up with friends or recharge after a hutong adventure. But once the sangria and house spiced rum start to flow, or when a band takes the stage, things get raucous and the party goes late, often spilling into Nanluoguxiang. Yes, Salud has become enormously popular in the past year, but the crowd it draws is invariably amicable, and it has hosted some of the most memorable gatherings this bassist has attended in Beijing.

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Andy Birch aka Rh1n0t10n (video)

Underground pool halls: In the concrete rabbit warrens that exist under most of the new Beijing high risers, department stores and restaurants, can be found a thriving pool and snooker community. If you’re willing to stick with one place, eventually the staff will come to realise that beer should be served cold and they might even turn the fridge on for you. Often a quick phone call 10 minutes before arrival ensures the beer is put into the freezer and the nine ball table is dusted off.

It’ll even remind you of your favourite rock club as the hall fills up with smoke and your clothes smell like a packet of Zhongnanhai, although the TV in the corner blasting out canto pop takes a little getting used to.

If you are lucky some of these halls will serve stronger stuff – a bottle of vodka will usually be found hidden behind those red boxes of Baijou if you dig around enough. There are no queues for the pool table, the beer is cheap, and after three hours of playing pool it’s rare if you spend more than 100 kuai.

And best of all, they are open 24 hours.

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Top fives:

One thought on “Top five watering holes: Jon, Jackson, Richard, Adam, Andy of RandomK(e)”

  1. well, if i had known the others were writing a bloody book each AND ignoring the rules i would have followed suit. darn it, here is what i would have written on top of what is already there:
    yu gong yi shan, simply because the barman there always smiles at me, never uses condescendingly exaggeratedly slow chinese and they even let us invent a cocktail for our third birthday bash there. prices are at best average but the beer IS always cold and they dont run out :-)

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