Hutong hipsters weekend: Siif, The Box, Bed, 12SQM, 121 Gulou, 2 Kolegas, and more

I should get to more hutong bars but: a) they tend to be far away, b) they tend to be hard to find, and c) I’m lazy. This weekend I made two journeys to the Gulou area. I met a lot of interesting people as well as a smattering of those Too Cool for School types who think hanging out in “the hutongs” means they are getting a “real” Beijing experience even though: a) most of the bars in that area did not exist a few years ago, b) having drunk foreigners roam those streets is also a relatively new phenomenon, and c) the average Chinese living in that area would not  pay RMB20 for a bottle of Tsingtao. (And yeah, I’m grouchy today and need more coffee.) Anyway, some places visited there and about town over the weekend:

12SQM: This bar is most fun when: a) owner Joseph is there, b) we can access the play list by iPhone to request his favorite song, “Informer” by Snow*, and c) there is cold Cooper’s Pale Ale. Only c) applied on this visit as I wasn’t with anyone with an iPhone and Joseph was off that day (probably making Vegemite or watching cricket or something). By the way, this place is much better than last year given the addition of the toilet (no more chilly jaunts to that local loo).

Gulou 121: I went to see Kaiser Kuo and friends cover Rush tunes (they didn’t do Tom Sawyer, but I knew they wouldn’t in advance, so I hummed it on the way). This is an earthy and modestly sized bar that is tightly packed with wood furniture and has a menu that includes RMB20 Budweiser. It, too, has a loo, not to mention a second floor.

The Box: My first stop at this Gulou bar since the early days. Several friends recommended the food so I tried the Buffalo chicken burger (RMB35). The sauce is pungent but I like it that way, though the bun might work better if lightly grilled or toasted, and I plan to try the wings and poutine on my next visit. (The biggest downside is the heavy cooking smells wafting in from the kitchen.) Beer starts at RMB15 for Harbin, while Moosehead is RMB28. The place now has hockey jerseys and photos of Canadian icons on the walls, giving it a homier feel, though I’m not sure it can be considered a “Canadian bar” until it hosts a euchre tournament (hint, hint). By the way, if you need to use the toilet, you’ll have to head to the public facilities across the street.

Bed: A dependable stop after all of these years. With a see-through covering and numerous space heaters, the courtyard is accessible and comfortable in the winter. Sometimes it is good when things stay the same and this applies to the layout at Bed, with the bar and lounge up front and the bedrooms, courtyard, and small bar in back. But this place could do with a more interesting wine list and the Old Fashioned (RMB50) was average at best.

Siif: A somewhat dingy three floor-joint with eclectic design elements—sections of the floor are glass (which means you probably don’t want to wear a skirt upstairs or think you are picking your nose in private downstairs), there are rope “handrails” for the stairs, and the decoration includes everything from graffiti to plush toys. The slightly musty basement serves as DJ, dance, and foosball area, the main floor holds the bar, a pool table, and a small lounge area, and the upstairs has a rec room feel. It worked well as a party space (we were there to celebrate DZ’s birthday), but if my weak Jack Coke (RMB35) was representative of the mixed drinks, you should stick to the local beer at RMB15. (Siif is a combination of the French word for if, “si”, and “if”.)

2 Kolegas: I went to catch the final RandomK(e) show (I have listened to this band’s CD more than that of any other in Beijing: maybe I have a thing for air sirens). I like the vibe at 2 Kolegas, especially in the summer, and it is easier to reach from Workers Stadium by taxi than it is Nanluoguxiang. In any case, a fine final gig by RandomK(e), with plenty of good visuals and sound effects, including not one, but two air sirens. A Tsingtao is RMB15.

Paddy O’Shea’s: This place always seems to be packed. When I asked co-owner and manager Karl Long about this, he simply said, “I’m a businessman, Boyce, I’m a businessman.” One reason might be the effort the place makes for sports fans. In addition to showing rugby and soccer, Paddy’s made a group of U.S. college football fans happy by getting Saturday night’s Ohio-Michigan game up and running. The pub has had a “grow a mustache” campaign all month to raise awareness of cancer.

Fubar: Been here several times lately not only because it is the closest bar to my house but also because you can now get a Dark and Stormy made with Gosling’s rum and Gosling’s ginger beer (try the beer on its own if you are looking for something nonalcoholic). Co-owner Chad Lager got on the decks last night and even sang the chorus of Roxanne. But confiding he used to practice singing Loverboy’s The Kid Is Hot Tonight in front of the mirror as a youngster? Too much info, Lager, too much info.

* To be confirmed

Upcoming Sanlitun openings: Mo Lounge, Kung Fu Pizza, Lil Saddle

Look for the main floor of Kokomo to have a new look when it reopens as Mo Lounge in the next few weeks. If the artist renderings are any indication, the earthy vibe will be replaced for something more sophisticated: expect richer and darker colors, dimmer lighting, and a three-sided bar and lounge areas. (I will always have fond Kokomo memories due to: 1) the excellent Olympics parties there and 2) the trials and tribulations of co-owner Bill Isler as he tried to figure out why all the fish kept dying in the tanks in those early days. My guess: they were getting into that potent Navy Grog.)

That is only half the news at Kokomo: Isler and partner El-Mar also say they have taken over Bambu BBQ one floor down and will soon open a pizzeria there called Kung Fu. (For those seeking a link to Gung Ho! and Bang! Bang, look elsewhere, as there is no exclamation mark in the name.) Here’s my request: please set up a stand on the first floor and sell some of that pizza by the slice. Sanlitun is long overdue for such a spot.

Finally, the first floor of the Saddle will soon reopen. Don’t expect a new version of former sibling establishment The Rickshaw. This place looks more like the Saddle’s second floor (restaurant seating, table settings) though it will focus on gourmet tacos and some other Mexican dishes. More on the opening date and the place’s official name once I get word.

Give a Crap Report VI: Modo, Q, Bean’s, Fubar, Bang! Bang!, and more

If you have Frank's, you gotta have Bean's.

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I started this installment of the Give a Crap Report series months ago but kind of got busy.  As usual, it covers what would happen if only bars and restaurants listened to me, me, me. (Maybe these reports need tag lines like The Crappiest Report Yet or Six Degrees of Crap. I’ll work on it.) Here we go…

41. Q Bar would organize a speed-dating event using its Q Boxes. Put a pair of ladies in each of the six boxes and have pairs of gents do a circuit–each stop lasts ten minutes and includes one shooter. The sparks should be flying after an hour or two.

42. Modo would change at least some of the sixteen bottles in its card-based wine machine. C’mon guys, I’ve already tried many of those wines four or five times and even my ex-boss from Shanghai has gone through them twice.

43. This comes courtesy of noted linguist Shannon R: He requests that Fubar regularly clean the button for its secret door given how many people are coming from the toilets and, after deciding it is too troublesome to wash their hands, pressing that button to re-enter the place. (By the way, this is reason 742 to not share free peanuts in bars.)

44. Speaking of Fubar, here are two more: 1) If the place is going to call itself a speakeasy and do special glasses, how about one in the shape of a claw-footed bathtub that holds a liter of gin (or gin tonic) and has a tiny tap to facilitate self-pouring at the table? 2) Since the RMB1 monthly parties are no more, how about some other kind of monthly event, such as a FU-ll Moon Party?

45. Someone would open a place beside Frank’s called Bean’s. (I wrote that before John Harkness from Goose and Duck took over Frank’s Place with his plans to rename the venue Johnny Duck’s.)

46. Someone would take all the trendy features of bar and restaurant names over the past decade, such as the “i” and “my” phenomena, the “@” sign, and the recent fascination with exclamation marks (Refresh! Gung Ho! Bang Bang!) to make one SuperBad name. Like iPizza@Sanlitun! or myIce!Cre@m! or iBangHo! We might need a smiley face, too. A blinking one.

47. Speaking of pizza, someone needs to open a hole-in-the-wall pizza-by-the-slice joint in Sanlitun. How can serving slabs of piping hot pie from 8 PM to 4 AM not result in an oven full of money? The place would probably make a profit just off me.

48. Still on pizza, Bang! Bang! should start some weekly specials that are in keeping with the place’s name. I’m thinking Pfft! Pfft! two-for-one beer night, Pop! Pop! wine deal night, and Ouch! Ouch! piping-hot-pizza-stuck-to-the-roof-of-my-mouth night.

49. Refresh! would café sell its coffee in pill form. This stuff is rocket fuel and if they could concentrate a cup into one capsule, one per day would keep me going.

50. Wait staff should never, ever pass a full glass of water, coffee, soda, beer, or any other liquid over an open laptop unless doing so would save the world from a meteor strike or some other tragedy. Ever….

Got some ideas on how to improve the scene? Leave them in the comments section or send them to me at beijingboyce (at) yahoo.com. If I use your idea, I’ll give you… um… I’ll give you a big virtual hug.

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See also:
Give a Crap Report V:
Blue Frog, Erlitun, Le Petit Gourmand, Prima Taste, and more
Give a Crap Report IV:
Tun, Er, Hex, All-Star, Stadium, and more
Give a Crap Report III:
This blog goes ballistic
Give a Crap Report II:
Tun, Q, Maison Boulod, Press Club Bar, and more
Give a Crap Report I:
Bookworm, Klubb Rouge, Maggie’s, All Star, Luga’s, and more

Aldana’s Brazilian BBQ: Casa Brasil’s grill opens tonight in Sequoia space

Two-floor cafe and grill Casa Brasil, headed by Daniel Aldana of Alameda fame, has opened in the former Sequoia Cafe / Garden Books space across from the Brazilian embassy. (This space also housed Tim’s Texas Bar-B-Q and John Bull Pub in the past.) The first-floor cafe opened late last week while the second-floor grill opens tonight at 6 PM. The menu, which Aldana says will be expanded, currently includes everything from salads to steaks while the barbecue will be RMB88 during lunch and RMB168 during dinner. The beverages include Brazilian favorite, Caipirinha.

Basque bar snacks: Tasty pintxos at Migas tapas night

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I don’t know my pintxos from my txakoli so I joined a tasting of Basque tapas and wine at Migas restaurant in Nali Patio last night. I have been to Migas for a dinner, a night of drinking with my ex-boss, and The Beijinger anniversary party, and enjoyed myself each time. I like the rooftop (it works for everything from a large party to a romantic rendezvous), the design of the restaurant (although it does come off as a bit cold), and the food (I remember the suckling pig and apple risotto best).

Tapas in the Basque region are known as pintxos, a word that refers to the toothpick or skewer stuck into each serving, and are typical pub food there. We tried about a dozen kinds (see full list below), with my favorites being the Spanish sausage on toast, the Spanish omelet (whether filled with tuna salad or crab salad), and the crab salad on toast. We washed them down with wine from MPC. Fresh ingredients plus generous serving sizes plus superb presentation mean good tapas times. (Standing about and sampling them made me think this would be a good informal office party option.)

I also had an interesting discussion with Alejandro Sánchez, co-owner of Spanish restaurant Niajo on the third floor of Nali Patio. Niajo is known for paella, including seafood and chicken-vegetable options, and I suggested a breakfast version: rice topped with back bacon, ham, sausage, egg, and potato.  I didn’t get much support from the Spanish delegation. Fair enough. But then Sanchez tells me about a Spanish hamburger he makes. Hey guys, if you can have a Spanish hamburger, I can have a Canadian paella! (Did I mention it includes  maple syrup?) I was going to push this point until I remembered: 1) these guys come from a country where they stick swords into bulls and 2) someone recently described me as “beefy”.

Anyway, last night’s event cost RMB130 and is the first in a series of Spanish regional food tastings Migas is planning. (There was also a dinner–this one focused on the food of Aragon–to mark the return to Beijing of chef Aitor Olabegoya though I don’t know how anyone had room for more food after the tapas tasting.)

The pintxos we tried (list supplied by Mai Quant of Migas):

  • Pintxo de tortilla con berengena / Spanish omelet with eggplant
  • Pintxo de tortilla con pimiento asado al Josper / Spanish omelet with “piquillo” red pepper
  • Pintxo de pulpo con alioli / 0ctopus with “alioli” sauce on toast
  • Pintxo de huevo relleno con atún / stuffed egg with tuna on toast
  • Pintxo de Chistorra / Spanish sausage on toast
  • Pintxo de Morcilla con espuma de piquillo / fried pig’s blood with rice and red pepper foam on toast
  • Pintxo de txaca / crab salad on toast
  • Tortilla rellena de txaca / Spanish omelet filled with tuna salad
  • Tortilla rellena de atun / Spanish omelet filled with crab salad
  • Rollito de cabalacin relleno con bacon, mozarella, langostino en tempura / tempura zucchini roll stuffed with mozzarella, bacon and shrimp

(Photos courtesy of Migas)