If you know Steven Schwankert — scuba diving instructor, journalist, metal fan — you most likely have heard him utter the words “dead to me” at one time or another. It might have been directed at an international figure who just admitted guilt for crimes against humanity or a restaurant that has shark’s fin soup on the menu or simply someone who praised a song, made a typo or wore a sweater that particularly annoyed him.
But death is not a permanent state in The Universe Schwankert — as evidence, see my very own “dead to me” chart at the bottom of this page. In the spirit of Christmas, he recently declared a “Dead to Me” Amnesty, including on numerous Beijing bars and restaurants that were on his naughty list (in this case, naughty means dead, making his list a little less Santa Claus and a little more Grim Reaper). I asked him to list a few of those venues. Here they are…
The 2013 Dead to Me Amnesty by Steven Schwankert…
“Any number of venues have been dead to me for a variety of reasons. However, in the spirit of Christmas and the promise that the upcoming new year offers, I thought I’d give a bunch of places a new lease on life — if they’ll have me, that is.
“Very simply, there are a lot of bars and restaurants in this city, and as a consumer, I don’t have to accept much nonsense. A below-average experience is one thing; a bad experience is frankly unforgivable. That’s how a place dies to me in the first place.
“Case in point: Greyhound Cafe, back there in the dead corner of Taikoo Li Sanlitun South, which has claimed the lives of Stumble Inn and that place that was in there before Stumble. None of the Thai food in Beijing is particularly good. I mean, there’s a Thai restaurant in town called Lime that serves all their dishes with lemon. My first and only visit to Greyhound set a companion and me back over rmb300 — with no booze. Um, it’s Thai food, did they just price it in Thai baht, then change the currency symbol to rmb? Give me a break.
“A place that died to me without ever trying it is Janes and Hooch. Long story short, a few weeks after the place opened, I went there with a couple of friends. There was a private party going on until 9 p.m. It was 8:46. While I didn’t want to crash the party, I thought perhaps we could sit on the unoccupied second floor until 9. No, please come back in 14 minutes. Hmm, 14 minutes, shall I play tiddlywinks on the sidewalk? So I’ve never been inside since. It’s too bad, I’ve heard nothing but great things otherwise, and I’m a big fan of Leon Lee‘s handiwork.
“It’s never been dead to me, but I have actively avoided The Bookworm for a number of years. I feel bad — first Alex [Pearson] and now [new owner] Peter [Goff] are friends, I love their events, it’s a great space, and now it’s an institution. I like their croque monsieur too. But the crowd just rubs me the wrong way. Look, I published a book earlier this year and I’m working on another, but I don’t think of myself as a writer. But the Hutong Hemingways that populate it, I mean they should hand out berets the way places that serve tequila give away sombreros. But in 2014 I need to show my support more. They’ve been really good to me, and because I remember Beijing when there was no Bookworm, I want to make sure that it’s always around.
“Hutongs. I don’t do hutongs anymore. They’re not dead to me, but I’m just no longer interested. I arrived in Beijing in 1996, which made me already late to the expat party, and the hutongs were okay then. Now, they’re so 2007. Thanks, but I’ve had enough of rats, the stench of urine and the most xenophobic residents of Beijing. That’s without mentioning that they’re inconvenient, you can’t park there, and you know what? I can get anything in the hutongs ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE FUCKING CITY. I’m a huge fan of Cu Ju and Great Leap, but both have opened venues on the east side now, so Jesus will have to be fronting Metallica at the Leap’s Doujiao Hutong location before I feel the need to go there again.
“Last for me is cheap places. I didn’t drink 10 kuai Tsingtao in the 90s, I don’t want to now either. People in places like this lack either money or taste or both, which means I’ve got nothing to say to them. It’s like having a mobile number that begins with 15. Either you’re not from here or you just arrived — so I’m not sure we’ve got a lot to talk about.
“People misunderstand the whole “dead to me” thing. It’s about having standards. I’ve been here a long time. I’m not 26 anymore. I don’t need to put up with bad service, bad drinks, crappy atmosphere, and inconvenience. It’s like the old Yugong Yishan: people talked about it like it was Carnegie Hall. It was a fucking trailer with crap sound where the bartenders didn’t understand the concept of mixing gin with tonic water.
“This city hosted an Olympics five years ago, although you can’t really tell. But that means that things have changed and people’s expectations should also rise. This isn’t a time anymore when every place is cheap and the service sucks. Beijing is lagging as an international destination, and that’s true in part because expectations don’t rise even though prices do. For example, taxi prices were low for a long time, the drivers were crap. So the city raised taxi prices, the drivers were nicer for about three weeks, now they’ve returned to being dicks and not showering. Beijing taxi drivers will always be zombies: people who roam the earth, not realizing they’re dead to me.
“Bars and restaurants have to do the same. Deliver on the promises of food and drink and people will pay for it. Look at Blue Frog: that place was the first non-hotel venue to break the rmb100 barrier for a burger and a drink. It’s still way overpriced, but you still can’t get a seat, and they have how many sites in Beijing now. People will pay for food and service, but if you can’t offer both, well, then just die. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”