From free booze to cool grooves: New Year’s Eve in Beijing

As the year stumbles to an end, I have been mulling over a “top 888 bar stories of 2009” post — cause lists are all the rage and, like, 8 is a lucky number in China — but then realized there is but one story: it appears M1NT is not opening. Seriously, unless we enter 2010 with an over-hyped club complete with massive shark tank, how can we  consider this a cosmopolitan city? I guess we’ll just have to live in shame (could someone please pass me the yangrou chuan?).

Anyway, it seems like every bar and its sibling is having a party tonight. Last year, I went to Tun, Q Bar, and finally The Den, where I guzzled drinks and pub grub alongside a bunch of chefs, bar and restaurant managers, and musicians – people who appreciate value (see: combo platter; four-cheese pizza; RMB25 James Boag’s). This year: who knows?

Chocolate is going retro, Bed Bar has Laurent Perrier Champagne at RMB480 per bottle, Paddy O’Shea’s has the antics of Karl “Who’s Your Paddy?” Long, SALT has a five-course menu (RMB488; RMB688 with free-flow bubbly; call 6437-8457 to RSVP), and Fubar will feature DJ Chunky and DJ Tipsy, whose tenure is over at Danger Doyle’s and who plans to have a new place open early in the new year.

The new White Rabbit in Tongli Studio will be hopping from 9 PM to 5 AM with four DJs (RMB50), the Yen Countdown will be on 706 Factory in the 798 Art District (RMB150, includes one drink), and Acupuncture is not only holding its “Genesis 2010″ party at Image Base (RMB150; after-party from 4 AM at Lantern, in B1 of 3.3), but also is reaching new levels with its ad copy:

Gorge on an aural banquet at the Future Stage with futuristic techno grooves from Acupuncture DJs and special guest Doudou Malicious from France, or thaw away those winter chills at the Retro Stage with the old-school gang reviving that classic disco era. Let the VJs, lightings installations and party fashionistas work their magic and conjure the crowd into near sensory overload on a ride through time and space and count down to 2010!

(This one lost me at the “party fashionistas” bit.)

For those seeking something new or who are budget-conscious, new club and lounge Le Zazou in Sanlitun Village is halfway through its two-week drinks promotion: free select Absolut vodka cocktails until midnight, including on New Year’s Eve (for those who want to splurge, three bottles of Perrier-Jouet Champagne are RMB2000). And a few floors below, bands Subs, New Pants, and Re-Tros will be playing in the “Orange”.

Be safe, have fun, dress warm, drink lots of water, and have a superb night…

Undiplomatic exchange: HKC, Aqua Group split at Legation Quarter

It's dog eat dog, er, cat fight cat...

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There is a brouhaha over at The Beijinger between Legation Quarter landlord HKC and the Aqua Group, which had been running restaurants Agua and Shiro Matsu and bars Hex and Fez at the upscale complex until all four closed about two weeks ago.

The Beijinger earlier posted a press release from Agua Group that stated (my highlights):

Legation Quarter Ltd. has consistently failed to meet its promises and commitments to us and the other tenants to maintain and manage Ch’ien Men 23 as Beijing’s premier fine dining complex resulting in damage to our businesses and day to day operations.

Legation Quarter Ltd’s behavior has reached the point where, among other things, they harass our operations by switching the power on and off at will. We are unable to operate in this hostile environment and as a result we deeply regret that we have no choice but to close our operations at Ch’ien Men 23 with immediate effect.

Today the site posted a press release from HKC that stated (my highlights):

It is regretful that Aqua has not paid its license fees to Legation Quarter Ltd. since late 2008, immediately after they had enjoyed the 16-week license-fee free period….

Aqua has nevertheless used Legation Quarter Ltd.’s premises to conduct business in its restaurants and bars for over a year, continuing to disregard our repeated requests to honor their obligations and pay the long overdue license fees….

In short, the closure of Aqua is due to its inability, or unwillingness, to pay the license fee for ‘Ch’ien Men 23’ and Legation Quarter Ltd. is now seeking legal advice in respect of Aqua’s  irresponsible and untrue press release.”

I spoke to Lidia Sakarapani, sales and marketing director of Aqua Group, last week and she cited issues — ranging from  electricity and infrastructure problems to major events held in the square that affected traffic flow to the the bars and restaurants — that disrupted business. She also said The Beijinger made minimal effort to contact her before running its intial story considering that a member of the magazine’s staff is the former PR person for Agua a former member of the magazine’s staff was a former PR person for Agua [see comments re this correction].

In any case, free rent helps to explain why some places at Legation Quarter have survived this long, not to mention in other spots around town (see Solana). If such places had to pay in full from day one, on top of their heavy staff costs, I think we would see much higher turnover.

Based on my experience and on talking to readers, the only place that seems to be consistently busy at Legation Quarter – aka Chi’enmen 23 – is Maison Boulud. I called GM Ignace LeCleir last week and he told me the restaurant has no plans to move. As for the Aqua Group, Sakarapani says it plans to be back in business in Beijing soon.

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But can it top Alexis versus Krystle...

It takes a Village: Beijing’s biggest ladies night ever?

It could be big...
Well, maybe not this big...

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Beijing has a slew of ladies nights — from the longstanding mid-week booty shake at Suzie Wong to the jam-packed Friday booze fest at Tun to newer events at venues such as Xiu and Lan. So, as I sat in Zazou over the weekend and wondered how this new place could distinguish its inevitable ladies night from the competition, I had an idea.

One advantage of Zazou is location: True, it is in a Sanlitun mall but that mall is near ground zero of the city’s most diverse food and beverage scene. So why not team up with the neighbors?

In other words, what if a handful of establishments, or even more, on the third floor of Sanlitun Village held a joint ladies night? Say it’s done on a Tuesday, one of the slower days for some businesses there. What if ladies go to Union and get a free cocktail with any entree, or to Oriental Kitchen and get a sampling menu of three items with any meal, or even get a big discount at Toni & Guy?

Then, instead of jumping into a taxi after dinner and heading to a ladies night, they simply walk over to Zazou to dance in the club or hang out in the lounge. And if hundreds of women descended on Sanlitun Village, don’t you think hundreds of men would follow?

Anyway, just an idea…

Jobs in Beijing: Chefs, restaurant managers, ‘hot’ dancers wanted

How about hot dancing chefs? (junkyardclubhouse.com)

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Despite the global economic slowdown, demand for “hot dancers” continues unabated in China. At least, it seems that way given this China Daily job ad, which also announces the need for a GM, a marketing manager, and foreign pole dancers.

Also of note, Element Fresh is seeking an executive chef for Beijing. The candidate should have at least five years of experience in the kitchen, with at least three of them in management. See more here.

And an unnamed establishment seeks someone be both operations and restaurant manager. According to the ad, “Western restaurants is increasingly gaining popularity in China and considered as trendy if you eat western food or have a western kitchen at home for show. However rarely does Chinese know how to cook, eat, drink or entertain/decorate the way western cultures do. Our restaurant provides a channel not only to dine but to also to teach this life style to the high end Chinese consumers.” See ad here.

(Hat tip to DJ Chunky)

Le Zazou opening: Good start, but 5 things that could be better

I described here some things that impressed me about Zazou during a pre-opening visit yesterday afternoon. Last night, I saw the place in action and, in addition to liking the decor, I enjoyed zipping between the relaxed live music / lounge area and the peppier club part, which had a bit of the original China Doll feel (not the look, but the crowd, the bar, et al). But there were a few opening night jitters, most of which would be easy enough to fix. Here are five:

1. The place advertised free vodka cocktails until midnight. I ordered a vodka cranberry: free. A vodka martini: not free. A vodka orange juice: free. A vodka tonic: not free. OK, I can see why a martini might not count, but a vodka tonic? Solution: Provide a list of drinks that are free. By the way, the pours were generous. By the way II, a foot rail and coat hooks beneath the bar would be a good idea.

2. Sitting at the bar in the club was like being in a rugby scrum. Staff bringing orders to the bar squeezed roughly between patrons, bumped them from behind, stuck hands in their faces as they waived bills and shouted orders to the bartenders, etc. The bar staff itself was efficient, though they hail from the land of the free pour, but the floor staff had all the subtlety of subway riders during rush hour. Solution: Create a two-meter space at the bar where the staff can deliver the orders and thus leave the patrons in peace.

3. The sink in the men’s toilet is beside – uncomfortably so – a urinal. Gross. Solution: Erect a barrier between the two.

4. The three dozen candles in the club looked pretty. Unfortunately, drunk patrons and pretty candles usually don’t go together. Solution: Provide patrons with individual mini fire extinguishers.

5. The place has been emphasizing a French angle, but all four wines by the glass were Australian. Solution: Get some French wines.

As mentioned, these are all things that can be easily fixed. Overall, good times at Le Zazou and I plan to be back soon. For those thinking about visiting tonight, the free drinks are at the Absolut bar between 8 PM and midnight, and The Verse is playing in the lounge.