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