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
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
(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
(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
(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.]
Additional Dishonourable Mention: The Tree
Most Overrated Bar
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
Winner: The Pool Bar
(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?