Top five Beijing watering holes: Bar consultant and owner Paul Mathew

Paul Mathew at work

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One of my favorite things to discuss is which Beijing bars are best in terms of staff or service or atmosphere or cocktails or whatever. Which is why one of my favorite features on this blog is top five lists by other people. It has been a while since the last top one, but fortunately Paul Matthew–who not only enjoys a cocktail or two, but also is skilled at making them–agreed to share his picks. Mathew is a bar consultant, author of the Blood and Sand site, and co-owner of The Hide Bar in London. His top five…

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“As a new father I’m getting out to bars far less than I used to. When I do, I’m more and more particular about where I go. I’ve always been of the opinion that you should drink better things, not necessarily more of them, it’s just now been focused. In the time available, I want to drink something made with care and attention where there are interesting people to watch and the service is good. Plenty of places have two out of three, but the full Monty can be hard to come by in Beijing. Hotel bars, for example, often have the well-made drinks and great service, but the clientele can be a little on the dull/professional side. Other venues offer a fantastic environment in which to observe the Beijinger in his or her natural environment, but getting a (dodgy) drink is like getting blood from a stone.

“My favourites loosely fall into three categories. First, the ‘academic’ bars. These are places that take their drinks seriously and follow proper protocol. No one does that better than the Japanese, so my first two would be Twilight and Glen. The former for cocktails and the latter for whisky. Twilight manages to be particular about its recipes and ingredients, hand ‘sourcing’ some of the world’s best spirits, and making things they can’t get hold of. As well as being particular, the drinks list is accessible, with a selection that non-cocktail-drinking friends have applauded. Glen, on the other hand, feels like a professional’s drinking den. Sitting at the bar appeals to my inner spirit geek, and the space is so small that you feel like you’re part of everyone’s conversation, even if it is in Japanese. Falling into this category but just not making the cut would be Apothecary and Ichikura. It does make me wonder why all the best cocktail bars are Japanese though, given Europe and North America’s history and current fascination with the cocktail (and manufacture of most of the ingredients). Maybe that’s to come in Beijing Version 2010.2.

“My second category would be the more laid-back venues that I would consider letting my hair down in (if I had enough with which to do so that is). Fubar and Mao Mao Chong both get this spot on but in different ways I think. I don’t often head to Fubar until later in the evening (and compared to Mr Boyce, I could hardly be described as a regular), but whenever I’ve been there, the service has been great, the drinks good and, most of all, the atmosphere welcoming. This is helped in no small way by the staff apparently enjoying their jobs – a seemingly difficult thing to achieve in most of Beijing’s service industry. Mao Mao Chong on the other hand, I would consider going to at any point of the evening, or day if it were open. OK, the cocktails aren’t the carefully recreated classics, but they’re accessible, interesting, and served alongside great beers and pizza. The space is just great, too, and feels as friendly as anywhere I’ve been, with the added bonus of an artistic edge.

“Finally, I’ve gone work-related at the Bookworm. For that deadline that just has to be hit, even if it’s eating into drinking time, the Bookworm offers a great atmosphere that’s conducive to thinking. Service is great, beer good and patrons interesting enough to distract you from time to time. When the deadline’s hit, there’s a good and reasonably priced selection of wine available with which to celebrate.”

2 thoughts on “Top five Beijing watering holes: Bar consultant and owner Paul Mathew”

  1. Big Thanks to Paul for his guest appearance at the Fu. Leo (Xiao Ming) is now your greatest fan, you really inspired his love of the trade and his desire to get better at the craft

  2. Chad, was my pleasure! Can’t wait to repeat the experience sometime soon. I’m spending far too much time behind the wrong side of the bar these days (the expensive side!).

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