Yep, my latest idea for a bar crawl was to work the strip of the Nurenjie 'Super Bar Street' - before it gets demolished.
I only learnt a few weeks ago that the dreaded chai symbol was to make its appearance there, and initial reports suggested that the demolition would not begin until the middle of June. When I did an advance recce a week or so ago, a couple of bar owners along there told me that they still hadn't got definite word from their landlords, and were hoping to hang on a bit longer yet. It was also said that the demolition would start from the west end of the street, and that some places down the far end - like the PiliPili African restaurant and Tim's Texas Roadhouse - might be spared for another month or so; Texas Tim's, I was told (although Tim himself was not around at the time), was expecting to continue until mid-July.
No, things moved rather faster than that. Chai's were painted on the entire street last week, the utilities were scheduled to be cut off sometime this weekend, and the wrecking crews will be moving in in a day or two.
Friday was thus the last day on which this drinking expedition could be undertaken.
In fact, as it turned out, even Friday may have been a little too late: a number of bars had closed already.
We began with a filling meal in Israeli deli Biteapitta (the one place on that strip I shall really miss - although we are promised that it will soon reappear in a more central location in Sanlitun), accompanied by a few beers in frosty mugs. It's a great spot for watching the world go by, and it was difficult to summon the energy to move anywhere else. On this evening, alas, the world was not going by: the street had a funereal air, and was virtually deserted (although it was ever thus: creating a 'bar street' by decree is a peculiarly Chinese lunacy, and I don't think it has ever worked - the surprise with Nurenjie was that it limped on so long: nearly 5 years of dismal traffic and regularly failing businesses!).
Second stop was the adjacent Malaysian restaurant Awana - which described itself as also a 'bar' on its sign outside, but was, we discovered upon entry, pretty emphatically just a restaurant. We were persuaded to stay for a drink anyway, and plumped for gin & tonics all round. Ooops - gin & tonic wasn't actually listed on the menu, and the manager deemed it a 'cocktail', which was accordingly nearly twice as much as the 'gin' we thought we'd ordered. Ah well - we did manage to haggle it down to about 35 kuai each, and it was a very decent measure.
Next up was the New Get Lucky music bar (which, after 5 years, finally seems to have dropped the 'New') which was gearing up for a 'last night' concert (which, as far as I know, had not been advertised anywhere - but this place has always spurned the laowai crowd, and seems to do well enough on Chinese punters alone). Their prices have come down a lot since I was last there, and we were tempted to have a couple of whisky chasers along with a beer. And we got to hear a couple of the support acts doing their soundchecks - this did not encourage us to come back for the main event later in the evening (although there were also a couple of decent bands on the bill).
And after that...... we were struggling.
Cylinder, a large, barrel-shaped two-storey sports bar that opened up last summer appears to have been derelict for a while (I tried it out a couple of times during the Olympics last year, and found it nearly empty both times). The Fox Club, a swanky/sleazy "businessmen's retreat" that I had been intrigued to try out, also appeared to be closed up. The place next door to Fox (that used to be a cruddy electronic goods market) looked as if it had been done up as a bar or restaurant, but had never got around to opening. Also shuttered was 21 grams, the bar whose unique selling point is that it is also a tattoo parlour (perhaps that's just as well: I wouldn't have wanted to wake up on Saturday morning with "Remember Sammy Jankis" inked on my forearm). Ditto the bizarrely named Boiling Tribe - which was, I think, a 'reggae bar'. Lakeland also looked closed, but the the loud music seeping under the door suggested otherwise: however, when I took a peek inside, I was unceremoniously turned away on the grounds that it was reserved for a private party (there were about 10 people, at two tables at the far side of the room, and they didn't seem to be having very much fun; I really don't think that having a few laowai come and sit at the bar for 20 minutes would have spoiled their 'party').
And the guys at Afro Arena, probably Beijing's diviest bar (and I like divey - I had gone there a few times just afer it first opened a year or two ago, but it was just too far away to lure me back), were so pessimistic of attracting any more customers that they hadn't bothered to switch the lights on - yes, it was actually 'open', but in total darkness. We were touched that they were willing to expend some electricity on us, but they were only selling spirits by the bottle (and the last time I drank whisky there, it was some of the most egregiously, nastily fake stuff I've ever had in this town; I would have been very wary even of doing shots there), so we just stayed for one beer..... and a quick game of crazy pool. (The Arena's other distinction was that it had Beijing's worst pool table - wildly uneven, with a cracked bed and completely dead cushions, and with the ancient baize held together in places with strips of duct tape. We found that the table had been re-covered fairly recently, but was otherwise as dreadful as ever; and the cues were crooked, the cueball was pitted like the surface of the moon, and half the balls were missing. Not a great game.)
And that was pretty much it. We skipped the new-ish 'German restaurant' Wirsthaus am See, because it seemed to be pretty definitively a restaurant rather than a bar (and because it had such an unappealing name - 'Worst House'? What were they thinking?!). I suppose we might have passed on PiliPili on the same grounds, but I have a bit of a soft spot for that place; and there is at least a small bar you can sit at; and they had a belly-dancer. Tim's Texas Roadhouse I always find severely overpriced and completely atmosphereless (and oh my god, the food there is just dreadful), but there is something about the place that seems to appeal to my American confreres - when they ordered a second margarita, I got bored and struck out on my own to see if the doomed street had anything more to offer.
Answer: No. I had thought there were three or four more bars around the corner, but in fact there were only two. And one of those, a large nightclub that was apparently called Some More (??), was already mothballed. Indeed, there was a gaggle of construction workers loafing around on its front step, looking for all the world as if they were waiting to begin knocking the place down on the stroke of midnight. The other was a tiny, seedy pole-dancing bar called Forbidden (which brags extravagantly on the sign outside that it is "Beijing's best night club", although I suspect that there are very few people who are in a position to vouch for this): it was quite empty, and the ineptly over-solicitous waitress bugged the crap out of me within seconds, so I quit without bothering to have a drink. (My American buddies hit it up a little later in the evening, and reported that the floorshow was mildly diverting: the girls, they told me, were "not exactly attractive", but provided a certain sapphic titillation.)
So, I returned to PiliPili for a farewell drink - and then headed back to more familiar and more populous territory. All done by 10pm or so. A bit of a fizzle, really.
But at least I DID it.