The first drink for every customer 0n opening night last Friday was free. (I had a pint of Kilkenny.) The bartender was friendly and spoke English. (She said she once worked at The Hidden Tree on old Sanlitun South Street.) And the long and narrow layout was put to good use. (It is easy to grab a seat at the bar or the tables opposite and to maneuver between them.) I had low expectations going into The James Joyce, a new Irish bar in the former Swensen’s on Jindong Street, but these three things showed a pub with promise.
Not that the place doesn’t have issues. There was a single drinks menu consisting of several sheets stapled together and no food is yet available. Aside from the bartender, the employees seemed shy and unsure. (Also, I’m not sure where the employees ended and other observers — owners? relatives of owners? relatives of employees? — began. Quite a few people didn’t fit the category of “employee” or “customer”. And one of them decided to test the sound system a few dozen times during operating hours.) And the place still isn’t fully decorated and thus feels unfinished.
People make a place like this and if The James Joyce can get its staff up to speed, provide good drinks specials (regular prices include draft Guinness at rmb50 and Yanjing at rmb25) and draw even a modestly sized crowd, it will be cozy enough. Its proximity to International Wonderland and other residential areas, and to Sanlitun, give it a fighting chance, not to mention that it is beside…
Hua Zai’s Chuanr Bar, which also opened last week. Light fixtures in place of long exposed fluorescent tubes, a polished cement floor, and so on help make this more than the typical garish feeding station. There is an extensive menu, with more than 50 items, from BBQ to oysters to Sichuan dishes. Don’t expect the place to win any restaurant of the year awards — the food is OK: the best dish I had was stringy tofu with greens — though it will be a good retreat for those full of beer but famished in the wee hours since since Chuanr Bar is open 24 hours. Prices include rmb25 for fried chicken nuggets, rmb12 for the tofu salad, rmb6 for a pair of chicken wings and rmb3 for lamb chuanr. A bottle of Vedett is rmb30 and Duvel is rmb35, with big bottles of local beer also available. Those who want it cheaper, and more options, can always go to Chuanr Bar’s sibling establishment around the corner — Heaven Supermarket.