Sunday, December 23, 2007

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.


Tulsa said...

I *love* the island bar. and this is where I came up with my Great Story Idea last Saturday during the start of my holiday-how-many-hours-can-I-party challenge. The waitstaff are very patient and helpful. And I like the ideas of a 24 hour joint in the 'hood where I could pop in anytime and order breakfast.

beyond that... the chemical smell is really awful. the seating (other than the island bar and barstools)leaves something to be desired. The sound and stage is off...

I really want this place to work, too. I hope they are just going through new-place syndrome and will balance out soon.

Froog said...

You've been there too, T?? You're not even a drinker!

Of course, your "multi-party Saturday" of a week or two ago!!

Well, they've had two or three months now, and it's not getting any better. And they're not even acknowledging that there's a problem. I'm afraid they're doomed.