I've just been to a networking event in a new(ish) bar to the south of the Workers' Stadium - and it was very nice indeed: subdued lighting, comfy seats, lots of dark wood, multiple bars, a couple of decent-looking pool tables (didn't get the chance to play), beautiful garden (not in use today, because we've been having another of those grey, dingy, drizzly days), dazzlingly clean loos, and a couple of high-end restaurants en suite. Damn it, they seem to be doing everything right: the staff are polite, attentive (well, one of the barmen tried to wrap up 'happy hour' 5 minutes early, but he soon gave up on that aberration!), and all seem to speak good English; the drinks are excellent - you can actually taste the alcohol in them! I was even offered a choice of gin brands for my gin & tonic. (If I'm ever offered a choice of tonic brands too, I'll know I've died and gone to heaven!) This place is like Centro - done right.
And then I realised there was something oddly familiar about it. Yep, it's a transplant from Shanghai..... the beginning of a super-swish franchise. I had thought I knew the name - Face - from somewhere, but just couldn't place it. The trouble with Shanghai - and especially with Shanghai's foreigner-friendly bar & restaurant scene - is that it's so bloody expensive!! Typically around twice the price of most comparable places in Beijing, and sometimes more. (I'm told there are some cheap, hole-in-the-wall dives - like my beloved Huxley's - down there, but I've never been able to find one on my rare visits.)
I'm not going to assign the Beijing Face to the 'love it' or 'hate it' list on the basis of one visit. I suspect it could make it into the former eventually (it's affordable during the half-price 'happy hour'; and, although somewhat hard to find, it's not too far away from some other decent bars in the centre of the city). However, as a portent of things to come, it worries me. Pre-Olympic Beijing is in the grip of a creeping gentrification: more and more fancy-dan restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are opening up with alarmingly high prices..... and clear aspirations to being like Shanghai.
Most Beijing residents prefer the capital to Shanghai because it is more friendly, more down-to-earth, more culturally vibrant, and more affordable; Shanghai comes across as smug, pretentious, excessively Westernized, at times strangely soulless.... and super-expensive. The contrast between the two cities is itself quite stimulating, a source of endless debate (Shanghai is a great place for a weekend getaway - but I wouldn't want to live there.) I don't want to see that contrast eroded - but it is in danger of happening.