In the latest installment of the “top five watering holes” series, Brandon Chemers, avid sports fan, man about town, and author of brand spanking new Beijing soccer blog “Gongti Legends“, provides his picks for the best places to grab a drink in town.
The Den (map)
Frequented by everyone from hipsters to hookers, The Den is an excellent spot for people watching. They totally miss the definition of “happy HOUR” by holding it daily from 5 PM to 10 PM (including weekends) – and I thank them for that. Their food isn’t the greatest, but it isn’t bad, especially considering the price. It is also sort of a security blanket: despite all the changes over the years to our fair city, The Den continues going strong, and sometimes even improving (the newer, bigger windows), while retaining what we’ve all come to expect. I have lots of great memories tied to the place and it is a great meet-up spot before an event (like a Guoan soccer match) at Workers Stadium. They have quirky policies and mediocre (at best) service, but when you can get a beer and a pizza for under RMB50, it’s hard to complain.
I can understand all those who complain about The Place. It’s hellish getting cabs there a lot of the time, but Enoteca is close to my office and an honest to goodness wine bar, something Beijing doesn’t have a lot of (there are other options, but few stay open as late). The lounge has a cool feel to it, like it wouldn’t be out of place in any other major city, and the music is very chill. They sometimes even have live acts that are usually pretty good. There are plenty of bottles below RMB200 and they have a really excellent rose that is great on a hot summer day.
While technically not a “bar”, it is a place where massive quantities of alcohol are consumed on a nightly basis. This is another place that has been going strong for a number of years. Sure, they play the same music over and over again (often during the same night), security can get a little over the top, and the interior probably hasn’t been cleaned since opening night, but it’s a fun place to go, dance, and drink. The drink of choice is typically bottled beer or the popular whiskey and green (or red) tea cocktails, and the music is decent (if too commercial) hip hop and R&B. Somehow it is packed almost every night with a largely Chinese crowd. Over the years I’ve spent a few too many nights there but it has always been fun.
Er Jie (across from Hotel Kapok, Dong Hua Men Jie)
Okay, so it is even less of a bar than Mix, but again it is a place where massive amounts of alcohol are consumed. This neighborhood hole in the wall offers decent food and you see a lot of the same people if you go there often. It also serves as a spot for the neighborhood guys to stop in and get away from their wives for a few hours or for people who have just finished a late shift and want to relax. They offer Qingdao and Yanjing, both at RMB4 for a large bottle, and offer baijiu by the liang. There’s a great chuanr and chicken wing guy close by who will deliver and the food the restaurant serves is great drinking food. It’s the place I go to when I want to eat, drink, and chat with a friend or four for a couple of hours.
I had a hell of a time thinking of a fifth bar because the first four truly stand out and because there are so many places that are just okay or that I haven’t visited to really claim love for (like Chocolate). I’m going with an easy choice: Centro is really close to my office and so it’s a nice place to pop in for a drink after work and still get home in time for dinner. During happy hour, their drinks are reasonably priced and are done very well. Plus, it is one of the few places that offers snacks with the beverages, a nice touch. (If Saddle still offered popcorn, maybe I’d have gone with that place.) It is also interesting to look around and seeing people who are important or simply think they are important in the Beijing expat scene.