Friday, March 20, 2009

Vulture

I gather the enormous folly that was the Tsingtao Beer Palace has closed down - after only 4 or 5 months. The wonder is that it managed to survive even that long in the mortal environment of inflated rents and zero customer traffic that is the doomed Solana mall.

Of course, I'm now feeling just slightly regretful that I didn't get around to going there to see if it was really as abysmal as it sounded.

I'm thinking I perhaps ought to try out the monstrously overpriced German brewhouse Drei Kronen before it collapses. (I wonder if the armfuls of free beer tokens they were handing out before Christmas are still valid? I'm tempted to rock up there with a wheelbarrow full of the things - an image in keeping with our recession-hit times.)

I should revive my plan of a month or two ago to initiate a 'Dead Pool' game, predicting the next bar to go tits-up. Of the bars I derided as 'pointless' in my last end-of-year review, I think Drei Kronen has to be the likeliest to fold. Surely no-one, no-one in this town is going to pay 60 or 70 kuai for a beer?

I also felt Lugar's - the stupidly expensive and not very good hutong cocktail bar (you see - right there, that's where your concept's wrong: a cocktail bar in a hutong??) that opened in my 'hood a year ago - was unlikely to survive long. In fact, it did appear to be closed last month, but maybe that was just for the Chinese New Year holiday; I haven't bothered to check again since.

I didn't think the omens were good for Blue Frog either; but it has a decent manager at the helm now, and I'm told that business there is slowly picking up. Perhaps there are some people who will pay 80 kuai for an OK burger in this town. (Sod off to Shanghai, you inflation-inducing posers!)

I thought Nearby The Tree looked to be a terminal patient as well; but perhaps I was a bit biased, since I've long loathed the owner. I went there recently for the first time, and found it to be not too awful, after all. I had been misled by the fact that the bistro-ey bit upstairs - whose big windows allow you to look in as you walk past on the street below - is almost invariably devoid of customers. The windowless downstairs is not a bad bar, however, a slightly more spacious and less crowded recreation of its well-established parent, The Tree. The prices are OK, and they've got some good staff. It looks to me, though, as if most people prefer the buzzier atmosphere of the original bar. I don't see the logic of setting up an almost identical establishment only a hundred yards or so from your very successful first bar: it makes the second bar seem like a receptacle for overspill rather than a new offering on the scene. Nearby, then, I would say, is not exactly prospering at the moment, but it's a decent enough bar that it will probably keep its head above water.

In my own neck of the woods, though, there are any number of candidates for euthanasia. On Nanluoguxiang, it's hard to pick between Bad Company (quite promising name, at least) at the bottom end, Log-in Pub in the middle (awful name!), and July's (misspelled name?) at the top, none of which ever seems to attract more than a handful of customers, and which quite often boast a sum total of zero customers between the three of them; what's worse, they evidently don't have a clue as to how to attract more customers, and seem to have given up interest in even trying. Most of the other - shitty, don't-deserve-to-survive - bars down that street are actually starting to do OK now, but this trio remains conspicuously deserted.

Place your bets.


Does anyone else have any top tips for the bar likeliest to go under next?


10 comments:

ben said...

All-Star.

Who needs another sports bar. And it's in Solana!

Froog said...

Ah, yes, thanks, Ben.

I've heard of it, but I can't imagine I'll ever go. How long, do you think, before it goes under?

Froog said...

Of the places I derided as doomed and pointless - here, and in the 2008 Froog Bar Awards - I see quite a few have indeed failed already.

In addition to the collapse of the fatuous Tsingtao Beer Palace reported above, Bad Company on Nanluoguxiang has been closed for the past 6 weeks or so (although it did reopen for a day or two last week; and no-one else has moved into the space - so perhaps they're just going through some "temporary" difficulties).

Drei Kronen - despite making some big efforts to bring in corporate parties and network events in the past couple of months - looks to be pretty much on its last legs.

Pointless cocktail bar Lugar's did indeed close just before Spring Festival. The bar "survives" in a new guise (now merged with a small bistro - how the f*** is that supposed to work?), but the name is gone for good.

And I'm sorry I omitted to mention the grandiose but superfluous sports bar Stadium (housed in the appalling China View mall, which is something of a leper colony for bars), which only managed to limp on for 7 or 8 months (I don't know a single person who ever visited it... or was even aware of its existence - a pretty stunning achievement in awfulness!). It's now been re-opened and rebranded as faux Irish shitbox Danger Doyle's, but that won't make it to the end of the year either.

I reiterate my prediction that Log-In and July's on NLGX must die before year's end as well. Well Log-In has just been redecorated (for the umpteenth time) and re-named (though I can't remember as what; there's only one fairly inconspicuous wooden sign above the door to announce the change); but it's still under the same ownership, still awful, still doomed.

And I happened to walk past All-Star the other day. Well, three or four times in the past month or so, actually. It's a diner, not a bar. I hear the food is pretty decent, and it might just draw enough custom on the weekends during the day (Shunyi families going shopping or having a day out in Chaoyang Park) to keep afloat. But in the evenings it invariably seems to be deserted - and no wonder.

Froog said...

Nanluoguxiang's worst bar, the Log-In Pub, is pinning its hopes of survival on rebranding itself as.... Wiggly Jiggly's!!

Wow, that's an obvious improvement! Well one, boys! You'll be beating customers away with a shitty stick from now! (That's a metaphor, by the way. Please, don't actually try that.)

I'm starting to think that the place is worth saving - just as a demonstration of EVERYTHING not to do in setting up a bar. Those red-and-white checked tablecloths for example. WTF? Very nice in a mom & pop diner - but in a bar???

Froog said...

I am delighted to note that the obnoxiously expensive (and dismally bad) Block8 bar (or i-Ultra Lounge, as the offending cocktail bar part of this wanky complex was in fact - quite unfathomably! - named) has at last bitten the dust. It was the worst bar to open in Beijing in the last two years, and I am baffled as to how it managed to stay in business for some 18 months.

It has now been expensively redeveloped as the rather more pleasantly decorated (but still stupidly expensive, unfathomably named.... and Thai-themed - eh??) Ruby Khi.

Don't expect that to make it far into next year.

Froog said...

And yes, Bad Company is indeed dead. I went to the wake last weekend.

I almost feel a little regretful now. It was a good name, and a good spot, and the owner is a nice guy - but it was an absolutely abysmal bar.

Froog said...

I am delighted to learn that Ruby Khi (the former i-Ultra Lounge - possibly the worst bar name ever to afflict Beijing's nightlife scene), and indeed the whole Block8 complex of which it was a part, appears to have died. I imagine whatever business it had was being leached away by similar high-end-but-bad venues in the swankier Solana development just to the north - and even more by the gradually-becoming-successful mall monstrosity that is The Village in Sanlitun.

I also gather that The Rickshaw closed down a week or two ago - abruptly, unannounced, and entirely unlamented. It seems to have been fairly devoid of customers for the past 18 months, so the wonder was that it hung on for so long.

I wonder who'll be next??

Log-In seems to be one of those places that will go on forever, regardless of whether it makes any money.

Tun is perhaps similarly shielded from financial realities, but I really have doubts about its viability. The Yandai Huxley's must be at risk as well, although it's still doing moderately well.

Leading contender, though, would appear to be Danger Doyle's, which was starting to build up some sort of custom with 'daily special' promotions (and exploiting the overflow of patrons temporarilty disaffected with The Den), but - with the sudden departure of manager Glenn Phelan a couple of months ago - has doubled most of its prices, lost most of its better staff, and once more become an uninhabited wasteland. I do not believe that anything can prosper in that hideous China View mall - certainly not on an upper floor. Drei Kronen must surely fold before long, too.

Froog said...

Time for a few updates here, a year on from my last major review.


As I noted in this post a month or so back on the Top Five Unlamented Bar Closures of last year, The Rickshaw was joined by Poachers, Ginkgo (although it remains nominally open under new ownership, it has been completely customer-free since last summer), and Nanluoguxiang's unlovely 10 kuai Bar and Guitar Bar (although this has relocated to much larger premises on Gulou Dongdajie).

Some of these conspicuous disappointments amongst last year's bar openings must also be in some danger - particularly Gulou 121 and The Box. And it's hard to believe that the dismal Stumble Inn can be long for this world.

The 'La Fite' Exotic British Bar (one of the stupidest bar names Beijing has ever produced!) and its two similarly dire and pointless neighbours, Looking and Camel Bar must also fold within the year, surely?

And Login Pub/Wiggly Jiggly's - long distinguished as Nanluoguxiang's most deserted bar - is now in its final days...


I might have a crafty little bet that Tun will disappear by the end of the year as well.


I don't feel very optimistic about the prospects for Grinders either; I'm not convinced that the Shuangjing laowai community is yet large enough (or, more importantly, affluent enough) to support three similar Western-oriented venues within a hundred yards, and a competition with the well-established Lily's (much cheaper food!) and The Brick (much cheaper drinks!) could prove brutal.


Any other thoughts?

Froog said...

I've been hearing grim rumous about Luga's Villa for a few months now.

I wonder if the fact it didn't open for the Superbowl on Monday (which would surely have been one of its biggest revenue days of the entire year; certainly was last year!) is indicative of the fact that it is never going to open again? Or is to close soon?

I've felt all along that poor old Luga was pretty clueless about how to make a space that size work for him, and I suspect he is close to giving up the ghost - if he hasn't already.

Froog said...

I hear Danger Doyle's just closed - after three years of sucking like a leech! Amazing how these obviously doomed ventures (I don't believe any bar can prosper in that location) manage to limp on for so long, when the investors must be losing money hand over fist.