The Top Five Watering Holes Series is back and with someone who epitomizes the work hard, play hard ethic. Her 9 to 5 gig — actually, given the profession, I’m sure many days go long past 5 — is at a communications firm that focuses on tech and IT clients. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing, discovering good food and good drinks, and exploring new areas of Beijing. Ladies and gentlemen, the top five Beijing watering holes of Amy Saltzman…
- Trust me, you don’t want to challenge her to a game of quarters
“I would count myself as a person who is possibly more concerned with the social nature of drinking, rather than the content of the drinks themselves, so I was surprised when asked to do my own “top five” list. I’m not hip on the classy joints (although I do love me a well-made dirty martini). I’m drawn more to the atmosphere and social elements that add a fuller color and context to what I drink and where I drink it. All in all, I’d like to think this list offers a good variety, and, at the very least, it definitely contains some of my favorite places to chill with friends and/or occasionally get sauced enough to write reviews on The Beijinger. Enjoy!
1. Drum and Bell. I have spent a fair amount of time at this bar, and it’s always a pleasure. The vibe inside is cheerful and relaxed, and I especially love the raised seating area that’s set amongst pillows, where you have to take your shoes off to sit. The rooftop deck has a decent amount of space and great views as well, making it perfect for sitting and chatting with friends. Also, if you’re looking to make the most of your Sunday Funday, the 50 kuai all-you-can drink afternoon special is well worth it.
2. The Door. As I’ve warned, classy is not my adjective of choice. However, even The Door marks itself as a guilty pleasure on my list. The squashed, dark dance floor area is pretty sketchy, I won’t argue that. However, beyond it is an array of individual couches and tables, which are great when drinking with a group of friends, or when playing a game of “quarters” with 1元 coins is on the agenda for the night. Really cheap beers and mixed drinks (10 kuai to 20 kuai for most), a convenient location, and a good amount of space to have for yourself and your pals make it hard to say no to. Also, considering the amount of rogue coins I’ve lost under those couches, it is likely there’s a small treasure trove hiding under there for some lucky guy or girl to find.
3. El Nido. This would definitely be the place I would imagine overhearing, “I liked (band / artist / fashion trend) before they went mainstream.” It would also be a strong contender if the website “Stuff White People Like” did a post on Beijing. However, I am caught in the trendy cogs of this small but popular joint, and I don’t so much mind it. El Nido offers a huge variety of unique beers for surprisingly affordable prices, and I love the infused brandy and vodka offerings, if only because they smell fantastic. Plus, it’s appealing to me that I can see all the beers through the glass door fridges before selecting one (or two) for myself. The only downside is the seating, which is almost entirely outside and leaves many to question what will happen when winter rolls around (brrr).
4. Hercules. When I feel like dressing up for the night, doing the transformative glasses-to-contact lenses switch, and walking 25 percent slower to avoid tripping in my heels, Hercules is where I head for first round drinks. The layout is open and relaxed, but with an air of sleek sophistication. The drinks are a bit pricey, but very well-made (especially the dirty martinis and peach Long Island iced teas), and it still sports my favorite happy hour deals for making the most of the weekend: buy one get one free in the early evening and then again from around midnight till the wee early morning hours. I also love the variety in seating options. Couch? Bench? Bed? As you wish.
5. The Stumble Inn. I really enjoy the Stumble Inn and its classic bar vibe. There is ample space to sit inside (as I wait and secretly hope the dart board becomes available), but if my patience gives way, the deck also offers spacious seating with really nice views. There’s also the glorious double threat pairing of both a lengthy beer list and pretty tasty food. I always know I can count on getting my favorite Blue Star nice and cold here, and paired with a juicy cheeseburger it’s hard to leave unsatisfied in both alcoholic and gustatory pleasures. Happy hour deals are good as well, and mixed drinks are effective, to say the least. Very effective.
Flamme. This place has the BEST dirty martinis and olives bigger than my eyeballs. I’m in heaven.
Migas (on a weekend day). I’m not a huge fan of the crowds this place amasses at night, but I absolutely love spending a couple hours on a sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon, lounging on the ample couch space that opens up on Migas’ upstairs deck if you catch it at the right time. I can also attest that lesser crowds equal some of the freshest raspberry mojitos I’ve ever tasted.