Sunday, April 26, 2009

We done the bugger!

Hell, yes - The Great Nanluoguxiang Bar Crawl has been completed.

With no liver failures, and only one concern-causing extended disappearance into the loo. And only brief lapsing into Alabama Song.

About 10 guys and 5 ladies joined me at various stages of the endeavour, although only the Chairman's brother, Terrible Tes, stuck it out with me all the way from one end of the street to the other. There were also a few people who dropped by to say hi when it was all over (including The Weeble, who now risks being re-christened The Feeble).

After struggling badly to stay 'on schedule' early on, we gathered pace in the later stages, and made it to our terminus at the Pool Bar well before 11pm (having kicked off with lunch at the other end of the street just after noon). Of course, we did then stay there for another five hours or so....

We did not, in fact, drink in all of the circa 25 bars I had identified on my preliminary reconnaissance. Bad Company was closed (in a rather permanent-looking, we've-given-up-the-ghost kind of way). We'd always planned to skip Guitar Bar, because it represents The Dark Side of The Force and we all hate it. Sandglass we also decided against - partly because it seems to be repositioning itself more definitively as a coffee shop rather than a bar (we had the "Is this a bar or a coffee shop?" debate outside almost every venue on the street, and in a number of cases it was quite a tough call - in general, if it had the word 'bar' in its name, we gave it a go; Sandglass's new business cards describe it as a café), and partly as a protest against the Chinese owner who has rather unceremoniously ousted the amiable Mongolian pair who had made the place such a success over the past three years or so. I think we also passed over Log-in Pub, although I can't now remember why - perhaps just because it is so dire. There were two or three other bars at the northern end of the street that we skipped because they were charmless and deserted. And the Backwards Bar (which should have been our penultimate stop on the street itself - the reliable haven of the Pool Bar round the corner on Gulou Dongdajie being destination '+1', a treat for the survivors, an incentive to keep going) excluded itself with its ludicrous pricing policy - 40 kuai for mixed drinks and 25 kuai for a Tsingtao (nowhere else around there charges more than 15 for a Tsingers, and, as we discovered, quite a few ask only 10; and Backwards really has absolutely nothing to distinguish it from any of its more budget-friendly NLGX competitors).

Nevertheless, I think we covered around 15 or so bars on the street - which is a pretty impressive effort. There were inevitably certain problems with people drinking too slowly and/or out of sync - which meant that some of us ended up having additional drinks in some of the bars while we waited for dawdlers. Moreover, the nucleus of our group, my American pals Nick O'Pix and Animator Ben, both arrived feeling badly hungover from Friday night..... and decided that the best way to overcome that problem was to start the afternoon with whisky shots. Thereafter, we drank whisky instead of or as well as a beer in many of the venues (plus, of course, the "2 metres of happiness" selection of flavoured house rums at Salud). It was, therefore, a very seriously alcoholic afternoon and evening.

Amongst the worthwhile discoveries of this escapade:
Dida Café Bar (our first port of call, at the very south end of the street) is really more of a coffee shop than a bar and has very flaky service, but..... it has a nice roof terrace, and it sells Jack Daniel's (and a few other whiskies, I think) for only 20 kuai (and Tsingtao for 10 kuai - take note, Backwards Bar!). That was a refreshingly low-budget start to our adventure - and we were tempted to stay put there.

The place just across the street from there is now an engagingly sleazy little dive bar, again with very cheap prices (Jim Beam is listed at only 15 RMB, although the staff were unaware of this and tried to charge me 25!). It suffers rather from the stigma of an infamous bust for selling fake booze a year or so ago, but I think it's now under different management, and all the drinks we tried there seemed kosher. (A bit of a bewildering set-up there: what had been the main bar area, fronting on to Dianmen Dongdajie, seems to have been separated off and rebranded as a café; the bit on the other side has recently been converted into a clothes shop; and the terrace up top - with the bizarre slogan 'Tennis Care Life' on its railing - well, it's not clear whether that's still open at all, or which part of the premises might give access to it.) Worth a look another time, I think. I particularly liked the "graffiti" on the ceiling, with its oddly significant word pairings like "sex dirty" and "gin hazard". Unfortunately, I have no idea what the place is called, since currently there are only a couple of indecipherable Chinese characters above the door.

The hotel opposite the Central Academy of Drama has a fantastic roof deck and very reasonable prices (but again, I failed to clock its name!). A good spot for sitting in the sunshine during the coming summer, I think.

The American hotdogs at Bar Uno - one of the better recent openings in the middle of the street - were a life-saver in the early evening.

And the bar next to Salud (err.... again "nameless"!!), although it is a rather lame copy of Salud and pretty uninspiring in almost every way, is notable for serving its cocktails and mixed drinks in knickerbocker glory glasses which must contain a treble or quadruple measure.

And.... er..... OK, that's about it. Overall, the exercise chiefly served to confirm our preconceived prejudices that most of the bars on the street are pointless, charmless, and almost customer-free. But it's good to have identified at least a few new potential watering-hole options.

"Why don't we do this every weekend??"

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