Monday, December 31, 2007

Simple pleasures

Another gig.

Not the best I've ever been to, but....

My beloved SUBS were playing the just-pre-midnight slot.

And the wonderful Kang Mao was wearing a pair of spray-on black hipster jeans that were almost indecent.

I am a man. I am easily pleased.

Best wishes for 2008!

A Happy New Year - to both my readers!!

Champagne is not really my thing (although I hear there's a two-for-one deal on Tattinger at the cute little French bar Baie des Anges tonight - which could tempt me, if I had anyone to share it with...), but it is a conventional, readily understood symbol of celebration; and so, I invoke the symbol to put us all in a celebratory mood as we get ready to greet the year ahead.

I hope you all have a great night, and a cracking good start to 2008.

Thanks for reading this alcoholic little blog of mine. I hope you'll continue to do so in the year ahead - and bring your friends.

Let the partying commence................

Perhaps the greatest of the 'Unsuitable Role Models'

This is Rowley Birkin, QC - one of England's great drunks and a masterly (if slurred and rambling) raconteur.

He is, of course, a character from the great '90s BBC2 skit series 'The Fast Show', created and portrayed by the genius comedian, Paul Whitehouse (check out the Wikipedia link for more information).

There isn't, alas, that much of him on YouTube as yet. I really wanted to find that terribly poignant one where he talks about losing the love of his life - but no luck. Perhaps it's just as well: as with most of the 'Fast Show' characters, the impact of these occasional revelations of human detail was largely dependent on the cumulative effect of having got to know and love the characters so well through multiple slight variations of the same formulaic sketch.

This one's a pretty good illustration of the man's unique storytelling style. My New Year gift to my readers.

Final bon mot of the year

"Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go."

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

A fine party call-to-arms for the New Year..... Thank you, Edward.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Froog 2007 Bar Awards

Some year-end recommendations for you (and a few brickbats too) from my year of intense bar-hopping around Beijing.....

Best Live Music Venue

Winner: MAO Live House

Runners-up: Er, there are really no runners-up in this category, I don't think. MAO is just head-and-shoulders above the competition for small-to-medium-sized venues now. Star Live is too big, Wuming Gaodi is too hard to find, 13 Club has too limited a roster of bands, and the new Yugong Yishan has an awkward layout and poor acoustics. No, MAO has achieved a near-monopolistic domination of the scene in the last 6 months or so. But I will have a separate category for the smaller venues that are really more bars-with-music...

Best Music Bar

Winner: Jianghu

Joint (very close) Runners-up: Jiangjinjiu, 2 Kolegas, Salud

Worst Music Bar

Winner: New Get Lucky

Runners-up: D-22, Guitar Bar

Best Gig Of The Year

Joint Winners: The Glorious Pharmacy reunion at Obi-wan in October, and the Xiao He solo show at the Dayaolu Workshop in May.

Runners-up: SUBS at the Midi Festival in May, and the "Let's Girl With Rocks" (sic!) show at MAO earlier this month (culminating in a coruscating performance from Helen and Ziyo).

Worst Gig Of The Year

Winner: Probably almost any gig at D-22 (down to the space and the sound system rather than the bands)..... but especially this complete shitfest from early October (not even redeemed by having the fabulous SUBS headlining!). No other Runners-up..... D-22 takes the 'honours' in this category all on its own.

Best Bar Food

Winner: Saddle
(Saddle isn't much good for anything else, but those burritos are fantastic!)

Runner-up: The Den
(There's a paucity of competition in this category, I fear. I admit the food at The Rickshaw isn't bad - but it's such a craphole of a bar in every other way that I refuse to nominate it. And this is why we are so often forced to do our drinking in proper restaurants - see later category.)

Most Overrated Bar Food

Winner: The Tree

Runner-up: There are no runners-up in this category. The Tree is the only place I can think of that has built up such a ridiculously overblown, undeserved reputation for its food.

Best Place To Drink While Eating

Winner: White Nights
(Best of the cheap Russian joints these days, I think [though how I miss the old Traktirr!]: the food is hearty; they have an accepting attitude towards people who want to drink more than eat; the draft beer is usually pretty good and not too expensive; the bottled Baltika beer is exellent; and then there's the vodka....)

(Very close) Runner-up: BiteAPitta
(I love the food here - but the draft beer is also pretty good, and I often seem to find myself having 3 or 4 pints with a meal.)

[Note: The new Kro's Nest at Gongti Beimen is looking a very promising contender in this category, but is still unproven, having only been open a month or two.]

Best Place To Go For A Cocktail

Winner: Reef
(Especially if Jesse or The Choirboy have been allowed behind the bar - where else are you going to get such a killer martini for only 20 kuai?? But in general, you can always rely on Reef for friendly service, decent measures, and reasonable prices. I have just discovered that their White Russian is pretty damn good, and only half the price of anywhere else in town. And it is very nearly the only bar here [Salud is the only other one I know of] where you can get a hot toddy.)

Runner-up: Cafe Sambal
(They still do the best Mojito in town [even better than at sister establishment, Bed], and most of their other mixed drinks are pretty good too, I think. And it's quite OK to just go and hang at the bar for an hour or two without ordering food.)

Best Place For Sitting Outside

Winners: Bell & Drum (rooftop), The Stone Boat (terrace)

Runners-up: Reef (on the street), Fish Nation (Nanluoguxiang, rooftop), Jianghu (mini courtyard)

Most Disappointing New Bar

Winner: New Nanjie

Runner-up: Room 101
(Well, it was either this, or I'd have to create a category specially for it - Smelliest New Bar.)

Worst New Bar

Winner: Paddy O'Shea's

Runner-up: Rickshaw
(The recent opening of Paddy O'Shea's has reminded me that Rickshaw does in fact have several redeeming features - not enough to redeem it, obviously, but some.... rather than none.)

[Note: The utterly loathsome Block8 is really more of a nightclub than a bar, so doesn't even merit consideration here.]

Worst Bar

Winner: D-22

Runner-up: Centro

Additional Dishonourable Mention: The Tree

Most Overrated Bar

Winner: Rickshaw

Runners-up: The Tree, Centro, Q

Most Sadly Missed Departures

Winners: Yugong Yishan, "The Kebab Queen"

Runners-up: Nanjie, Bus Bar, Kebab Republic (the one on Sanlitun - formerly one of my favourite spots for drinking while eating)

Best Barman/Bar Owner

Winner: Luke, of the Pool Bar

Runner-up: Chen, of Reef

Best New Bar

Winner: The Pool Bar

Runner-up: Jianghu

Best Bar

Winner: The Pool Bar

Runner-up: Huxley's
(Though, it is, sadly, not at all what it once was, since Jackson Bai's departure.)

Those are my picks. Any comments, complaints, additions, suggestions?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The elements of a very good Christmas Day

A smooth wraparound from Christmas Eve
(Staying out till after midnight, staying up chatting even later than that....)

Making it out of bed early - but not too early - on Christmas morning
(Always a bit of a challenge if Christmas Eve has been too heavy!)

Setting the mood with some appropriate music
(I don't have any classic Christmassy songs - either traditional carols or pop songs [well, apart from Lennon's 'Happy Christmas (War is Over)'; but I've been hearing that a little bit too much in the Pool Bar this past week] - and I'm not at all religious, but.... I am a bit soppy about Christmas, and I am prepared to suspend my usual virulent religious intolerance for a while. The only thing in my vast and varied CD collection that really seemed to hit the spot was a collection of 12th Century plainsong by Hildegard of Bingen - a very mellow way to start the day.... and the gentlest of gentle wake-up calls for an obstinately comatose Chairman in the guest bedroom....)

A very good Christmas lunch
(Thanks to Frank Siegel at the Sequoia Cafe for laying on an excellent spread!)

A delayed start to lunch - allowing for extended drinking
(This isn't quite how I would have planned it - honestly! - since I was absolutely ravenous, after skipping breakfast; but one guest getting the rendezvous time wrong, another not being able to find the venue, and then some patchy service meant that we didn't actually start tucking in until nearly two hours after we'd arrived. Beer and wine make everything fine.)

Some good friends to share it with
(Many of my closest friends - even more than usual, I think - have gone home this year. And a few still here who had been intending to join us, dropped out for one reason or another. Both of The Chairman's brothers cried off. So, it was a small group this year - but nevertheless a good one.)

The continuance of a seasonal Beijing 'tradition'
The Chairman is my oldest friend in Beijing, and I think I have spent Christmas with him almost every year we've been here. And in our first few years, the favoured venue for our Christmas lunch [along with Big Frank, the third 'Amigo'] was always the old John Bull pub - now, alas, defunct; but the Sequoia is its direct successor, under the same management, occupying the same premises, and with most of the same virtues in its food.)

A good pudding at the end to induce food coma
(We were given a bread pudding, with just a drizzle of sweet custard. Delicious! Not exactly traditional, but appropriately stodgy.)

A bracing afternoon walk to recover
(A stroll through nearby Ritan Park - a brief pilgrimage to my favourite 'melancholy spot' in the city, 'The Dead Kite Tree' - and then a little shopping expedition with The Chairman was just what we needed to help the food settle, to work off the calories, and to deter us from just snoozing away most of the rest of the day.)

A proper session of pool
(The Chairman and I then returned to the pool hall we'd discovered the previous evening. We found it much less packed this time, and were able to get in a good 90-minute session. This place is quite a find: cheap and cheerful, with excellent, brand-new equipment. The only major [major!] negative point is the excruciatingly awful Mando-pop that they play almost continuously there - I may have to invest in some ear-plugs. I recovered the confidence and exuberance in my game that have been rather smothered of late by the bothersome eccentricities of the Pool Bar's table. I played some of the best damn pool I've produced in the last 2 or 3 years. It felt great! The Chairman wasn't quite on his game - but he still somehow managed to beat me 5-4. Oh, well....)

A 'Christmas Cocktail'
(After the pool, we looked in at the brand-new 'African' bar we'd recently discovered, and had a nice chat with the boss. He comped us a special Christmas drink of his own devising. I had guessed, unenthusiastically, that it would probably be a layered drink, and indeed it was - mostly red, but yellow on the bottom, with something more indistinct in the middle. And it had cream on top, which was gradually curdling and sinking to produce a 'snowstorm' effect. It was served in a tall, conical, knickerbockerglory glass; it was fruity and very, very sweet, and had almost no discernible alcohol content. Not at all my usual type of drink; and I found the curdling cream distinctly off-putting [I'm with The British Cowboy on that one!]; but we felt obliged to give it a try out of politeness. And actually, it wasn't half bad. Well, not disgusting, anyway - although it did take us rather a long time to drink. As The Chairman noted, it tasted like "a liquid trifle" - a remarkable achievement of drink construction! A second pudding for us!!)

A White Russian bar crawl
(Well, not so much of a bar crawl, really: we sidled past Jianghu, but didn't dare to go in for fear that the new siren of our dreams, The Stylish Girl, might be there again; we peered through the window at Salud, but found it closed for the holidays [lazy-arse bloody French!]; then we dropped in at The Yacht Club [which we hadn't been able to get through the door of the previous evening, but was deserted 24 hours later] for two or three of their beguilingly cheap and extremely mellowing White Russians; and finally, of course, we hit the Pool Bar, again.)

A little music to round the evening off
(OK, it was actually fairly terrible music, and I was disappointed that the billed Xiao He [my No. 1 'musical hero' in Beijing] failed to appear - but it was still rather fun, somehow. Maybe it was just all those White Russians making us giggly....)

A sensibly early night
(The Chairman and I both heading home around midnight - I don't think I can remember the last time that happened!)

A Christmas present to unwrap at home
(I only got one present this year - a DVD from The Chairman. And I had to wrap it for myself. But it was very cheering to have something to unwrap when I came home.)

A feel-good film to wind up the day
(The Chairman's gift was the cheesy but really rather good rom-com 'Music & Lyrics'; and nope, I couldn't resist watching it straight away. Damn good fun!)

Catching up with a few old friends back home in a spell of very drunken, late-night e-mailing
(What other way is there to end the day in these, our modern times?)

A LONG lie-in the next day to recover....

Supplementary Christmas Week Haiku (HBH 60)

Cure for ills of throat
And stomach and heart and soul -
Soothing White Russian.

A few lines in honour of the 'drink of the week' (and the week ain't over yet!!).

I discover from my Net peregrinations this Saturday lunchtime (I wanted to find a picture of Jeff Bridges as "the Dude", White Russian in hand - but no joy! Anybody got one they could send me?) that it is possible - not desirable, but possible - if you don't want to shell out for a pre-mixed coffee liqueur, to whip up a "poor man's" version using sweetened instant coffee and a drop of vanilla essence. I hope Chinese bar owners don't find this site! Mind you, we probably shouldn't enquire too closely into the contents of their bottles of Kahlua....

That's my kitchen, that is! No, NO - I mustn't start mixing them at home - that is A Path to Fatness.

I am thinking of having a 'Big Lebowski' party soon, though....

Friday, December 28, 2007

The elements of a near-perfect Christmas Eve

Some rare quality time alone with The Chairman, my oldest buddy in Beijing
(He lives a long way out of the city centre, works most weekends, and these days also spends a lot of time with one or other of the two [of his many] brothers who have now also come to work in China. So, I hardly ever get to see him on his own any more. One of the brothers was in fact threatening to join us after an early Christmas dinner with colleagues on the other side of town, but that plan misfired - and we were left to ourselves all evening. Bliss.)

A particularly good nang bao rou in our new favourite Muslim restaurant
(This is about my favourite dish in China, and something of a litmus test for Xinjiang restaurants. It's lamb and veggies in a spicy tomato broth, with a huge round flatbread submerged at the bottom of it. The interpretation of it we were treated to this night was distinguished by an especially thick broth [almost too thick - it was taking a long time to soak into the bread], an unusually fresh, fluffy naan bread, and exceptionally generous chunks of gorgeously sweet carrot [one of my favourite vegetables, but not much used in China, and not usually featured anywhere near so prominently in this dish]. Bliss.)

An improvised bar crawl, exploring a little outside of our usual well-worn patch
(This was necessitated by the throng in our favoured Pool Bar in the mid-evening, and was, to be honest, an indifferent success. However, I enjoyed the sense of adventure, of at least attempting to break out of our rut a bit. We did discover a new-ish pool hall [also packed out, alas], a brand new African bar [a curious novelty in this corner of Beijing!!], and what might just be the least charming bar in Beijing [it's in a basement, has stark decor, a high ceiling - which, in combination with the tinselly Christmas decorations, somehow put me in mind of 'The Poseidon Adventure' - and absolutely no customers, even on this party night of party nights...... we did not stay!]. Not exactly bliss, but a diverting walk.)

Chancing upon a particularly jolly party in another favourite bar..... and being smitten
(Our thwarted exploration of the surrounding streets had left us near to the lovely little Jianghu bar, my regular Thursday night haunt. It too was packed out, but mostly with familiar faces - just about all the non-laowai regulars! An assortment of local musicians were jamming away together high-spiritedly, and the boss's girlfriend was leading a karaoke session, encouraging people to follow her example and step up to the mike to sing a song or two [luckily, they all had pretty good voices]. I don't think I've ever heard 'Jingle Bells' played on an electric guitar before! It was a lovely atmosphere, and everyone was being very friendly to us, but we felt we ought not to get stuck there for too long. We had anxieties about getting up the next morning [I had arranged a dangerously early Christmas lunch for us]. We had anxieties also about falling too heavily for The Stylish Girl. She's quite a regular there - stunningly attractive [not classically Han Chinese; from somewhere out West, I'd guess], vivacious, and a very elegant dresser; I suspect she may be a student from the nearby Central Academy of Drama. I've swooned over her a few times before, but she was particularly eye-catching that night, and...... well, The Chairman's ogling and drooling was beginning to embarrass me..... I feared it was calling attention to my own..... Bliss. Well, blissful heartache, anyway.)

Stopping in for 'just the one' at the Pool Bar on the way home
(We found that by 11.30 or so, the young Chinese revellers were dispersing, and suddenly the pool table was free. Not only that, but M - the most formidable player there, the man I have long been trying to set up as 'The Challenger' to The Chairman - showed up at almost exactly the same time as us. Alas, he had not brought his best game with him - the responsibilities of being a new dad [perhaps that should be his blogname from now on] have been undermining his form of late. The Chairman came out ahead in this first challenge match. Heck, even I managed to beat New Dad once. Then I managed to beat The Chairman. That was some of the best damned pool I've played in a long time. Maybe it was the rather good White Russians Luke's dad was making for us. I might quite happily have stayed all night - but New Dad had to go home to be a new dad, and The Chairman was also a little off his game.... so, we were 'sensible', for once, and toddled home at about 1am. Bliss.)

Staying up late, talking of life and love....
(The Chairman crashed at my place. He decided he wanted a cup of Earl Grey before he turned in. I decided I wanted a stiff Jim Beam. We ended up chatting for another hour-and-a-half. Bliss.)

The hi-jacking of Christmas

The Chinese are getting rather too enthusiastic about Christmas. Particularly the young urban Chinese. And even more particularly students.

This is quite a recent phenomenon, I think. I don't remember too much happening in my first year or two here; but three years ago, the University district around Wudaokou was a sea of party-goers on Christmas Eve (the human log-jam made worse by heavy snowfalls that had gummed up the city's public transport system). And it seems to be getting worse year by year.

Yes, that's Christmas Eve - the Chinese seem to have got the idea fixed in their heads that Christmas Eve is the main holiday (is this insidious cultural colonisation by the French, who - astounding as it may seem! - are now reputed to be the most numerous nationality amongst Beijing's expats?). Tulsa was actually instructed to go home when she innocently showed up for work on Monday - despite the fact that: a) Christmas Eve is not a holiday anywhere in the known world (not even in France, I don't think); b) she is a Muslim; and c) she had just taken a day or two of holiday (not without some huffing and puffing of persuasion) for her own winter festival of Eid al Mubarak at the end of last week.

On Christmas Eve this year, Beijing's students were partying their little hearts out. It seemed that every single bar was packed to the rafters. Early evening, it was hard even to get through the door at my favourite haunt, the Pool Bar, and there was clearly going to be no chance of getting on the table for a game. However, I don't begrudge these youngsters their fun (and I certainly don't begrudge Luke the business - I don't want to think he's relying on me to keep him afloat!). It became part of the special charm of the evening to be surrounded by so many happy locals, to have so many complete strangers eagerly clinking glasses with me and wishing me a 'Happy Christmas!' This is the essence of Christmas in China - they steal your holiday, but you become everybody's friend.

And the next day..... the city seemed ominously hushed, almost deserted, as in one of those post-apocalypse sci-fi films. A good chunk of the population was cowering at home in bed, nursing a huge collective hangover.

HBH 59

Just three customers,
But the guitarists still play -
Private performance!

A good 70% of the expat community has left town for the holidays; and the Chinese, it seems, are all partied out - after Monday night's excesses. The last couple of days (I'm told - I haven't been out much myself) have been very quiet everywhere. So, last night it was just me, Tulsa, and The Chairman at Jianghu.... but our guitarist friends very kindly put on a show for us anyway. A small group of young Chinese showed up for the second set, at least..... but it was a very subdued night. Even Tian Xiao, the boss, was 'sleeping it off' in the other room.

Still, there is a special joy about having the band play just for you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A prediction fulfilled

Somehow, I just couldn't imagine The Chairman (notoriously weak-willed, danger-driven fellow that he is) keeping to his resolution to keep off the White Russians last night. And indeed he didn't. Neither did I!

Partly we might blame the weather. Beijing's air has been more than usually toxic over the past few days: it really does rasp at your windpipe after just a few seconds, and produces a permanent uncomfortable tickle in the throat - that can only be soothed by......

Partly we might blame the generous pricing policy of some of Beijing's bars. In the Yacht Club, the White Russian - though admittedly a fairly small measure - is a steal at 15RMB. We had to pay more than double that at Jianghu - but that's still a pretty good deal; especially as we were allowed to mix them ourselves (they were unfamiliar with the drink - I should have charged them a demonstration fee!), and thus got a particularly stiff measure.

Mostly, of course, we should blame our own lack of willpower. Well, that and - as The British Cowboy witheringly puts it - our latent girliness.

OK, so, I'm a girl...... I don't care.

The incredible disappearing Pharmacy....

.... and the dashed elusive Xiao He.

I think I have omitted to mention this on here thus far, but the Glorious Pharmacy gig I had been looking forward to at the end of last month failed to occur. I have complained before that Pharmacy gigs have quite often been advertised over the past 18 months, but never in fact seem to happen. I wonder if this is mainly down to the erratic personality of Xiao He - their leading light, but these days mostly a solo performer; and his solo gigs always have this will-he-turn-up-this-time-or-won't-he? tension hanging over them too. He is quite The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Beijing music scene.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't blame Xiao He. A lot of it is probably down to the venues, most of whom will, I suspect, advertise a 'confirmed gig' on the basis of the merest drunken half-promise (or even as an unfounded, shameless deception, to try to lure in punters on what would otherwise be a slow night). Jiangjinjiu (or 3J, as it has become known in text-speak) seems to be particularly bad in this respect. I think probably at least half of the things I've gone there to see haven't taken place. I really should get into the habit of phoning first for last-minute reassurance, but..... well, frankly, my Chinese just isn't up to it; and even if it were, I'm not sure that I'd put much trust in whatever I was told. No, you just have to turn up, with a large measure of hope in your heart - and a readiness to be disappointed, a willingness to forgive.

Tulsa had assured me that Xiao He was supposed to be playing at 3J on Christmas Night. I was extremely sceptical, but..... I do love the guy, and I hadn't seen him for a while..... so, I dragged The Chairman along to see if he would show or not.

He didn't show. But The Chairman and I were sufficiently lubricated with White Russians by that point to 'enjoy' the performers who were there anyway. Not 'enjoy' in the musically elated sense that I have so often experienced there in the past, though. No, this was more revelling in how bad something could be - and griping from the sidelines like Statler & Waldorf.

The first guy up was an intimdatingly burly character, with a thin moustache and a bullet-head - but nearly all his songs were slow and angsty, a string of indistinguishable, plodding lamentations, oddly out of keeping with his daunting physical presence. "Strong but sensitive," I observed. "He looks like a male nurse...... from a psychiatric hospital. He's probably singing about how all his girlfriends have left him because he's such a whiny bitch. Not that I'd ever call him 'a whiny bitch' to his face, of course - god, I hope he can't speak English!" Well, even if he could, our banter was sufficiently muted to keep us out of danger. But really..... this was one of the least impressive musical performances I've ever seen in this town - his guitar technique was minimal, and his singing...... well, it wasn't great. Shortly afterwards, I observed to Tulsa (who had - wisely, as it turned out - decided on an early night), via the much safer medium of text message, that, "This guy should only be allowed to sing in the shower. With Zyklon B at the ready." A harsh judgement, certainly; but, in the circumstances, justified, I think. I suppose I had by that stage exhausted my reserves of Christmas cheer......

The second chap on was rather better. Well, slightly. He was much more up-tempo, and had a much beefier sound (courtesy of the Jiangjinjiu's boss joining him on his drum-kit). There was some aggression and humour about his performance, too. But again, his singing wasn't the best. Hard to pigeonhole his style - I ventured to The Chairman that he came across as "a bastard son of Sid Vicious and Yoko Ono".

Ah, what laughs!

I could really do with seeing a good gig again soon, though - this holiday week has been something of a cultural desert. Our favourite Mongolian folkies ('throaties'), Hanggai, are supposed to be playing 3J tomorrow. We shall see. I wouldn't place any bets on it. But Tulsa and The Man In Black are both keen, so I suppose I'll check it out.

Good intentions....

I was just asking The Chairman, via text message, whether he would be coming out with me again tonight.

He replied: "Yes - but no white russians!"

I concurred: "A very sensible qualification."

Alas, I fear that by the end of this evening one or other - or probably both - of us will have deviated from this admirable resolution.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Man In Black at Christmas

We failed to entice MIB out on Christmas Eve.

He informed me (mid-evening!) that he was at church.

I was surprised, sceptical. I retorted: "ALL NIGHT? What are you - Russian Orthodox, or something?"

We were unable to prise him away from his devotions.

I understand the strength of these spiritual urges. As I observed, "The Pool Bar is my church."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'm dreaming.... after a White Russian Christmas....

The Chairman has converted me to his new favourite drink - the White Russian.

When he briefly fretted that consorting with 'White' Russians was somewhat unsound, disloyal to the Communist affiliations of his youth (one of the elements in the coining of his nickname), I consoled him that we were putting them down.

On the plus side, I treat them with greater respect than most drinks (largely because I can sense the inches being added to my waistline with every sip), and consume them fairly slowly. On the minus side, they are fattening and expensive and fattening...... I will try to limit them to being a holiday indulgence. Damn, they do slip down easy, though. And produce a nicely floaty feeling by the end of the evening....

"Careful of the beverage, man..."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas cheer!

I think we all know that feeling, don't we?

Have a great holiday, everyone - love and best wishes for the coming week, and for making a good start to 2008!!

It's ALIVE......

After a long period of dormancy - he's back! As though from the grave....

Who? The Bookseller, that's who!

For the best part of two years, he has been a stranger to the Internet (he has complained to me that this is an exaggeration; but I really don't think I'd had an e-mail from him since some months prior to his wedding in September 2006). For a variety of reasons - a string of mishaps with his computer, adapting to married life, and being too impoverished or just too damned indolent to arrange a broadband connection for himself at his new home - he had been cut off from us all this time...... quite unaware that he had become one of Blogland's unlikely 'heroes'.

But now..... he is connected at home and is once more able to stalk the cyber-corridors (casting long shadows on the wall and cackling demonically....). He has already dropped in on the 'What makes a great bar?' post; and I'm hoping that we will hear from him again; perhaps even that he might become a regular.....

Of course, some of you will still be convinced that I'm making him up.

A little too ruddy-faced.....

I have for many years suffered with a rather unfortunate reaction to certain types of alcohol, where I break out in crimson blotches: most embarrassing! I assume it is some sort of allergy - probably not to alcohol itself (since I can often drink heavily with no ill effects at all), but to the various other chemicals ('congeners', I believe, is the technical term for them) that you so often find in booze. Strong drinks are worse than weak ones, coloured drinks worse than clear ones (I rarely run into any difficulties with gin, vodka, or white rum [if not fake - which is quite a major problem in China], but have to be very careful with red wine; and port, once a great favourite of mine, is pretty much off-limits to me now). I have learned that tiredness, dehydration, and certain types of food also predispose me to suffer this reaction (sometimes I get a mild attack without touching a drink at all).

This problem has, alas, become much more frequent over the years (progressive deterioration of the liver, I wonder?), especially since I came to China. I alluded a moment or two ago to the problem of fake spirits in China - I got a particularly bad attack at this time last year after being induced to drink a number of toasts (from a pudding basin - it was that kind of party!) in very dodgy Smirnoff at The Suave Bengali's Christmas lunch. And the toxin-laden North Korean soju at the Koryo Christmas Party has brought on an immediate and violent flush in each of the last two years (I should have known better than to indulge again, after my experience with the stuff last year - turning a glowing puce colour did rather put paid to my sharking ambitions for the evening!).

However, although I am aware of - and mostly fairly cautious about - this problem with spirits, I rarely have to worry with beer. Not back home, at any rate. In China, the beer is notorious for often having a high formaldehyde content (and, one fears, there could be all kinds of even nastier trace elements in some of it as well). In China, I quite often get the dratted blush from drinking beer alone. And last week at Jianghu (where the draft beer is usually pretty good), both my (female) companion and I suffered ferocious headaches the next day - after consuming just a few pints (and I don't get hangovers, anyway; not ever!). Then, just a couple of days later, I got a deep and persistent flushing attack after a few pints in The Den while watching the footie on Saturday.

What can possibly be the explanation for this troubling phenomenon? Aha! Of course! In winter, they put more anti-freeze in the beer.....

You think I jest..... but this is China.

Another poetic bon mot

"Humanity, I love you because when you're hard up you pawn your intelligence to buy a drink."

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

That love affair, again

I promised a week or so ago that I would shut up about my Great Lost Love. I was, of course, lying. It's pretty much impossible to keep her from my mind at this very resonant time of the year. One last poetic offering on the theme, then.....

And I must give a nod here to my Canadian friend, Trish, who inspired this effort with a poem of her own that she shared with me. I hope she won't object to my stealing the the central image from her (after all, that image is not in itself so remarkable, probably far from unique - I think I was also partly inspired by E.E. Cummings, for example); and I think my piece ended up being quite different from (and probably inferior to) hers; but it is certainly a variation or riff on it.

Yesterday's News

A tumbleweed of newspaper
Hurries down the street,
A blur of unrecognisable photographs
And obsolete headlines....
And the whole story of our love
But a single paragraph
On an inside page....

The Smelly Bar

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'd had a pretty good first impression of a new bar over on Andingmennei (it's about a 30 or 35 minute walk away; but that just about counts as 'local' for me - I'm a big walker) - although that was mainly down to the embarrassingly generous measure of Glenfiddich the barman poured me.

Even if it was unlikely that that particular aberration (a "bank error in your favour", as it used to say on the 'Chance' cards in Monopoly!) would be repeated, that one incident was enough to give me some warm fuzzies about the place. And I'd heard some positive buzz about it from a few other people too. So, I had my hopes for it. And it is French-run...... which is not necessarily a bad thing. There do tend to be a few undesirable 'national characteristics' I notice in certain of the French bar/restaurant proprietors in this town (arrogance, lackadaisical service, disdain for Anglophones...) - but their joints are mostly well-run, attractive, fun..... and full of gorgeous French women.

This place is, however, conspicuously some way short of bar perfection. A poor location - on a drab street, quite some way distant from any other Western bar or restaurant. A floor-to-ceiling window at the front (although, since Chinese street-lighting is so minimal, you don't really notice this at night!). Rather overlit (especially upstairs - I may have omitted to mention this in the original 'great bar' post, but having an upstairs at all, or any kind of divided space, is generally a negative feature for me). The decor tends towards the airy and modern: all light wood rather than dark! And the weekend live music is not proving to be a huge draw (most of the musos I know who've played there say they dislike it as a venue: the 'stage' is tiny, crammed in the far corner of the downstairs bar, underneath a low balcony). Hmmm, yes, and the name's a bit dubious too - Room 101. Doesn't conjure up positive associations, does it?! And you will remember my view that numbers - and sci-fi references - in bar names are not good. (I bet a 'Room 101' is mentioned in 'The Matrix' somewhere....)

However, on the plus side - they have a very good selection of drinks, the prices are quite reasonable, and the staff seem pretty good. And they have an island bar (which does at least enable you to get a view of the postage-stamp-sized stage from almost anywhere downstairs). I love island bars - and I can't think of anywhere else in Beijing that has one (they are, of course, quite commonplace in Edinburgh - probably my favourite bar city on earth). And the staircase is rather imposing, an unusual shape (although this can also be a negative point, apparently: my very cool French friend, Nico, complains that - since the toilets are upstairs - you have to navigate this damned staircase rather too often of an evening, and with advancing drunkenness it becomes increasingly vertiginous and apt to induce accidents!).

I've also mentioned the eccentrically-timed 'happy hours', which are potentially quite an attractive gimmick - although I haven't been able to find the timing of these advertised anywhere! However, the 24-hour opening thing really doesn't seem to be working out for them - I have dropped by a couple of times in the wee small hours of the morning to check it out, and found the place utterly deserted.

Now, of course, it takes time to build up a clientele, particularly a round-the-clock clientele, and this place has only been open a couple of months. But, with all these positive things going for it, I suspect it is struggling to build up a strong base of regular customers because of the smell. My American buddy Big Chris (my poker guru, who happens to live just around the corner) had warned me early on that there was a weird chemical stink about the place - but that first time I visited, I didn't notice anything. On that night, it was crowded and smoky (and I had a cold!), so maybe the smell was being masked. On subsequent visits, when the bar was empty, or very nearly so, I found it so overpowering, I was unwilling to stay. Last Friday, I decided to give the place a try again (walking home from a concert at the Star Live club at the head of the next block east). Damn - can this chemical problem actually be getting worse rather than better? Or maybe I am just more sensitized to it now? This time, I caught a whiff of that darned smell even before I walked through the door, outside on the street; and inside, despite an atmosphere rich with garlicky French sweat and aromatic cigarettes, it was immediately very noticeable above this potent, but non-toxic, background bar smell. I had assumed that this was a 'new building syndrome' type of problem, the cumulative impact of all the paints, varnishes, and glues used in fitting the place out, and that it would soon dissipate; but, if anything, the problem seems to be intensifying. And it's not just unpleasant; it's a downright health hazard - I worry for the staff there, I really do.

Unless something can be done quickly to address this environmental health issue, I fear there is no hope for this bar. It is a pity, because I had really wanted to like it; I was giving it as many chances as possible. It has enough good features (and no really objectionable ones - apart from this poisonous air) to keep it off my 'Hate List'. I think I'll have to create an 'Unsafe' list specially for it. Oh dear.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A TREAT for you

Ooops, that last post was in danger of getting a little bit heavy, so..... in order to restore some seasonal good cheer, I give you this (what a treasure-house YouTube is!!) - the original video of 'A Rainy Night In Soho' by Shane MacGowan & The Pogues. Enjoy.

Two weeks on the lash

When one of my friends broke up with his long-time girlfriend recently, he announced that he was going to go out heavily on the lash every night for two weeks. I think it ended up being four weeks, but..... he has now moderated the habit. He is moving on to Phase Two of his 'recovery programme', which is to go out on a date (with a different woman each time!) every night for the next few weeks.

I wonder if I should try to follow a similar scheme. I too have now been pretty solidly on the lash for two full weeks (having begun - in a spookily anticipatory way - somewhat before I learned of my brutal pre-Christmas sacking), and it is starting to wear me out. Shock and despair over the sudden joblessness are unfortunately combined with a seasonal depression brought on by the lousy weather, by the string of bad anniversaries that haunt me in this month (the death of my brother last year, the wreck of the most important and intense love affair of my life two years ago, my mother's sudden death a few years before that)...... and by the hopelessness of my infatuation with the witheringly uninterested Madame X.

Perhaps pursuing some other women - someone, anyone, as many as possible, let's not be fussy for once - is what I need to sober me up, get me over this, kick-start my life into a new and more productive phase.

Unfortunately, just about everyone I even vaguely fancy has left town for the next two or three weeks. So, maybe I'll just have to stay on the lash for a bit longer......

HBH 58

Drinking half the night,
Then sleeping till afternoon.
Alcohol jet-lag!

The way I've been living for the past few weeks...... Got to call a halt soon!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Living in a foreign country you often encounter jarring moments of cognitive dissonance. Even though you know your pal Zoe plays a mean accordion and has been planning to add some Celtic tunes to her set, you don't expect to suddenly hear 'A Rainy Night In Soho' (probably my favourite ever Pogues song) for the first time in years.

My foolish pride in it being the first number all evening I'd been able to name was hugely outweighed by the emotional resonance that particular song has for me. I confess, I was starting to tear up a little.

The outbound beer

I mentioned a few months back that I had fallen into a habit of going to one particular 7/11 to pick up a few beers of an evening for home consumption - because I happened to have found this place that sells tall cans of local favourite, Yanjing, sells them at a reasonable price, and keeps them cold. It's still not that often that you find even one of these elements in place in a neighbourhood store in Beijing; to find all three together is a little piece of heaven.

And I consoled myself that at least I was earning my beer now, working off most of the additional calories, because this sainted supermarket was a stiff 20-minute walk away.

My habit, I must now confess, has expanded in the last month or two - and with it, my waistline.

This supermarket is on the way to my local bar street, Nanluoguxiang; and to my new favourite Muslim restaurant, just off the top of that street; and to the wonderful Pool Bar, just a couple of doors further along; and to my lovely friend Dishy Debs' apartment; and to favourite music bars, Jianghu, Salud, and MAO Live House. And so, thrifty fellow that I am, I have taken to stopping in there to pick up a cheap beer to get the evening started before I head to one or more of these other venues. Nanluoguxiang is a further 10 minutes away - which is just enough time for me to finish one beer (if I drink fairly quickly as I walk).

It's always just the one beer, honestly. But of late, I have been doing it every single time I go out.

The guy behind the counter in the store thinks it's terribly amusing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Beer = Fuel

The Choirboy was being a wuss about coming out to play one day last week, claiming that he "didn't have the energy" after a tough day at work. I had to remind him that: "Beer gives you energy!"

On this occasion, alas, he was unpersuadable.

I believe I recorded a similar observation on here once before (yes, here), when my occasional drinking companion (and spliff buddy) Danny The Aging Hippy was expressing similarly unimpressive reluctance to accompany me to a gig last year. I tried to coax him out with the text message: "I get all my energy from live music and beer!"

He replied: "I get mine from women and marijuana."

A spirited response; but I'm afraid I find those two indulgences decidedly tiring rather than energizing. Some folks got different kinds of metabolism, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Great 'Early Christmas' Bash

Christmas comes early in Beijing - at least for the expat community here, because nearly everyone with any money goes home a week or two before the big day itself. Therefore the run of works parties - and party parties - tends to kick off even earlier than it does back home. Basically, it's pretty much all over by the beginning of the second week of December

The best Christmas Party of the lot, of course, is that hosted by my lovely friends Dishy Debs and Sexy Sarah - already a Beijing 'tradition', in only its second year! This year, as the event gets ever grander in scope, they got additional hosting help from their extended "coven" - Helen and Gillian. And indeed from me: I seem to have become an honorary covenista too, the only male member of the entourage (although I am, of course, deeply in touch with my feminine side, which may be why they tolerate me...).

Loyal readers (whose memories are not alcohol-impaired) may recall that last year I was cajoled into
playing Santa for them. This year I managed to wriggle out of that (although I remained fearful that I would still be regarded as the 'first reserve' and pressed into service again if the new designated Santa should encounter any last-minute mishap). This time, our American friend Lamarr played the role. I think he has more the personality and the physical presence for it than me. (He's about my height, but much broader, and..... well, certainly not overweight, but substantial in girth. I really feel I'm still a bit too young and skinny to be Father Christmas.) Lamarr did a splendid job, and I think we'll have him back every year from now on, if he's willing.

Additional support was provided by a small, beardy young friend of Sarah's called Julian, who gamely agreed to wear an elf costume and help Santa with the gift re-distribution (quite a major undertaking when you have 100-odd people there). He also provided some cracking party tunes (yes, we had Slade; we are English people of a 'certain age' - how could we not have Slade??!!) - I now like to think of him as DJ Inappropriate. (A private joke. Sarah likes to tease him that his conversation is sometimes a little too, how shall we say, sexually frank, and has nicknamed him "Inappropriate" Julian.)

As last year, we took over Salud, a cool little French-run bar on Nanluoguxiang, for the evening (on Friday 7th). The girls spent the whole of Thursday afternoon festooning the place with Christmas decorations (and, as you can see in one of the photos below, they also gave Debbie's delivery trike a Christmassy makeover so that it could serve as Santa's sleigh). Debs had been busy in the kitchen too, making huge numbers of mince pies "with Chinese characteristics" (i.e., in the shape of jiaozi, the local dumplings) and the most alcoholic Christmas cake I have ever tasted (really - quite mind-blowing: I don't understand the science of this, but it was like brandy given solid form.... I got wrecked on about half a slice of the stuff!).

We attracted something over a hundred people in all (which, to be frank, is rather more than Salud can handle - I had to slip out once or twice to get a drink in a less populous bar nearby), and a collection for a local charity that runs a hostel for mentally handicapped children raised some 3,500 yuan. A great success, then. But heavens - much as we love Salud, we may have to look for a bigger venue next year.

The other innovation at this year's Version 2.0 of the party was that all the lady hosts had done themselves up in what they chastely described as "Mrs Claus" outfits - to my mind, it was rather more Candy Claus, the slutty teenage daughter (but I'm certainly not complaining!!). See below.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures. If you couldn't make it this year, I hope we might see you at the next one.

Eagerly awaiting Santa's arrival, round about 10pm.

And here he is.....

.... greeted by his sexy 'helpers'. (And where is our "inappropriate" elf looking??)

Now that that's over and done with, we can all get back inside in the warm, and the serious drinking & flirting can resume.

The beard may be fake, but the jollity is real - this guy was born to play Santa Claus!

Ah, now I remember, there are certain advantages to playing Santa....

So, that's all over for another year. Thanks again to Lamarr and Julian for being such good sports, to Nicolas and everyone at Salud for laying on additional nibbles for us, to all our lovely guests - and, of course, to the sexy Santa-girls who set the whole thing up.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Disappearance of The Man In Black

The Man In Black was mysteriously incommunicado these last few days - spurning all of my solicitations to join me for the various drinking activities of the weekend, even the football (he's an avid Arsenal fan!). I belatedly learned that he's been suffering badly from a cold. We wish you a speedy recovery, MIB. (And congratulations on your boys' staying top. You missed a great match there.)

Despite the absence of his 'bad influence', I managed to overindulge pretty heavily anyway: 3am, 3am, 5.30am.....

God, I really am getting too old for this shit.......

'Grand Slam' Sunday, Lazy Monday

As I've complained before (over on Froogville, here), I don't get to watch much football here in China, and I do rather miss it.

So, when the fixtures threw up the happy accident (?? - I assume the fixtures are produced randomly, but in these big money days.... perhaps not?) of the top four English sides playing each other on the same day - and at a crucial moment, just before the half-way point of the season, and with a chance that the lead could change hands - I felt I had to take advantage of my sudden dearth of employment and head out to a sports bar (or two) to catch the late-night action this Sunday. A fine pair of games they were, too - although, contrary to my expectations beforehand, it was the Liverpool v. Man Utd match that turned out to be the dour defensive stalemate (though it certainly had its moments; if Rooney hadn't fluffed the finish on that superb move near the end, that would have been a Goal of the Season contender..... god, that miss was so bad, you wonder if he didn't have a bet on the game finishing 0-1....), while the Arsenal v. Chelsea clash produced lots of thrilling end-to-end stuff.

And of course, since that second game didn't finish until nearly 2am local time, it seemed only natural to The Choirboy (also now on vacation) and myself to stay up all night drinking in a succession of other bars - rounding things off at an all-night jian bing (spicy pancake) stall at around 5am.

Hence, Monday was a bit of a non-day. Got up mid-afternoon - perhaps subsconsciously prompted by dim recollections of an invitation to a farewell poker tournament at Big Chris's at 3pm. I learned that he had decided to reschedule to the evening - I gratefully went back to bed..... Yep, a slow day......

This week's bon mot

"Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Too much music!!

You can never have too much of a good thing..... or can you?

I am feeling a little mentally exhausted - after experiencing three of the best gigs I've ever seen in the space of a little over 24 hours.

After the great line-up of girl bands at MAO on Friday (culminating in a stupendous performance by Ziyo), yesterday saw quite a change of pace, with an early evening concert out in Dashanzi by newly-formed jazz outfit, The New Glucose Jazz Septet. Well, 'New Glucose' has been around for a while - French pianist Christophe Lier and the slinky Bulgarian chanteuse Diliana Georgieva have been playing together around town for 3 or 4 years, and occasionally mounting a larger project with a rotating cast of local musicians. But last night was the first time it's grown to a seven-piece, I think; the 'regulars' (anyone ever been to a jazz gig in this town that didn't feature Matt Roberts's trombone?) supplemented by a couple of new arrivals, the very cool drummer Jimmy Biala (I loved the red cap, Jimmy!) and percussionist Dominic Bautista. A great, great show, featuring Christophe's novel arrangements of jazz standards (and one or two Bulgarian folk songs!) given an Afro-Caribbean flavour, and a few original compositions of his too. Alas, it looks like being a one-off - since it was also a farewell-to-Beijing concert for the lovely Diliana. We'll miss her.

Although scheduled for an early start, it got under way 20 minutes or so late; and they then played two sets of nearly an hour each (with a drinks interval in the middle), and then an extended encore, so....... it didn't wrap up until about 9.15...... which was ideal timing for me to follow up almost immediately with Black Cat Bone's Christmas gig at nearby 2 Kolegas. I hadn't been convinced I would go, actually: I'd been feeling weary all day after a string of late nights, and I was musically worn out by the jazz, but..... Kolegas was on my way home.

I'm glad I did look in. It was another awesome show. BCB are Beijing's premier party band, a hard-drinking quintet of laowai blues-rockers sinisterly attired in 'Reservoir Dogs' dark suits and shades. However, I've seen these guys so many times before that I feared there was a danger of them growing a little stale for me.... but last night they really turned it on (perhaps inspired by the presence of the Danwei TV team filming the event [watch out for it later in the week!]; perhaps just more than usually stoked up on alcohol....). Despite delaying the start, the crowd early on was worryingly thin and unresponsive, and it had looked as if the event might be an embarrassing fizzle..... but the lads went ahead undaunted; possibly all the more determined to rock the joint...... and, as if by magic, more and more punters started dribbling in. By the end of the first set, the tiny bar was becoming packed. The second set went by in a happy blur. They had been threatening to play "until dawn". A third set was definitely in the offing, but I was too exhausted (and, I admit, too drunk) to last the pace.

I did, however, honour a pledge to look in on a friend's leaving party for an hour. Just on the way home, you know.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Naughty, naughty, Choirboy!

The Choirboy, my intended companion at the gig last night, chose to abandon me - bastard!

Finding myself standing next to SUBS' Tasmanian Devil of a lead singer, the extraordinarily sexy Kang Mao, I couldn't resist sending him a brief text message to taunt him with this news.

He replied, naughty man that he is:
"Ah, go onnnnnn - chat her up. Get her attention! Pinch her bum!"

I answered demurely:
"Oh, no - I couldn't possibly do that. Too much respect. Too much fear."

She is lovely; but her stage persona is utterly terrifying!

The former quality is more in evidence in this photo (from a recent That's Beijing Homes article, linked to under her name, above):

In no particular order

Last night's gig was indeed a corker - more than living up to the high expectations I'd had for it in advance.

After years of failing to catch Ziyo, I've now seen them 4 times in just over a month. And they just seem to get better each time - absolutely awesome set last night! I believe they're bringing out an EP soon - I want it. And damn, I am so in lust with their gorgeous singer, Helen.....

SUBS, alas, were not playing after all (although their awesome frontwoman, Kang Mao, was hanging out in the audience); and there were some other unexplained alterations to the originally advertised line-up. At least there was a sheet of paper beside the entrance with the running order of bands written on it - an extremely rare phenomenon in Beijing! However, it was barely legible; and one of the bands' names was written only in Chinese, which was no use to me. And it didn't inspire any great confidence in me that these would actually be the bands appearing...... or that they would come on in that order.....

Ourselves Beside Me opened. Never heard of them before, but worth watching out for again - catchy songs, punchy drumming, good musicianship.... terrible name. Then we had 24-hour Party People - originally from Xi'an, I'm told: another tight little trio, and they sing well in English. Excellent warm-up..... and then, Ziyo - wow!

I feel a little ashamed of my slutty disloyalty (and I hope my appreciation is grounded in the music, rather than just the fact that Helen is so damned hot), but I rather think they are edging out SUBS for the accolade of being my favourite band. Although, hell, it's hard to judge, hard to make any comparison, since they're so different in style - Ziyo far more melodic, more commercial (this is both a pro and a con for me...) pop-punk, whereas SUBS are raw, raving angry-punk.

Last on were, I suppose, the band with the Chinese-only name. They had a thankless task going on after Ziyo. And after 2 hours of blistering music, I was getting a little weary...... and a little impatient to get back over the road to the Pool Bar; I quit after a couple of songs. They might possibly have been Queen Sea Big Shark (about the right number of characters!), who had been advertised on the flyers for the show; although, if they were, they were unrecognisable - having chosen to dress as dowdy students in non-descript slacks and sweaters rather than their usual sexy rock'n'roll look.

Yes, another great night at Mao Live (although they yet again ran out of local beers rather quickly - first the cans of Yanjing, then the little bottles of Tsingtao - and I do object to paying 25 or 30 kuai for a crappy imported brand like Heineken or Corona). Despite being stood up by my intended companion, The Choirboy, I had quite a sociable evening, running into several people I knew, and making some new friends too.

Ah, yes, and I even managed to win a few games of pool before and afterwards as well. A fine start to the holiday season....

Friday, December 14, 2007


Just got back from a morning's recording gig.

No more work (of any kind) in prospect till the New Year.

So, hey, the weekend starts here. The holiday season starts here. Many days, weeks, months of party excess start here. Bring it on.

It all gets off to a great start tonight with 'Groupie Night' at MAO Live - where The Choirboy and I will attempt to outdo each other in entirely failing to impress cute Chinese rock chicks....

"Don't..... NOW....."

HBH 57

Silence is torture:
A thousand theories scourge the mind.
Unanswered message.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Women don't understand 'romance'

A female companion objected the other night that The Pool Bar, though a fine drinking establishment, was missing a certain 'romance'.

That sound you hear (or can imagine, at least, since you know me well enough now) is my flabber gasting.

The Pool Bar is a classic dive dive. How can someone be blind to the romance of that?

The romance of being on first name terms with the owner (and getting an advance warning if he's planning to open up late); the romance of knowing that you will almost always run into a few old friends there, or make some new ones around the pool table; the romance of staying up talking shit with anyone who'll listen until 3 or 4 in the morning; the romance of sending out for food to the Xinjiang restaurant a couple of doors down; the romance of drinking yourself back sober after 5 or 6 hours and recovering your pool-playing mojo.

There are some bars which can tick off most of the individual elements I identified a while back for Great Bar-ness and yet still they somehow don't quite work. And then there are other bars which seem pretty unremarkable, and yet stuff happens there all the time.

The Pool Bar is one such. For me - incorrigible old soak that I am - it is one of the most romantic places in Beijing; romantic in the older, truer sense of being full of stories.