Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Do I hate Tuesdays??

I can't quite decide.

It is a bit of a lacklustre, nothing sort of day. A day with no gigs (EVER). A day when people are still "recovering" from their wild weekends. A day when it is damned hard to persuade anyone to come out carousing.

On the other hand, I haven't been to Kro's Nest in three months (that is, I haven't been and stayed!), and I am developing an insistent craving for one of their fine pizzas. Also, I believe, they are still running their We Hate Tuesdays promotion, where the local draft beer is 5 kuai a glass all night (and completely FREE for the first couple of barrels).

I'm definitely keen to give it a look. But it feels rather sad to be going on my own......

I suspect it might be worth getting out into Sanlitun tonight, though. This might well be one of the biggest party nights of the year - since it is the eve of the National Day holiday. I rarely venture far from home on the Chinese national holidays, but I happened to head over into the city's main bar district in the wee small hours of May Day morn, and found it fairly seething with foreigners (in fact, you might recall that I suffered another of the scornful prods-in-the-ribs that Dame Fate so loves to dole out to me, when I happened to run into all three of the women that I was unrequitedly smitten with at the time...... within 5 minutes and about 100 yards of each other!). Coming home at dawn (I'd been up watching one of the Champions League football semi-finals, I think), there were so many zombified all-night revellers (almost all laowai) doing likewise that it was quite impossible to get cabs, and I ended up walking the whole 6 miles home.

Of course, there is a full 'golden week' holiday this week whereas for May Day (this year, for the first time in a while) there wasn't, so a lot of people will have skipped out of town to Thailand or the Philippines or whatever (I had been contemplating somthing of the sort myself, but money's too tight to mention). And a lot of the city's foreign contingent haven't returned from the Great Pre-Olympic Clearout yet. So...... it probably won't be such a big night as May Eve. But I think there'll probably be a fair amount going on. Let's go see, shall we?

"Tiny robots!"

Yes, the spirit of the great Rowley Birkin moves among us.

One of the new 'regulars' in one of my favoured hangouts is one of those classic long-time China expats; someone who's imbibed just a little too much a little too often and is now getting a little too long in the tooth to continue in such a fashion; someone whose grip on reality - or at any rate on conversational coherence - is loosening just slightly.

When he's on a roll, his anecdotes really take on a Birkin-esque quality: the same slightly agressive enthusiasm, the same wild fluctuation of pace and tone and volume, the same elaborately descriptive hand gestures, and the same intermittent descent into inaudibility or unintelligibility - punctuated by sudden brief explosions of emphatic lucidity on key phrases.

One of these monologues overheard last week went something like this (imagine indistinct burbling or apparent nonsense words in the gaps):
"........ big problem....... tiny robots!...... state-of-the-art...... get into places where other things can't...... nothing quite like it in China...... need more funding......"

I recall that Paul Whitehouse has claimed his great drunk raconteur character was in fact closely modelled on someone (an ex-FCO type, I think it was) he once met on a fishing trip in Iceland. Perhaps it's quite a well-established phenomenon. I hope it never happens to me!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The very last days of Room 101

As I reported a fortnight ago, Room 101 is to close down at the end of this week.

It is to remain under the same ownership, and is slated for a re-opening after 1 or 2 (or 3 or......??) weeks. But it will have a new name, a new look, a new approach to the market. It just won't be the same, dammit.

The grand closing party will be this coming Saturday, October 4th - from early until LATE. Well, until whatever time the following morning the present inventory is exhausted - that's the plan, anyway.

It should be a good night. Although for me, it will also be tinged with sadness. I look on it as a wake, in fact. I may well cry at some point. I've really come to love that place.

The bon mot for the week

"A man who exposes himself while intoxicated has not the art of getting drunk."

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

That's what Brian Boitano'd do!

He'd make a plan and he'd follow through.

Hmm, maybe I should resurrect my ill-fated Plan.....

Anyway, following on from my gratuitous reference to the great Mr Boitano the other day, here's the song - from the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, of course.

And here's another version, a video from Matt & Trey's band DVDA. Oh, and this one's even better - a live performance by DVDA, intercut with footage of Boitano himself. Priceless.

"No, Brian, those chicken wings are really spicy. Don't eat those."

More wisdom of the txts

Last night, one of my occasional drinking companions was taunting me for my decision to have a quiet evening in on account of my continuing ill health.

He suggested the best remedy might be "copious amounts of whisky".

In response, I ruefully quipped:
"Yeah - if I'm going to die, I might as well die drunk and poor."

Luckily, I have some whiskey at home. Strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Birthday Wish List - update

Forget about my flippant suggestions last week. What better gift could there be for the tippling bookworm than this??

OK, I'd prefer something non-religious. Thoughts Of Chairman Mao and The Communist Manifesto are really a bit too small. War and Peace, maybe. Or perhaps (cunningly appropriate) Whisky Galore!

Actually, I've always hankered after a hollowed-out book - ever since I was a kid watching spy thrillers and POW dramas, I suppose. And I can't think of a better use for such a hidey-hole than to house a nice silver flask of a good single malt.

Ah, a man can dream...

If you have a soft spot for this sort of religious kitsch, you must check out this article from The Times and this absolutely hilarious selection of 'Sporting Jesus' statuettes from the stupendously tacky http://www.catholicshopper.com/. (Thanks, yet again, to my friend Tolstoy for alerting me to these gems.)


I looked in at local music bar Jiangjinjiu last night to catch "half" of Buyi, a rather fine folk/rock outfit from the far western province of Ningxia. For this show they were playing as a trio - bass, drums, and the lead vocalist, who also plays a decent acoustic guitar, and a bit of Dylanesque harmonica now and then. I can't recall how big the full outfit is: not as many as 6, I think, but probably 4 or 5. Anyway, this pared-down lineup worked pretty well. I'm easily pleased - so long as their bewitching lady bass-player is present, I'm a happy boy.

Unfortunately, I decided to leave after just a few songs because the sound system had been cranked up to painfully loud volumes. It's a pretty good setup they have in there, pretty powerful - it really doesn't need to go anywhere near the top of the dial unless the place is packed to the rafters, with a lot of background chatter to overcome and a lot of bodies to soak up the soundwaves. I have often seen it that full - but it probably hasn't attracted such a big crowd as that for the whole of this moribund summer. Last night, the numbers were only a few dozen - pretty full for such a small place, but far from the standing-room-only throngs we've sometimes seen there.

And yet, just lately, the boss always seems to want to PLAY IT LOUD. He's in a small rock'n'roll band himself, and often sits in on drums with the performers at his bar..... so, maybe he's getting a bit deaf? That could be it. Or maybe its the traditional Chinese approach to advertising - if people can hear your music from 200 yds away, maybe more of them will come in. Or maybe it's just an idiotic macho Nigel Tufnell kind of deal - "But this amp goes up to 11."

I had a similar problem when I looked in a few weeks ago to catch the Xinjiang-flavoured jazz/folk group Panjir on one of their regular Thursday night sessions there (I was slightly disappointed to discover that David Mitchell and Akbar Abliz, the virtuoso guitarists who are the core of the band, were both still on an extended break in Xinjiang; so, the stripped-down trio version of the band [yes, it seems to be becoming a fashion!] had some new guy on guitar I'd never seen before [decent, but not quite up to Akbar's standard]; but the very cool Uyghur chap who plays the ethereal upright fiddle [called, I think, a rebab] was again onboard, so I was quite happy). On this occasion also I was driven away barely half-way through their performance by the inappropriately high - positively painful - sound levels. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as at the Buyi show last night, but sill way too loud for an almost empty bar. In fact it was pitched just at the point where it was uncomfortable but tolerable most of the time...... and then, once in a while, a sharply-plucked guitar string would set your fillings rattling.

On that earlier occasion, my friend - and Islamic music enthusiast - Tulsa was with me, and concurred with my response. I don't think I'm just becoming an old fuddy-duddy who can't cope with loud music any more. This really was just way out of order.

It's a difficult topic to bring up with the boss, though. He obviously doesn't realise the problem; or he likes it that loud; or he's perversely proud that his amps can kick out that much noise. Maybe he'll twig what he's doing wrong when his audiences start to dwindle, when people start leaving 5 or 10 minutes into a show with blood dripping from their ears, when people are listening to the music from the far side of the square outside. Maybe.....

We can but hope.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What would Brian Boitano do?

If you were him and he were you....?

Or, what would you do if you were Froog? And you found yourself in a bar faced with the dilemma of talking to a knee-tremblingly gorgeous American woman on your right who appeared to be entirely on her own, or some geeky 20-year-old Chinese guy on your left?

Yep, you guessed it.

But how often do you meet a young Chinese guy who speaks really good English? OK, pretty often.

But how often does it turn out that he's a documentary film-maker? Well, not that infrequently.

OK, OK, but you test him out and ask him to name one of his favourite directors - how often (anywhere in the world) does the guy immediately say....... Ken Loach? Never!

No, this was a more-than-usually interesting young man. And I think he might actually become a film-maker of note one day. And even if he doesn't, I think he'll do something unusual and useful with his life. And I think he might become a good friend.

The woman, on the other hand..... well, she probably wasn't single. And she was waiting for a crowd of other birthday revellers (who did indeed engulf her just a few minutes later - yes, I did speak to her a bit). And if she were single, her attention would probably soon have been distracted by some other guy who was more confident and more pushy in the arts of sexual predation (it happened to me last week..... it'll happen next week......).

Froog has had enough of knockbacks, frustration, and disappointment just recently, thank you.

Oh, I know - I should try to "get back in the game", to get over my unhealthy you-know-who fixation. I am trying, honestly. Perhaps I need to try just a bit harder.

But I really think I made the right choice tonight.

As Winston Churchill once put it, "A good woman is still just a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke."

Or, as Froog would put it, "A woman is usually just an idle (and frustrating) flirtation, but a man is more often a conversation."

HBH 99

The table, the balls,
The player, the cue are ONE:
Zen of the pool room.

Last night I had one of those moments. It didn't last very long, but for a couple of games last night in the Pool Bar I was suddenly really in the zone. I think I was inspired to dig deep to find my best game by the challenge of two young Chinese guys new to the place, who were just playing too darned well (and were being a bit too cocky about it). I'm not usually able to find that steeliness of focus you need to beat people who are really good (probably better than me) if they are friends of mine. I'd like to have a better record against Kung Fu Man and New Dad and The Chairman, but..... I just don't get really fired up about it.

Last night (well, the early hours of this morning, actually) felt good.

It helps that Luke has finally bought some new cues for the place as well..... (I take this as a reassuring sign that he has no thoughts of selling up just yet!) We had been down to only three: one good one, one bad one, and one with a loose weight in it. Most unsatisfactory. Two or three new sticks now: a bit light, but with decent tips, and ramrod straight. Much more satisfactory.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The end of an era?

After some 20 months of almost continuous Thursday night residency at Jianghu (apart from their recent 3-month summer exile), it seems that my guitar buddies Daniel & Nico (and their frequent accompanist, the gorgeous accordion-player, Zoe Wang) might - just possibly - be playing their last-ever gig there tonight.

They've been playing for love (and free beers) all this time, because it's such a cool venue, and it has an unusually good sound system - and it's a great opportunity for them to rehearse new stuff, jam with friends, etc.

However, they've reached a point where they feel they merit some more significant incentive to keep playing there, what with the size of the audiences they're often drawing - and the fact that they're getting more and more other offers of paid gigs these days. Negotiations are under way, but I gather it's not looking too promising. Chinese-run places never seem to be willing to pay much - if anything - for performers; while foreign-run places - like Salud, Room 101, Nashville, Purple Haze, La Baie Des Anges - will shell out a little. So, where are we going to go to see the best live music??

I do hope D & N will carry on there at least on an occasional basis. Since January of last year, I must have been to see them play in this bar at least 20 times - and each and every time it's been a wonderful experience. Just try searching for Jianghu on here to see how many times it's rated a mention!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A disturbance in the ether

A fine night of music and drinking at Salud tonight was rather spoiled for me by a sudden, startling, quite horrible suggestion (and from a most unexpected source).

Someone hinted to me that perhaps my beloved Pool Bar was not doing terribly well lately, and that the time might be ripe to attempt a takeover.

I do so very much hope this is empty talk. I think it is. The Pool Bar has had a bit of a slow summer (because so many of its regulars have left/been forced to leave); but everywhere has had a very slow summer. And there are signs that things are starting to pick up again now.

Doubtless, it could make more money as a different kind of bar. It could probably even make a bit more money as the kind of bar it now is, with some more aggressive promotion. But bars like this - most bars, in fact - have to accept the fact that they're going to be largely dead Monday through Thursday. The Pool Bar has seen some very good weekends. And it's almost never deserted (well, not after 9pm or so, anyway). It has a solid core of fiercely loyal regulars. And the pool table (a good quality pool table, one that regularly attracts a knot of good players to compete against each other) is a very strong draw, a distinctive attribute - nay, in Beijing, it might well be called a unique selling point, because the pool tables in every other bar I can think of are just CRAP (only the old Goose & Duck [demised a year or more ago] and Maggie's [in indefinite hiatus at the moment] have ever developed anything like such a reputation as a magnet for pool players). Apart from the core clientele who mostly live locally, the place also occasionally attracts people from all over town - it's amazing how many people I know have popped up in there once or twice.

No, I think that for a bar of its type - a no-nonsense neighbourhood bar of modest ambitions - the Pool Bar does pretty damn well. It may not be making anyone rich quickly, but I should think it's easily covering its overheads - even when business is a bit slow, as it has been over the past three months. It's probably one of the most successful bars in the whole Nanluoguxiang area.

My acquaintance tonight, the entrepreneurial vulture, actually had the temerity to ask me if I would consider taking a stake in an attempted buyout. I responded that I would sooner cut my right arm off with a hacksaw, sell my grandmother to vivisectionists, drop-kick a baby into a pit of fire.....

Hands off my Pool Bar! I like it fine just the way it is. It is, in fact, very nearly perfect.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Improving the odds

I have recently suffered a painful resurgence of my inappropriate infatuation (Or perhaps just a revival of regrets? Subtle difference!) with a woman who strangely fails to notice my existence.

It has reminded me of the following 'chat-up approach' that an American university buddy, JB, claimed to have used (although I rather doubt that he ever did):

"You don't dig me much, do you? But hey, what about if we were the last man and woman left on the Earth, and the survival of the human race depended on us? Surely you'd sleep with me then? You'd at least consider it, right? Of course you would! OK, so how about if there were only ten men left in the world? Would I have a chance then? How about twenty, or a hundred? I'm just trying to work out how many guys I gotta kill before you'd give me a shot. Give me a little guidance here."

Would this kind of spiel really work with anyone? Well, perhaps, once in a blue moon. I mean, it has a kind of charming directness about it. And I'm sure JB could deliver it with a finely-judged self-mockery. And sometimes - indeed, quite often, I think - mere persistence succeeds.

However, I fear the object of my affections wouldn't sleep with me even if I were the last man on earth.

So.... my work on the great biological WMD, the virus that kills only males, has been suspended. It's bad enough that she prefers everyone else to me. I don't think I could bear to learn that she would also prefer no-one to me!

A misogynistic bon mot

Big Frank: "There are only two kinds of women: sluts and bitches. Sluts will sleep with anyone. Bitches will sleep with anyone except you."

Me: "Oh, how I wish I only fell in love with sluts!"

My apologies for the untypical coarseness of this observation - but a kind of brutal candour is one of our trademarks on Froogville and the Barstool.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Love Songs (10)

One of my favourite songs by The Cure - Friday I'm In Love. A catalogue song about a difficult affair, it's always seemed dangerously appropriate to the kind of fascinatingly bonkers women that I tend to fall for. It is particularly strongly associated for me with the lady I have since come to know as The Evil One, a rather ferocious Australian academic who was one of the two great failed love affairs of my life (although I am, I suppose, currently suffering through No. 3 - except that this one probably doesn't really count, since it is entirely unrequited!!).

Friday, September 19, 2008

The birthday present list - updated

Forget about yesterday's talking beer mug - that was a bit naff, really. No, what I really need is this. Apparently, it's a computer and a chilled beer dispenser. How did I ever live without one??

Or maybe I need to go the next level: cut out the middle man, and go into production myself? How hard can it be?

HBH 98

Beer poured on sadness
Cannot wash it away, but
At least dilutes it.

More useful domestic tips here on The Barstool......

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Possible birthday present?

It's my birthday in a month. Each year, it gets harder and harder to know what to buy myself. Maybe this is the answer??

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Wudaokou bar scene SUCKS (mostly)

A fine sunny holiday afternoon yesterday found me up in 'the Wu' - Wudaokou, the hub of the university district in the north-west of the city.

There's been such an explosion in the numbers of foreign students trying to learn Mandarin at the universities (and private language schools) round there in recent years that it's also become a boom area for foreigner-targeted bars and restaurants.

One of the longest-established and most popular of these is a place called Lush. I'll save my character-assassination of Lush for another time; suffice it to say that I've had so many bad experiences there in the past that I didn't think it was even worth giving a try yesterday.

Instead, my companion and I thought we'd investigate La Bamba, a new 'Mexican' joint that's opened up in the past month or two. I want to like this place, I really do. It's got a lot going for it: good decor (properly dark, with a real wood bar and lots of bare brick), cosy booths (pairs of mini sofas facing each other beside the small arched windows at the front), plenty of space, spread over two floors (or more? they might even have an open roof terrace, but I didn't get the chance to check), a pool table (albeit one of those dreadful American-style ones with the HUGE pockets), and reasonable prices. Unfortunately, they have absolutely terrible staff: two very dim and unhelpful barmen on duty yesterday afternoon, with about three words of English between them - and obstinately trying to impose a policy of insisting on payment before making any move to get us our drinks. I find such a policy unnecessary (at least during the afternoon, when the place is virtually deserted), dumb, and RUDE. ("What?! You don't trust me to pay you?? Well, I don't trust you to give me the friggin' drink! If you forget to bring me my drink, or it takes you half an hour, or you bring the wrong order, or it's undrinkable shit...... am I going to be able to get my money back from you? I think not." 'Pay first, drink later' is an obnoxious policy in any country in the world; in China, with the abysmal standards of service that usually obtain, it's just daft, completely unworkable.)

We left in a huff. (My companion's short stock of patience had already been just about exhausted by Barman No. 1's repeated misinterpretations of his Pina Colada order: "Cola? Corona??")

Just next door, there is another potentially quite promising bar - again, very American in style: an invitingly gloomy interior, lots of wood, lots of tacky Americana adorning the walls (a road sign saying 'Dale Earnhardt Dr.', for example). I have no idea what it's called. I think it used to be something like 'Red Rock' - but these days, the sign is in Chinese only. They used to have some extremely good beer deals - most notably, big bottles of the excellent Japanese brew Asahi 'Super Dry' for only 10 kuai. However, I gave up on the place 3 or 4 years ago, because the service was just dreadful, and they seem to have an extreme reluctance to open. It appeared to have shut down completely for a while, and I was hoping that it might now have the same ambience (and the same cheap Asahi!), but a more amenable ownership.

Alas, no. I think it must still be the same guy. The surly boss man told us heavily, "Closed". Hmm. No sign saying 'Closed'. The front door and the back door are wide open. All the lights are on. The boss and at least one of his hirelings are here. How difficult is it going to be, really, to hand us a couple of beers and take some money off us?? Not that hard, I think.

"When will you be open?" "Later." This guy really doesn't want any customers, for some reason.

A little while later, we hooked up with The Chairman - now living in that 'hood - and he told us about this Korean place he'd discovered. I was impressed - and surprised - that he managed to find it again, since it is on the third floor of a large mall/office building, accessible only via an elevator, and with absolutely no external hint of its existence at all. He thought it was called Torch (not a bad name for a bar, really), but actually we find it is called Touch (which is a much less good name for a bar). In fact, it is called Public House Touch 9 (a truly terrible name for a bar). And it is indeed a truly terrible bar. There's only one beer tap behind the bar (and no barman behind the bar!), and that's Budweiser. At least they do have some decent bottled beer - including Asahi, though not the premium 'Super Dry', and a rather less beguiling 18 kuai each. However, most of the cocktails on the menu prove not to be available - either because they don't have the requisite mixers (no Coke??!!), or because the staff don't know how to make them. Neither do they have any Mike's Hard Lemonade, although posters advertising this lethal alcopop are all over the walls. The decor is atrocious, too: chrome and plastic stools, formica tables, bright lights, big windows. (Everyone I know who's experienced life in Korea tells me the same story about the direness of the Korean bar scene. And this seems to be borne out around 'the Wu', where the great majority of Mandarin students are young Koreans, and so bars like Touch are becoming numerous.) The photography of the food on the menu was some of the most grotesquely unappetising I have ever seen; we decided not to order any food. A little later, I found one of the chefs peeling garlic on the floor immediately outside the men's toilet (because, presumably, this was more hygienic than trying to do it in the large but chaotic kitchen next door). And a group of young Koreans celebrating a birthday had a deafeningly loud snatch of the cheesy Cliff Richard hit Congratulations played for them (although this is really an engagement song rather than a birthday song). Yep, this place was so stupendously awful, it was actually kind of fun - for a single visit, for a single beer.

No, not a good evening in 'the Wu', on the whole. I was reminded of why I hang out there so seldom.

Another bloggy birthday

Eight days after "big brother" Froogville, Barstool Blues celebrates its second anniversary.

Will we manage a third, I wonder? I'm beginning to doubt it - approaching burnout!

Monday, September 15, 2008


It's the name of a bar in my neighbourhood - Bed.

The name is a cunning choice: the inevitable frisson of innuendo has proven to be a shockingly effective piece of marketing, making it a favourite 'date place'. Cheesy and obvious as it may be, "Do you fancy coming to Bed with me?" proves to be a winning chat-up line again and again.

It's not, in fact, a great favourite of mine. The Chairman and I quite liked it in its early days, when it was "our secret"; but as soon as it started building up some custom, that charm wore off. Despite its proximity to my apartment (less than a 10-minute walk; only half as far as anywhere else that I go), I go there very infrequently, usually only for parties. Let's see: I went to a wedding reception there with my friend DD a year or more ago; we had the after-party of my notorious Pyjama-themed house party there three-and-a-half years ago; The Chairman had a famous birthday party there four-and-a-half years ago (when the place was still fairly new). I've been no more than a handful of other times.

It is, however, pretty successful. I mention this mainly because I want to write more soon about the 'failure' of my favourite bar, Room 101 - which is, I think, almost entirely down to its location: isolated, far from any other bars or foreigner-oriented restaurants. Bed is the only place I can think of that has managed to prosper despite being in such an isolated position, the only place that has managed to make itself a 'destination bar' - somewhere that people will seek out specifically, regardless of the lack of other attractions in the immediate vicinity.

Nevertheless, Bed has considerable advantages over poor old 101. It's just off Jiugulou Dajie, which is a bustling north-south thoroughfare, adjacent to the historic Bell and Drum Towers - a big tourist draw. It used to be kind of hard to find, hidden away down a tiny hutong - but that became part of its charm, that you had to be 'in the know' about it. Since the dramatic widening of Jiugulou Dajie a few years ago, it's now only a few yards off the main drag, and visible from it. Also, since this redevelopment, the main road has become quite trendy, with a number of upscale bars and restaurants that are also starting to draw quite a number of foreigners (though Bed was the first of these, and was already starting to do quite well before any of the others appeared, I wonder if it could have survived and prospered so without this development of the neighbourhood). It's also probably some help that it's only a few minutes from a subway station. Andingmennei - the street on which Room 101 sits - has very little of interest on it at all, not even any major shops; and 101 is near the bottom end of it, more than 10 minutes' walk from the subway.

Bed is more of a nightclub than a regular bar, laying on DJs at the weekend - and can thus charge slightly higher prices. Although a fair size overall, it creates a cosy feel with its low lighting and traditional Chinese furniture, and the division of the space into a series of small rooms (some with the kang bed/divans for small groups to sprawl on - the gimmick that gives the place its name) and a small open-air courtyard in the middle. The tasteful decor, and the fact that it is renovated hutong housing, gives it a unique ambience which is the key to its success.

It also helps that it is just around the corner from Café Sambal, a quaint little restaurant, also in a traditional hutong courtyard, which was one of the first places in town to offer Malaysian cuisine. They're both owned by Cho Cheong-Yee, an affable Malaysian Chinese who's developed a strong following amongst the laowai community here. Sambal had a year or so head-start on Bed, and was starting to generate a good word-of-mouth buzz (it famously has the best Mojitos in town; the ones at Bed, though they ought to be identical, are somehow never quite as good) - something that the newer bar was able to build upon.

Cho also knows the importance of advertising (something the boys at 101 have been rather weak on), regularly placing small but eyecatching display ads for Bed in the laowai listings magazines, and lobbying hard to get the place nominated in annual bar awards (indeed, it's usually a winner). And he's been creative in finding ways to keep the place busy. It's only likely to draw crowds of casual customers over the weekends; but the space is amenable to other kinds of events, such as art shows; it's host to a huge number of special events and private parties.

Despite all this, I don't think Bed was anything like an immediate success. It was completely DEAD for its first few months at least, and pretty damn quiet for a year or more. It takes quite some time to become known and to build up a following, particularly in such an out-of-the-way location. The chaps at 101 should, I think, be a little more patient - but, alas, it seems their minds are made up: 101 as we know it will soon be no more. Very sad.

Bon mot for the week

"It is better to suffer nobly than to survive."


Sunday, September 14, 2008

A black mark for Kro

I went to meet some friends at the newly re-opened Gongti Kro's Nest on Friday.

I was only able to stay about 30 seconds. I was driven away by the brain-squelchingly LOUD music they were playing in the garden outside.

I wondered if perhaps this wasn't some sort of vengeful thumbing-their-nose-at-the-authorities deal. They'd been closed down for 6 or 7 weeks (in the name of Olympic "security"). Perhaps now they were thinking: "Hey, if you were worried that we were somehow going to be obnoxious or disruptive next to one of your precious Olympic venues.... well, let us now show you just how obnoxious and disruptive we can be." If there had been such a political subtext to this horror, I might have been more tolerant.

I later discovered they had a special promotion on that day, with an '80s theme; and so they'd got in a DJ and a big sound system to play outside all day. Good - so at least this isn't going to be a regular abomination.

This was 6 o'clock in the evening, and only a handful of people were as yet there, an after-work crowd looking to enjoy a quiet drink and a chat. At this point, we don't really want any music at all, thank you. Later in the evening, perhaps; when there are more bodies to absorb the sound; when we're in more of a party mood; when we're a little more acclimatized to noise. We certainly don't want vile, throbbing RAP played at eardrum-perforating volume. (And I do not believe that was '80s music.)

Rap (as I've mentioned before; I think, in my 'What makes a GREAT bar?' post) is a divisive musical style. Almost everyone likes classic jazz. Almost everyone likes The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Some people like rap; and some absolutely hate it. It is therefore best avoided in a bar or restaurant - unless you're going to make it into your theme and deliberately cultivate a rap audience.

Even if we allow that most of Kro's customers might like - or at least tolerate - this kind of music better than a fuddy-duddy like me, there really was no excuse for playing it THAT LOUD at that time of the day. If you start things off at maximum volume, where are you going to go later in the evening??

It's not just a question of annoyance at the inappropriate volume, or disagreement with the musical choices of the DJ, or disappointment at not being able to talk with my friends - it's a fuming rage against the criminal stupidity of bar/restaurant owners who would make such bad choices.

An incident like this makes me disinclined to go back to a place ever again. I'll probably give Kro's a second chance because this appears to have been just a rare aberration...... and, hell, they do make way the best pizza in town. But - if they assault my eardrums like that again, they're history.


Picture a large, open notepad; a blank sheet of paper before you.

Write down everything you feel about her: all the longing, all the frustration, all the confusion, all the resentment.

Then, when the page is full, and you've got it all out of your system - tear the sheet violently out of the pad, scrunch it up into a tiny ball, and throw it away over your shoulder as far as you can.

And never look back. That's it. It's done. It's over. You're not going to think about it ever again.

Of course, you don't physically have to do this. A vivid visualization is enough. It's a powerful mental exercise, a kind of self-hypnosis.

And I do believe it's working. It's helping, anyway.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The last days of 101

My local favourite, Room 101 on Andingmennei, is soon to close.

After a very dodgy start, it has spectacularly redeemed itself, becoming one of the best bars in the neighbourhood, one of the best bars in the entire city. Indeed, I would say that it is probably 'The Bar Of The Year' (the Pool Bar still retains a special place in my heart, and probably occupies just slightly more of my time, but it's not the kind of place you'd often recommend to anyone: it's only really a great bar if you're one of the 'regulars' - and if you like pool!).

Unfortunately, Room 101's overheads are high and its custom - most days - is very low. So, the owners have decided on a complete revamp: they're going to close down at the end of the October National Holiday week and gut the place, strip out the existing bar and stage to build new ones, completely redecorate and rebrand the place.

This is, I think, a grave mistake. The new incarnation will almost certainly lose as much money as the current one, perhaps more. I shall detail my reasons for predicting this in a fuller post at a later date.

For now, I just wanted to say - damn, I'm going to miss that place! And I suppose I'll have to make the most of the three weeks that remain.....

Masochism, pure and simple

It's hard to find any other explanation. Why else do we put ourselves in situations that we know are going to make us unhappy?

I am used to being liked by people. I have a lot of friends, and a lot of warm acquaintanceships. Most people, I think, enjoy my company. Most people look forward to seeing me once in a while. Heck, most people, I think, actually admire or respect me, just a little bit, at least.

OK, so, I'm not really used to people fancying me - although it does happen from time to time. I'm told I am not un-handsome, by general standards. I'm tall, modestly athletic, still have most of my own hair, and - on a good day, at least - can still pass for a decade or so younger than my 40-something years. I am (perhaps perversely) wedded to the idea that people should be attracted to me by my intellectual and moral qualities rather than my appearance - so it doesn't bother me if they aren't bowled over by my film-star good looks, just so long as there's nothing too seriously off-putting about me.

Before I came to China, women used to fancy me with a reasonable degree of regularity. It has been a disappointingly rare phenomenon here, but I remain robustly confident (or just obstinately, self-destructively stubborn in my persistence?) that I can win over just about anyone with one of my famous charm offensives, if I so choose.

I have on a number of occasions in the past successfully wooed women from positions of extreme initial coolness, if not outright resistance or hostility. However, in all those cases, I suppose, there had to be something to work with, at least some faint spark of potential susceptibility to the old Froog magic. I don't think I've ever encountered someone who didn't have that seed of susceptibility in them somewhere. Until now.

Yes, currently, I find myself completely hung up on a woman who is just awesomely, stupendously, devastatingly, utterly, totally indifferent to me.

Am I not intelligent, knowledgeable, witty, sensitive, creative, attentive, considerate, helpful? Plenty of people would say so. I even have that intense/passionate/'mysterious' side, which is supposed to appeal to most women. In essence, I am everything that you see on these blogs - without too much of the darker or more self-indulgent bits, or the boring bar reviews..... but with the added bonus that I might buy you a drink (or dinner).

Does the lady see any of this? No. Or, if she sees it, it does nothing to engage her attention, much less her affection.

When she looks at me, she looks right through me without registering anything (her vision is pretty poor, even with her contact lenses in - but that's not it). In a room full of people, she will completely fail to notice me. When she arrives at a party, looking out for friends (of whom I am - supposedly - one), she will fail to notice me. I will be just about the last person she bothers to talk to at such a gathering (even in a group of only 5 or 6 people, I struggle to merit more than 5% of her time, if that). And when she makes her final round of the room saying her goodbyes, she will sometimes omit me (even while including people I am talking to, people that she knows less well than me!).

It is as though I have A Cloak of Invisibility.

Or A Cloak of Supreme Insignificance.

Or A Cloak Of Utter Unfanciability.

Now, of course, if she fails to appreciate - or even to notice - any of my finer qualities, I ought to conclude that this lady is shallow or silly or lacking in taste. I ought to stop making excuses for her (her poor eyesight, her ditziness, her need to network, etc.), and recognise that certain of these instances of her neglectfulness towards me are just downright unforgivably impolite. Or I should at least accept that there is some fundamental incompatibility between us, and that I should thus not regret the lack of the opportunity to explore a relationship which would surely be doomed to disaster.

I ought to do that, yes. But I can't get the bloody woman out of my head.

And I worry that it is now becoming less about the erotic/romantic obsession, and more a sort of baleful curiosity about the phenomenon of No-Interest. I am not used to having so little impact on people, and I want to understand how it can happen.

(I think it is the indifference that goads me more than anything. I'd almost prefer to discover that she powerfully disliked me for some reason [although I suspect the answer is that, while she finds me a mildly diverting acquaintance, I'm just somehow not 'her type' physically]. I know I do bug the crap out of some people; it's the flip-side, the other end of the spectrum: you probably can't be the sort of person who makes friends easily unless you also have the capacity to make a few enemies here and there. I expect to provoke strong reactions from people, at either extreme of the scale; but this barren middle ground of emotionlessness, that I cannot be dealing with!)

But maybe it's good to wound the ego once in a while, to remind ourselves that we have one.

HBH 97

Knowing what you want
Just before you do yourself
- The barman's magic.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Up on the roof

Somehow or other, almost all of my friends these days seem to be in 'the media', in some sense (although almost as many of them are photographers and film-makers as are writers; and amongst the writers, they're mostly working for expat magazines or wire agencies or as opportunistic freelancers rather than for the major newspapers). Perhaps this is a sign that I have broken free at last from the dismal ranks of the TEFLers. Then again, perhaps not.

Anyway, one of the advantages of this new social bias to my life is that I now get invited to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China's events - such as last Saturday's 'End Of Summer Barbecue' on Obi-Wan's rooftop, overlooking Xihai lake.

I'm not a fan of that bar in general (STUPID name; and it styles itself a 'Club' - always a bad sign!), but it has a great location, nicely out of the way on the northernmost of the three lakes forming the 'Houhai' area (Houhai is actually the middle lake, but remarkably few people seem to know this). This end of the lakes is still largely undeveloped (although this can cause a problem for a bar here; Obi-Wan's [rather nicer] predecessor on this site, Rain, foundered largely because no-one knew it was there....); the tranquility is appreciated by the hordes of fishermen here, and makes a very pleasant contrast to the frenetic bustle a mile further south at Yinding Bridge.

The only thing we were missing on this occasion was some decent weather - we got one of those beastly, skyless days, cool yet still oppressively clammy (a real rarity for September - but I fear our weather patterns are a bit fucked-up by all the government's attempts to "manage" them over the past couple of months). Ah, well. It was still a damn good time, with several old friends in attendance: Dishy Debs, The Choirboy, Stroppy Tom, Nick O'Pix, Tennessee Tom.... even my nemesis from the Pool Bar, New Dad (and his family).

The ticket was only 180RMB for 5 hours of all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink. I probably got my money's worth on the beers alone......

I wonder when their Christmas party is going to be???

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Slouching towards Bethlehem.....

Oh, dear. Frankathon II is now confirmed.

Avid readers may recall that the inaugural Frankathon a little under a year ago darn near killed me. My disreputable old drinking buddy, Big Frank, visited from Korea (fleeing their "terminally boring" Mid-Autumn Festival, Chuseok) for a whole week. It was a demanding week.

Back then, of course, I had a relatively 'straight' job, working 9am-6pm three days a week. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it left me even more exhausted at the end of the week. But on the other hand, at least I had a persuasive excuse for going home before 4am a few times.

This time I have no such protection. It could be a rough week.

Kro's Nest is back?

Apparently so - the Workers' Stadium outlet of this new-ish Chinese-owned pizza emporium (they have two others, but I've never been to either of them - not in such sociable locations!) is supposedly open for business again, after its unfathomable closure by the authorities during the Olympics. Originally it had been said that these closures would remain in force until the end of this month (to demonstrate that the Paralympics are just as "secure" as the main event?), but it seems that our Communist masters have relented slightly on that. The whole thing was ridiculous and unjustifiable in the first place; I strongly suspect the real motive behind it was commercial - to try to open up some potential custom for the (still rather underused) "special" venues that opened just for the Olympics, like The Bud House and Club P (it was rather conspicuous that enviably well-guanxi-ed The Den was about the only bar in that vicinity to escape the axe - whilst The Pavilion, almost identical in business profile [arguably rather classier!] and in proximity to the Olympic venue, fell within the ban). Ah, but now the corrupt cadres put on an empty show of munificence by not screwing us over quite as badly as they had threatened to. Whoop-de-doo!

I wonder if the resurrected Kro's is still doing its 'We HATE Tuesdays!' promotion (free/cheap local draught beer all night)? A gaggle of the usual suspects are heading down there to investigate.

I'd love to join them, but I'm feeling like shit today - the third or fourth in a sequence of debilitating colds I've suffered in the last month or so.

Maybe next week.......

Anyway, welcome back, Kro's Nest. We missed you this past 6 weeks.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Weekly bon mot

"The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes."

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday drinking poem

This is a scribbling from quite some time ago, but I suppose my post at the start of the week on the affront of being asked to leave a bar brought it back to mind.

When your pockets are empty
And your credit is shot;
When the room starts to spin,
Faces floating around you;
When you can't rise from your stool,
Can barely hold up your head;
When you open your mouth to speak
But each sentence sounds like one long word;
When you're the last person in the bar,
And the dawn's not far away;
When they just won't serve you any more –
That's when you think that you've only just started;
Though, in truth, you've probably had
A bit too much already

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (10)

After making mention the other day of that great rollicking Northern Irish folk song, The Belle of Belfast City (also known as Tell Me Ma), I couldn't resist posting it as this month's 'Great Drinking Song'.

This is a version by the late Kirsty MacColl (no video, unfortunately). It's quite rare to find it performed by a woman - odd since the song, in part at least, takes the woman's (young girl's!) perspective.

And here's another version by the band Gaelic Storm. I'm pretty sure the Dubliners have done this too, and I think Van Morrison recorded it with The Chieftains, but I haven't been able to find those versions yet on YouTube.

Aha, further investigations have turned up this charming (but rather brief) very early clip of The Dubliners performing it - and cheekily changing the lyric from Belfast to Dublin.

And this is a lovely (though sadly incomplete) performance from The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.

Friday, September 05, 2008

HBH 96

Moments of insight
Arise on the seventh drink,
Or on the fourteenth.

It is the curse and the blessing of drinking, the blessing and the curse, that we sometimes achieve these terrible moments of clarity - and then forget them again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Music of the old country

The lovely accordionist, Zoe Wang, has, it seems, been cultivating her interest in Celtic music. She's now put together a group of like-minded Chinese musicians (guitar, fiddle, bodhran - and I'm told they have a tin whistle-player too, though absent on this occasion) to play traditional Irish and Scots folk tunes - the ideal bar music. They've been playing together for a while now, but I think Wednesday's performance at Salud might have been their first public appearance (the first that I've seen advertised anyway; they might have been doing a few stealth jams at places like Jianghu).

Indeed, it was at Jianghu just before Christmas last year that I first heard Zoe and her boyfriend play The Pogues' A Rainy Night In Soho. I got even more emotional during yesterday's show at Salud (where Rainy Night had apparently been the first song of their set, and I managed to miss it; but they did it again as an encore - just for me!), dreadful Plastic Paddy that I am sometimes. There's something wonderfully desolate about this music, with its themes of colonial oppression and lost love and inescapable doom - it somehow sings the cold and damp of windswept moors into your bones. On this occasion, there was a further overlay of nostalgia for me, because they played The Belle Of Belfast City - one of the tunes that Scottish folk trio Yard Of Ale always plays during their week-long residency at The Guildford Arms in Edinburgh, during the Festival in August (one of my favourite bars, one of my favourite musical evenings, one of my favourite cities, one of my favourite events - I really, really miss not having made it there this year).

More on The Guildford, perhaps, on another occasion.

Bar birthdays

Congratulations to the 12 Sq M Bar on Nanluoguxiang, which passed its 1st anniversary yesterday.

I happened to have been tipped off about this imminent celebration at the start of the week by the lads who run Ned's, a new Australian bar a bit further up the street. It seems there's quite a little Australian quarter establishing itself at that south end of NLG; I hadn't realised on my handful of previous trips to 12 Sq M, but apparently it's a side project of a Greek Australian businessman [I stand corrected: Mr K tells me his ancestry is Hungarian - not sure how that works with his decidedly Greek surname! And he's only a tour-leader-turned-office-manager with the travel company, not the head honcho...] who heads up an adventure travel company (the charming Chinese lady who usually tends the bar there is his wife) - so, between his employees and the inevitable 'Aussie mafia' he's got a good ready-made core clientele. Not that they can cope with too many customers at once. The bar's name is straightfowardly descriptive: they have only 12 square metres of space (and probably over a third of that is taken up by the fairly large bar). They proudly boast of being "Beijing's smallest bar", and jealously compare the floorspace of any new bar openings in the 'postage stamp' bracket (the similarly diminutive Ned's is, they assure me, at least a couple of square metres larger - even without their tiny [and not currently in use] upper floor). Their previous attendance record (inside, at least; they can spill over into the street on a really good night) was 25, set on Australia Day last January. They were hoping to break that on Wednesday night, although it was still a bit quiet when I looked in mid-evening. I'll have to check back in a day or so and see if they made it. I figure they could probably squeeze in 30 or so, at a push.

Perhaps I'll offer a fuller review at another time. I've long had the beginnings of a soft spot for the place. The service is friendly, the prices are reasonable, and they have a much better than average selection of imported beers. The crampedness of the space is winningly cosy, and - unlike almost all the other bars on that street (which are either coffee-shop twee or industrial-minimalist sleazy) - it is a proper bar: dark wood, low lighting, bar stools. Unfortunately, they don't often seem to have many customers.

And the place is at the wrong end of the street for me: I rarely venture that far south.

However, with the plethora of new bars that have opened up down there this year, I am tempted to revive my oft-discussed, oft-postponed plan for a comprehensive Nanluoguxiang Bar Crawl someday soon........

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Way It Is

Every night in a million different bars, in almost every country in the world, a sour-faced barman, impatient to shut up shop, will try to dislodge the last lingering customers stubbornly glued to their barstools by calling out, "Haven't you got any homes to go to?"

And always one of the late-staying drinkers will rouse himself to mount a token resistance on behalf of his fellow barflies and meet this taunt with the stock reply, "But this is my home." And then, as often as not, he will pause, and sigh heavily, suddenly recognising in this plaintive little quip a bitter kernel of truth - that this place is more a 'home' to him than anywhere else.

That's how Beijing has been for many of us expats over the years - not quite a real 'home', but certainly something akin to a favourite neighbourhood bar: always an entertaining place to hang out; friendly, comforting, reliable; a ready source of diverting conversation and like-minded company; and yes, a space somehow removed or insulated from the tiresome responsibilities of the workaday world - or the world that we've tried to leave behind in our countries of origin. Plus, of course, the drink is very cheap.

And then there's the added appeal that Beijing really is a 24-hour city: there's always somewhere you can go for company and conversation, food and drink. They never send you home earlier than you want to go.

And so, for the last several years, many of us have been having the time of our lives: on the go 24/7, constant stimulation, almost limitless fun - a non-stop party.

And then, at the start of this Olympic year, the sour-faced barman started reminding us that this isn't our real home, that we're no longer welcome here, that we should make ready to leave. It was bitter indeed to realise that this place we have come to love does not love us back, that we are not necessarily all that welcome, that our tenure here is ever precarious.

It is not so much the lack of a party vibe around last month's Olympics themselves as the fact that we expats have all had to face that threat of arbitrary expulsion in the last year, and that we all know many friends who've had to leave, which leaves me feeling so flat and jaded now.

But that was just a temporary blip in the Beijing experience, right? Everything should be more or less back to normal in a few more weeks. All this Olympic 'security' nonsense can be forgotten, and buying our visas will once more be an inexpensive and hassle-lite routine.

But what is the post-Olympic Beijing going to be like? What is expat life here going to be like from now on? So many of the foreigners working here in the last few years were employed in fields specifically related to the Olympics: architecture and construction, sponsorship and PR, security and hospitality consultancy. These people are all moving on. Many of them have left already. Many more - people like me - came here in the last 7 years primarily because we were fascinated by the idea of witnessing the reshaping of the city in preparation for the Games; and 2008 was thus always - at least in some vague, unspoken way - a likely terminal date for our stay here. Many of this group, too, have left, or will soon leave, or are searching around somewhat forlornly, somewhat desperately for a new reason to stay.

And the 'next wave', the new expats who'll be coming out for the first time over the next few months, the ones who didn't give too much of a damn about the Olympics and the transformation of the city they have triggered, but are hoping to be a part of a continuing economic boom here - what of them? Well, I don't think there have been any sightings yet - because it's still next-to-impossible to get visas. In a month or two, they may be arriving in droves.

It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for all of us. At the moment, there's a kind of vacuum, and a sense of hopeful anticipation mixed with a slightly anxious uncertainty.

The year ahead, I think, could be a very good one. It will almost certainly be quite different from the last few we've known.

I really don't mind too much how it turns out, just so long as that miserable git behind the bar doesn't try to send us home early again.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How not to run a bar (No. 778)

Or, Rickshaw fucks up AGAIN.

I complained a little while ago that the Stella Artois at Rickshaw has been all but removed from the early evening Happy Hour, since it is now offered at a paltry - thoroughly vexing - discount of just 5kuai per 500ml glass.

You wouldn't think they could do anything to make this nonsensical and irritating policy worse, but...... over the past few weeks they have introduced a new 15% surcharge on everything. This is not advertised anywhere, as far as I can see. The staff do not alert you to this fact when they take your order. They are unable to explain the reason for it when challenged. I have heard it conjectured that it is intended as a 'service charge' - which is pretty rich! 15% is kind of high for a service charge. And the service at Rickshaw is notoriously wayward. And it's hard to justify a service charge on drink orders only - especially when you've served yourself at the bar (paradoxically enough, the waitresses are much more alert and attentive when the place is moderately crowded; when business is slow, they invariably slide into a bored torpor and gaze vacantly into space for minutes at a time). No, I think this must be a pure-and-simple Olympic price gouge. And it appears to have backfired on them bigtime, because the place was fairly deserted the two or three times I looked in there during the Olympics.

This stealth surcharge is particularly infuriating when you are drinking Stella on Happy Hour, because 15% happens to be - almost exactly - the amount of their puny Happy Hour discount on this brew. In fact, I think they should have given me 5mao back on each drink. But they'd forgotten to do this, or miscalculated on my first two drinks, and so, when I made to leave, they solemnly tried to present me with 5mao change on a 105kuai tab. 5mao!! Unbelievably fucking STUPID! I told them to keep it.

I've seen a couple of other punters get similarly exasperated over this outrage. Unfortunately, there never seems to be anyone around with whom to take up these gripes any more..... presumably because the owners are all too busy counting their money over at their new uber-successful venture, Saddle Cantina.

Rickshaw now rather has the feel of an abandoned child, and it is, I suspect, about to make a rapid slide from mediocrity (on a good day) into utter crappiness. I shan't much miss it.

Traffic Report - the blog stats for August

Posting on the Barstool last month, despite a certain preponderance of emphasis on Froogville, kept up to its typical average with 40 posts and nearly 10,000 words.

Froogville set a new monthly record (mainly thanks to the Olympics, of course) of 76 posts and some 26,000 words. I promise not to overdo things so much again, honestly. Let's all relax and cultivate other hobbies a little more this month......

Visitors numbers seem to be increasing slightly, with new log-ins in the past week or so from Santiago, Lima, Helsinki, Hong Kong and Adelaide.

Bon mot for the week

"It doesn't matter if you call the glass half-full or half-empty;
it was a very short pour."


Another little jibe at the Olympics? Possibly.