Beijing bar crawl: D Lounge, 1/5, Saddle, Maggie’s, Salud, and more

After a hard week spent working on my computer screen tan, I met The Village Grouch for a drink last weekend and ended up on a bit of a pub crawl.

D Lounge (map): This spot is on the street linking Salsa Caribe and Tun. The gist of the conversation with a guy at the door at 9:30 PM:

Him: [Moving to block door] “Can I help you?”

Me: “Yeah, we’d like to get a drink.”

Him: “Are you on the guest list?”

Me: “Um, no. But I can understand why having one is important, you know, to keep out the riffraff. You wouldn’t want them to bother the… oh, wait, there isn’t anyone here on a Friday night.

I had the impression D Lounge is a private club, but it appears there was a special event on this night, so I will attempt a second visit. Interesting that a place going for the high-end enters off the migration route of drunk students, wasted expatriates, drug dealers, and grouchy bloggers, among others. Then again, maybe that is part of its appeal…

1949: The former bar 1/5 (map) will reopen as two separate venues, according to an assistant manager that gave us an impromptu tour. Downstairs will continue to be dominated by a long narrow bar, have an extensive Champagne list, and sport a much lighter décor – think whites, creams, and floral patterns. Upstairs will feature a private club – this time think whiskey and cigars – and a décor heavy on flat gray. (By the way, good turnouts at 1949’s Sugar Bar, Duck de Chine, and the outdoor bar that looks like a giant illuminated toilet puck. Even Taverna was almost half full.)

Still seeking our first drink, we walked to Q Bar (map), first passing Tun (map), which was gearing up for another packed ladies night. Success. The Village Grouch had a Gin Tonic and tried to figure out why it tasted so good compared to his homemade concoctions using the same gin and tonic water. (It’s the ice, baby.) I went for my old standby, the Alfonso Special, which offers good bang for the buck.

Next stop, The Saddle Cantina (map), where four-fifths of Black Cat Bone were enjoying drinks on the deck. I often wonder why the owners didn’t put sibling establishment Side Saddle downstairs, which is usually empty, instead of on Nali’s south side, and thus save on rent and staff expenses. More foot traffic and exposure, I guess, but at least in my case, I used to go to Saddle Cantina for food and drinks, but now almost always go to Side Saddle, grab a burrito, and skip the beverages. Anyway, the deck remains pleasant and provides a view of the courtyard, where the tables opposite Saddle, Let’s Burger, soon-to-open Let’s Seafood, and Ciro’s Pomodoro were once again pretty much full.

Salud (map): We met Mr. Hao and Ms. Hao here and dipped into the homemade rum. I had the “Salud special“, though given it has 11 spices, I am renaming it the KFC shooter. These are dangerous drinks, given how big they are and how fast they go down.

Fubar (map): Where else can I get a honey vodka and ginger ale for RMB20? While the decor feels unfinished and the light above the bar reminds me of a combination of giant tanning booth and taillight, it is hard to beat this place for value. (Note: Fubar will close from September 15 to October 2.)

Maggie’s (map): This tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it place, but if Beijing bars were judged on lighting, staff efficiency, general design,and clean toilets, it would rank among the top five in Beijing. For example, the focused lights on the shelves of bottles that run above the circumference of the bar, the softer lights that expose the ceiling beams painted with traditional Chinese scenes, and the sparing use of neon and motion lighting all combine to provide a soft texture. I’m curious as to who put this all together…