The spirit of Christmas: A dozen photos from Beijing

Beijing photos from this year and years past that remind of Christmas

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A Christmas tree — Tsingtao blurry and midnight clear — in Sanlitun.
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Another tree, this one in the Fairmont Beijing
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And yet another, surrounded by hundreds of people, at the Hilton Beijing.
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Looking west on a snowy day from Maison BB.
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Down below, Workers Stadium East after a snowfall.
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Nothing says Christmas like snow-covered bongs in Sanlitun.
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Or Frosty appearing after one of those rare snowfalls.
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Or a snowball fight after an even bigger snowfall.
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A gingerbread cookie made by my friend Hana.
A model from the Hilton’s Christmas train set.
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And the solitude of maintaining an ice rink in the late hours.
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East meets West, old meets new, a fusion of two cultures… pick your cliche. I simply call it, “Hey, a stone lion is wearing a Santa hat!”

Santa has balls: Dangling over the Hilton Beijing Christmas tree

I recently went to the Christmas bazaar at Hilton Beijing, grabbed a spot on the third floor for a good view of the tree lighting in the lobby, and soon found myself standing beside Santa Claus as he prepared to ‘fly’ through the air.

Before I get to the Man in Red, I’ll repeat that I’m a fan of this hotel and its many events (see [Heart] the Hilton Beijing). This one was no exception, with a solar-powered tree and train, dozens of booths selling crafts, Miss World on hand, and proceeds to Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots organization. But for the sake of the kids — of all ages — I wish the Hilton would speed things up a bit. The lighting ceremony took nearly an hour, a long time for kids excited about Christmas to stand about. That’s my sole Grinch comment on an otherwise typically superb event.

Anyway, I was watching the ceremony from on high, a glass of wine in hand, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Santa Claus a mere meter away. Some photos…

This is the starting point on the third floor. We have to be a good 10 meters up at this point.
The starting point for flying Santa, some 10 meters above the stage. Where’s that magical sleigh when you need it?
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There goes Santa, two hands firmly on the rope, a spotlight following. That first step is one more than most people would make. That’s one ballsy Santa.
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Santa, heading for the middle of the lobby and the tree, manages to get a hand out and wave to the crowd.
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Now the crucial “Hmm, I’m kind of hanging here, how do I get out of this?” moment. By hauling your ass back up the rope or heading for the tree. He chose the rope. Not the most gracious flight but a memorable one.
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A bit later, the lights went on while Santa was likely guzzling baijiu-laced Christmas punch and tending to his rope burns in the presidential suite.
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Another shot of the tree and the packed lobby. A big turnout for flying Santa and the other attractions.
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The Christmas train set. How about putting holiday-themed shots on the cars for people to pick up as they pass by, with proceeds to charity. Choo-choo-choose three shots for rmb100.
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The spirits of Christmas past, present and future — Spanish wine style.

Sips & bites: Salud is Disguised, plus Sequoia, Pavillion, Courtyard, Beer Mania

Some of my best wine memories are from the weekly Friday night tastings Frank Siegel once hosted at the former Sequoia Cafe just behind Opposite House. Siegel held everything from blind tastings to bring-your-own-bottle affairs, covered pretty much every country and style, and always had nibbles or even a barbecue for us. He closed the cafe about five years ago and the space has pretty much been empty since. Tonight I saw workers in there and it looks like this former gathering place for much of the wine scene — from the most experienced tasters to first-timers — will be an office. Sad.

I took the photo above of Salud in Sanlitun a few days ago. The facade has since been redone and the place now goes by the name The Disguised.


Here is a shot of the inside. The guys I saw there earlier tonight said it will open Wednesday. I haven’t been in this place for years, pretty much since bartender Jackson Bai left and then headed to Shanghai.

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William Bolton a.k.a. Chef Billy has left The Pavillion about four months after that Workers Stadium West place finally reopened. Bolton joined the project ~18 months ago after the backers of Sim Sim restaurant took over. I only stopped in a few times but found few customers, though this place still has one of the best patios in town (see below). I’ll try to contact the owners to see if there are any changes coming. As for Bolton, he says it is business as usual at his best-known establishment, Chef Too.

Meanwhile, Brian McKenna is heading the kitchen at The Courtyard and posted this shot today. The card says, “Prepare yourself for an experience that pushes the limits of what’s possible with food.”  Is that an edible envelope, by any chance? McKenna  remains the subject of my longest ever restaurant review, for this meal during his days at Blu Lobster.

brian mckenna at the courtyard

The new kitchen at Beer Mania, headed by former Le Petit Gourmand chef Fred, is doing a tasty brunch. The shot below shows the first course with sausage, bacon, egg, potato, vegetable stew (ratatouille), buns, fresh juice (four choices: the one in front is apple-starfruit) and coffee. The second course includes croissant, waffle, baked apple and jam. The brunch is regularly rmb88 but only rmb70 during December. It runs from 11 AM to 4 PM, which means you can merge it with the happy hour from 3 PM to 8 PM and get two-for-one draft beers as a digestif.

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Finally, if you want a few posts re those former Sequoia tastings, check here:

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Cantina Agave in Beijing: 100+ tequilas, rmb45 lunch specials, possibly a risque piñata


Lunch specials from rmb45. More than one hundred kinds of tequila. A deck that might well become a magnet for margarita fans this summer. A massive and strangely erotic piñata of a burrito wrestling a taco.

Expect that and more when the third branch of Shanghai transplant Cantina Agave opens on the third floor of Sanlitun Village, close to Flamme and Union Bar and Grille.

Owner Raffe Ibrahamian, who works in the clothing industry in China and opened Cantina Agave in 2008 because he missed Southern California-style Mexican food, says he expects to open the Beijing branch around Chinese New Year with a menu that includes the same fare as in Shanghai plus some new additions:

  • Ibrahamian says that he has over 140 kinds of tequila in stock in Shanghia and aims to provide Beijing imbibers with a good selection.
  • In terms of drinks, there will be a focus on that old standby, the margarita, with four flavors leading the charge: classic, strawberry, mango and passion fruit.
  • There will also be new cocktails created by Yao, head bartender at Shanghai bar The Alchemist.
  • Lunch specials include a quesadilla, half-order of meat-topped nachos or tacos with a soft drink at rmb45, or with a margarita at rmb55.
  • There will also be new dishes, including seafood soup, with seven items from the briny depths, and avocado-topped fries.

Cantina Agave will be able to seat 50 inside beneath its high ceiling, and another 80 outside on the second floor patio, which will include a small bar. Look for banks of windows on the east side, funky lighting, tequila flights and more to be added by the time this place opens.

(Hat tip to P. Gucci)

Bad-a-bing? Hong Kong shop does ‘authentic’ Beijing jianbing for, um, rmb48

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A snack shop called Mr Bing just opened in Hong Kong and several of my friends from Beijing are outraged the place is (apparently) selling jianbing — described above as “Beijing street crepes” — for rmb48. The company’s website lists no menu or prices at the moment.

I could see a jianbing costing rmb48 if it were made from fresh organic ingredients in a venue with a top-notch decor in a high-rent district.

But that wouldn’t be — as the website puts it — an “authentic” Beijing “street” crepe, which in my experience is usually made on a corner using batter reminiscent of watery concrete (in the right light), mystery meat (that may or may not contain meat), greens that look like they went through a paper-shredder, and other items that, when combined, are very tasty. And that only costs a few kuai.

The ones in Hong Kong? It looks like Mr Bing is making something authentic in this Youtube video, although the husband and wife team at my local put far more care into production. And this photo shows that the digs are far from five-star. Thus, at this point, it looks like Hong Kong is getting somewhat authentic jianbing at rather inauthentic prices.* If any of my Hong Kong friends stop in at this place, please let me know what you think.

* Then again, I paid rmb40 the other night for a modestly sized lamb pie topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes and gravy.