Sunday, January 31, 2010


Some people are starting to wonder if I am in fact nothing more than an alter ego of Beijing Boyce.

They point out that we live an apparently similar lifestyle (too much time in bars!) and write broadly similar blogs (well, not that similar: I like to think that mine is funnier; but his is, admittedly, more useful).

And they are starting to suspect a telling significance in the fact that we are never seen together.

I insist you shouldn't read too much into that. I am a Gulou guttersnipe, whereas Boyce is a trendy Eastsider. He rarely comes west of Gongti, whereas I seldom stray east of Guijie. Never the twain....

However, just lately..... well, we seem to have been missing each other very narrowly, again and again - rather like the Red Arrows (the UK's - and probably the world's - premier formation-flying aerial display team).

I gather, for example, that he showed up at the re-opening night at 12 Square Metres a week ago, only moments after I'd left.... and then migrated to nearby MaoMaoChong, again just minutes behind me. The very next day, he was arriving at Fubar just as I left. And then on Tuesday - Australia Day - he once again appeared at 12 Square uncannily close on the heels of my departure.

I'm beginning to think he's stalking me.....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Carnival time once more

Yet again, the timing of the Krewe du Vieux carnival in New Orleans - the beginning of the pre-Mardi Gras parade season - has caught me out.

Since it's tied to Easter, and thus calculated on the lunar calendar, it usually coincides more or less with the Chinese Spring Festival. But..... well, this year the Chinese calendar had got so out of whack with the solar year that they had to insert an intercalary month to get back in sync, and so.... Spring Festival is nearly a month later than you'd expect this year, in mid-February.

Whereas Krewe du Vieux rolls...... tonight.

Over the past week, I had been starting to noodle around with the idea of taking a brief break over there. When I found out yesterday that I had barely 24 hours left, I thought of attempting an impulsive last-minute dash to try to get there. Unfortunately, the new Homeland Security regime rather militates against such spontaneity - even if I could have found a flight that would get me there in time (would probably have had to change at O'Hare, and maybe another hub as well), I don't think I would have been able to get through the advance visa waiver clearance. Drat!

This year's theme is All Fired Up! (they suffered an electrical fire last summer at the 'Den of Muses', the Krewe's warehouse HQ where all the floats are constructed). I dread to think what they might do with that!

As I've recounted before, the Krewe du Vieux is much the most fun of the N'Awlins carnival parades: the only one that's really an 'old school' bawdy romp, and the only one that's small enough to be able to follow a route through the narrow streets of the Marigny and the French Quarter. Things will be kicking off shortly, with the various sub-krewes assembling at their favourite taverns for a leisurely buffet lunch and a few hours of preliminary drinking to the accompaniment of their 'second line' band (each of the 17 sub-krewes has its own small marching jazz band to lead it on the road). Then, towards the end of the afternoon, they'll start swaggering and swaying through the streets: 17 drunken mini-parades converging on the early evening rendezvous at the Den of Muses - where there'll be more food and more drinking for a couple of hours until it gets dark. Then the main parade rolls - for what, about one-and-a-half or two hours, starting in the Marigny and working its way right through the heart of the Quarter, to finish at a big theatre on Elysian Fields..... where, around 9 or 9.30 or 10, the post-parade concert - the infamous Krewe du Vieux Do (pron. Kroo d'Voo Doo - geddit?) - will get under way with a review of the sub-krewes' marching bands, and then (at 11, or maybe getting nearer to midnight) one or two kicking local bands.

And this year - oh, my good god! - the King of the Carnival is........
Dr John!!!

You could knock me down with a feather. I mean, they've had some fairly notable local celebrities agree to be their figurehead in the past, but..... Dr John??!! The man is a legend, a giant of the local music scene. I would happily have blown a big chunk of my meagre savings for a chance to see him again (and, maybe, K du V being the intimate, booze-soaked kind of event that it is..... to meet him in person!!). I am so bummed about this. I wonder if he'll play The Do as well - he's not listed, but.... well, I imagine it might be difficult to keep him away from the stage. (I saw him play a dozen years ago, at The Forum in Camden Town, when he was in rather poor health - and he had to be physically restrained from playing more encores; he just didn't want to leave his piano, and eventually his daughter had to lead him off stage for his own good. That was one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life. There might be more technically virtuosic pianists out there, but the Doctor just oozes music - he's one of those guys that gives the impression he can nail anything he wants to do on the keyboard, and make it look effortless, unpremeditated, joyous.)

And then, of course, local team The Saints have surprised and delighted everyone by battling through to the Superbowl next week. Man, this would be a good week to be in New Orleans! (Just as well The 'Bowl isn't this week: the Krewe du Vieux Doo being what it is - an outrageous dancing-in-the-aisles, quaffing from hip-flasks, partying-till-the-wee-small-hours affair - some people would be struggling to get up in time for the game.) I am so bummed not to be there.

It's now 5 or 6 years since I last made it to Krewe du Vieux - I am so overdue. NEXT YEAR!!!

Oh well, at least we can enjoy a little of the Great Man (and a few other people you might recognise) in the comfort of our homes. Here's his classic N'Awlins party song, Iko Iko.

Great Drinking Songs (19)

Last month over on Froogville, when talking about puns, my blog-friend Moonrat complained that she had been confused by a convoluted reference in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow to the phrase Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (well, I think Pynchon may have reduced the number of Frenchmen - or "fur henchmen", I believe it was - to 'forty million' in order to crowbar it into his pun). I explained that this was the title of a popular song of the 1920s, perhaps best known in this version by the great comic songstress Sophie Tucker (no video, I'm afraid).

On looking it up, I was reminded (I'd heard it somewhere in my childhood) that it is quite a rousing little singalong number. I've only recently been restored to access to YouTube, and my Great Drinking Songs series has been in abeyance since last summer - but this seems like a suitable number to get it going again.

There's quite a bit more of Ms Tucker on YouTube, including this typically idiosyncratic rendition of Some Of These Days (no video, but once again some still photographs of the lady), a very rare clip of a live performance of No-One But The Right Man Can Do Me Wrong on a stage somewhere in London circa 1930, entertaining the troops in 1944's patriotic morale-booster Follow The Boys (which apparently had everyone who was anyone in it), and singing You Can't Sew A Button On A Heart in the musical film Sensations of 1945.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Return of the Jedi

It seems that Obiwan is open again.

Well, as far as I could gather, they'd never actually told anyone they were going to close (and I hear that, having been 'dark' for a month or more, their old staff have all gone elsewhere, which could be a bit of a problem for them); and I haven't seen any official notice of their reopening. But....

I have learned that they've got some live music on this Saturday evening. In the past, they've seldom hosted live bands (although Charlie Musselwhite and the Alex Wilson Blues Band played the last of their Beijing gigs there; and superb local experimentalists Glorious Pharmacy also did a one-off show at a private party there a couple of years ago), but this is supposed to be a key feature of their 'new look' this year - and my buddy David Mitchell (wizard guitarist with Panjir) has joined the set-up to handle booking the bands. According to the e-mail he's just sent round, the modest door fees will go entirely to the musicians (something of an innovation for Beijing, where bands are usually on a fixed and not very generous fee)..... and get you a free beer.

Tomorrow's kick-off event will be an experimental jam session, with David being joined by Bruce Gremo on flute ("Yazz flute!"), Kevin Olusola on 'cello, Hu Hao on bass, Nico on drums, and one or two other "special guests". Sounds promising.

[I also gather that Brazilian-style drumming troupe Sambasia are playing a 'farewell gig' tonight at Jiangjinjiu (they'll probably be playing again in a while, but their founder/teacher is about to leave the country on an extended break). I'm afraid the band is too big - and too LOUD - for that venue, and will probably be best appreciated from the far side of Bell Tower Square; but if you like drumming.....

Update: Well, no sign of Sambasia at 3J on Friday. Sorry about that - hope no-one was misled or disappointed. Maybe they're playing there on Saturday. Or maybe it's cancelled. Jiangjinjiu is one of those places where it's next to impossible to find out what's on other than by turning up on spec. I don't think they have a website, and the notices they intermittently put out in the listings magazines tend either to be wrong in the first place or get changed at the last minute. They even seem to have stopped using the little chalkboard outside to announce the name of the evening's band!]

HBH 167

Knowing what will be,
Seeing future as present -
Perfect state of calm.

Really 'in the zone' on the pool table for a while last night. The mojo - she is back (at least, intermittently).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recommended Posts, July-September 2008

Guided Tour - recommended posts from the 3rd quarter of '08

1) More Olympic craziness - 5th July 2008

A rundown of the government's various inspired attempts to stop anyone having any fun during the upcoming Olympic Games.

2) Bon mot of the week - 7th July 2008

One of the best ever, if I do say so myself (yes, it was one of my own).

3) Yet more text message silliness - 7th July 2008

A strange flight of fancy as I tease a lady friend who works at the British Embassy. (There's even more in the comments!)

4) Great Names for Bars (A New Competition) - 8th July 2008

A couple of anecdotes about great names for bars inspire a new 'competition' - inviting readers to contribute their own suggestions in the comments.

5) How Not To Run A Bar (3) - 10th July 2008

Or, When Is A Happy Not A Happy Hour?

6) Great Drinking Songs (8) - 12th July 2008

Tom Waits and Keith Richards perform That Feel.

7) A stroke of genius - 13th July 2008

My eccentric drinking companion, Crazy Chris, comes up with the inspired idea of a five-minute 'happy hour' - this could change the world.

8) Missing a trick (Missing a party excuse!) - 15th July 2008

I lament the apparent absence of Bastille Day parties in Beijing this year - but celebrate (a day late) with a selection of YouTube clips of The Marseillaise: Mireille Mathieu singing it in front of the Eiffel Tower, the customers at Rick's Café Americain singing it to taunt the Nazis in Casablanca, and a Renault F1 racing car revving it - and, as a tangentially related bonus, Celine Dion gargling My Heart Will Go On.

9) Good News/Bad News - 17th July 2008

A very strange night in Beijing....

10) A new 'game' for everyone - please contribute... - 19th July 2008

Some great examples of misheard song lyrics, advertising my new contribute your own favourites post on this theme (which is actually HERE).

11) Bon Voyage - 23rd July 2008

My principal drinking companion of the year, Crazy Chris, departs. I find I have mixed feelings about it.

12) My latest PARTY idea - 24th July 2008

Tibet Beer appears in Beijing! I can't resist the idea of giving some away FREE!!

13) "Fun" or "No Fun"? - 25th July 2008

I get into a bit of a spat with Beijing Boyce about the atmosphere in Beijing on the eve of the Olympics. He's irritatingly bouncy-bouncy-bouncy-bouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-FUN. I'm a curmudgeon. I favour the tag The Mafan (=hassle) Olympics.

14) IPD - the mystery of love explained (maybe) - 29th July 2008

One of the most important of my 'theories' - though, alas, it's not my own, but the creation of my mad scientist friend, The Younger Dr P.

15) A riddle - 31st July 2008

What do SARS and the Olympics have in common?

16) The Eternal Pursuit - 2nd August 2008

A favourite anecdote about an embarrassing mispronunciation.

17) Great Drinking Songs (9) - 9th August 2008

The traditional sea shanty South Australia, sung by Cornish vocal group Fisherman's Friends on the beach outside their local pub in Port Isaac. (Also, a link to a stunning instrumental performance by the Australian guitar-picking virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel.)

18) Here I go, promoting ZIYO again.... - 13th August 2008

I find some video clips of my favourite Beijing band to share with you.

19) Olympic Opening Night - 15th August 2008

A week late, but I finally get around to reporting on the Opening Ceremony party at Room 101.

20) All in the name of science - 20th August 2008

I come up with a new excuse for drinking whisky....

21) A life in six words - 22nd August 2008

Following the example of Smith Magazine, I inaugurate a Six Word Memoir competition of my own.

22) I don't like bars - 26th August 2008

A somewhat shocking realisation, given that I spend such a large amount of my time in them!

23) Am I just an 'Inbetweenie'? - 27th August 2008

I realise that I don't like young people any more, but am not yet ready to surrender to middle age. I recall that The Goodies wrote a song about this in my childhood!

24) My China Crisis - 28th August 2008

A random slogan on a flyer seems to have a rather pointed significance for me.

25) Not so much FUN - 28th August 2008

My curmudgeonly review of just how awful the Beijing Olympics were.

26) Highlights of my Olympics - 29th August 2008

As a counter-balance to that last anti-Olympics rant, I offer a list of the things I did enjoy this past month.

27) The Zen Drinker - 30th August 2008

My personal drinking manifesto.

28) The wonderful world of Chinglish - 31st August 2008

I can't resist making fun of the spectacularly AWFUL website Tsingtao beer put up to exploit their sponsorship of the Olympics - hilarious!!

29) Bon mot for the week - 1st September 2008

A final jibe at the Olympics!

30) The Way It Is - 2nd September 2008

Post-Olympic reflection - what lies ahead for us in Beijing now?

31) HBH 96 - 5th September 2008

The thing about drinking is.....

32) Masochism, pure and simple - 12th September 2008

The ultimate summation of my trials with failed infatuation, Madame X. Nine months after I 'gave up' on the dratted girl, I was still struggling to get over her.

33) HBH 98 - 19th September 2008

A helpful observation on beer...

34) Improving the odds - 22nd September 2008

An outside-the-box chat-up tactic from an old university chum starts me off on some maudlin pondering as to whether Madame X would sleep with me even if I were the last man on earth.

35) HBH 99 - 26th September 2008

The Zen of the pool room...

36) What would Brian Boitano do? - 26th September 2008

A true story: sitting at a bar between a stunningly beautiful woman (who's on her own and looking bored) and a geeky young Chinese guy - who would I choose to talk to? You guessed it! Well, he was a fellow cinema enthusiast... Probably not what Brian Boitano would have done!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Innovative marketing ploy

I just stumbled upon this story online:

A NIGHTCLUB in Singapore is offering free drinks to women according to the cup size of their bra, reports China Press.

The OverEasy nightclub came out with the idea to attract customers by organising the event themed “Fill My Cups.”

It is said that those with A cup would get one free drink while those with B cup would get two glasses.

Those who wore C cup would receive three drinks.

Women with D cup would be given a bottle of alcoholic drink worth S$168 (RM408).

The daily said the “special offer” has drawn mixed reactions with some seeing it as a creative marketing gimmick while others felt offended and said they would not support such an event.

"Mixed reactions", indeed!

I wonder if Chad Lager over at Fubar might be tempted by such a promotion? He's still a little concerned that his Gongti basement 'speakeasy' is proving more of a draw for the guys than the gals, and is constantly on the lookout for new ways to entice the ladies in.

I do hope not. This is horribly sexist. (And size-ist. And boob-ist. And a whole bunch of other -ists and -isms that I wouldn't want to associate myself with.) Chad, if you're reading this.... I was only joking; don't go there, please. A regular 'Ladies' Night' would be just fine.

I do rather like the name of that promotion, though....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia, Australia, Australia, we LOVE you! (AMEN)

It's Australia Day today, and even diehard "Pommie bastards" such as myself will be putting aside the historic grievances between our two nations (always somewhat easier to do when we hold The Ashes!) and becoming 'Australian' for the day..... if only we can remember the answer to the crucial Question No. 3, that is. [This clip is from a very silly 1974 film, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, written by and starring the well-loved Aussie comic, Barry Humphries.]

I fear extended quotations from Monty Python's 'Bruces Sketch' (below) will be inevitable at some point later in the day; I hope my Australian friends can forgive me.

The little Australian enclave down at the bottom of Nanluoguxiang - Ned's, MaoMaoChong, and, of course, 12 Square Metres - should be a good place to hang out today, with all three spots offering generous discounts on their Aussie beers. And, oh dear me, I think they're all supposed to be opening from noon today! I don't think I'll be starting quite that early - I wouldn't survive....

Monday, January 25, 2010

How not to do it (2) - This is NOT the opening party you're looking for

I mentioned a few days ago that new "French" nightclub Le Zazou had royally shot itself in the foot by running an horrendously bad vodka promotion (nasty cocktails, weak measures, bad service, watered-down and/or fake booze) during its 'soft opening' phase over Christmas and New Year.

It is staggering how much bad word-of-mouth these folks have managed to generate for themselves in a few short weeks. Honestly, I haven't heard anyone with a good word to say about the place. Even online bar reviewer Beijing Boyce, who'd cut them a lot of slack during his early visits, tweeted the other day that he'd finally lost patience with their bolshie 'service' and tiny pours. And his mate 8 Songs has just posted a pretty damning description of their first restaurant event, a wine tasting over the weekend.

The thing that really seems to have done them the most damage, though - more than the shoddy service, poisonous drinks, and erratic marketing efforts - was their "VIP Pre-Launch Party" a couple of Fridays ago.

I think they'd suffered a bit of a crisis of confidence about whether they were going to be able to entice many people out during the big freeze-up we suffered in the first week of January, and so had started giving out tickets to all and sundry (even I got one, and I am most emphatically not a VIP!).

I didn't bother to go, but a friend who did reported that it was a FRIGHTFUL event - hideously overcrowded (I heard differing reports on this point, but it has been suggested to me that they may have given up on ticketing for the "exclusive" event altogether, and just let in anyone who showed up), the staff completely overwhelmed, the drinks (if you could get one) as nasty as ever. And still no sign of the promised "French cabaret", barely an hour before the event was due to finish (although I'm told the throng was such that it probably would have been impossible to hear, or perhaps even to see any performers on the stage anyway).

Folks, really, you need to judge your numbers more carefully than that - you can have TOO MANY people for an event like that (and several people have told me you did), and it just spoils the whole thing. People whose only experience of Le Zazou so far has been that event, people who were chuffed about getting a "special ticket" to the opening night pre-party, are now the most vociferous critics of the place.

Honestly, it's like these folks aren't really attempting to set up a bar, but just to run a training course in How Not To.......

Another seasonal bon mot

"A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine, except that on a day without sunshine you can still get drunk."

Lee Entrekin

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend musical moment

My friend Nate the Promoter brought over Canadian band Patrick Watson (the Montreal singer-songwriter who heads the ensemble gives his name also to the band as a whole; some people seem to find this quirkily charming, but to me it suggests either rampant egomania or a sorry lack of panache in the art of band-naming) to play at Yugong Yishan last Sunday. Unfortunately, I missed the gig, but most people I know who went have praised it very highly.

I'm still a bit of a sceptic after noodling around on YouTube all morning listening to them. The high voice, indistinct vocals, and jangly piano do not appeal, a little too reminiscent of Coldplay for my taste.

Nevertheless, I was quite taken with their Mr Tom, a ghostly instrumental piece which appears to be a pastiche of Satie's Trois Gymnopedies, and with Fireweed (mainly for the rather striking video - below - shot in Iceland).... rather less so with their song Beijing (incomprehensible lyrics leave you wondering what on earth it's got to do with Beijing), although it has some interestingly eccentric percussion in it.

Ah well, see what you think. (And do let me know what you thought of the YGYS show, if you were there.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Difficult decisions

I had been planning to head out to 2 Kolegas tomorrow to enjoy the storming line-up of Ziyo (I lurve you, Helen Feng!), Wu & The Side Effects, and The Amazing Insurance Salesman (haven't seen them before, but I hear pretty good things about them, and it is a pretty funky band name).

However, I learned last night that some of my musician buddies are putting on a special concert in my neighbourhood tomorrow (at Luce, an Italian restaurant that is little more than a stone's throw from my apartment) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Django Reinhardt. We are promised no fewer than 5 French gypsy-style guitarists (so, that'll be Nico, Dan, Mathieu... is Jean-Sebastian still around? And, er, who else?? Maybe Jean-Seb's Chinese protégé? Well, we shall see...), along with the lovely Zoe Wang on accordion, and one or two other musicians filling out the sound as well. Should be good.

Oh dear. Decisions, decisions.

Place your bets...

Well, it is now less than 100 hours before The Killers are due to play at the Workers' Gymnasium on Gongti Beilu here in Beijing.

Who reckons the gig will actually go ahead?

Not me. But I'm embittered and cynical because we've had such a dreadful run of last-minute cancellations of visas and/or performance licences blighting the live music scene here over the past few years.

I understand The Killers are a pretty wholesome bunch, as rock stars go: no known involvement with drugs or irregular sexual activity; no strong political stance; no photographs taken alongside the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer. But there is still time for the (not so well named) Ministry of Culture to turn up some 'dirt' on them, I'm sure.

Not that I'm being a curmudgeon just because I couldn't afford a ticket, mind you. Oh no - I have friends who are going; and I wouldn't want to see them or the other fans disappointed.

What I'd really like to see is The Killers allowed in to strut their stuff, and then calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo before they start their encores. (I wonder if they've already signed Charter '08? Maybe somebody at the Ministry should check?)

If you're hoping to enjoy a good show at the Gym next Tuesday, I wish you well. But if I were a betting man - which I am, on occasion - I wouldn't be putting any money on it.

HBH 166

Evenings have their arc,
From high to low, low to high.
Kittens are a high.

Last night got off to a wretched start for me - a deadly dull networker (why do I bother?), the speaker meeting I wanted to attend afterwards being oversubscribed, the Sanlitun rendezvous I'd been aiming for cancelled, Manhattan in a curmudgeonly stay-at-home mood.... even the normally reliable Den burger was a bit old and dry. There I was, at 7pm, marooned in the hated bar district, having already blown a shitload of money on nothing, alone - and starting to feel very depressed.

But if you finish up the evening at Amilal with 'Scamp' and 'Tramp', things always seem OK.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Triple whammy

New Aussie-owned pizza joint MaoMaoChong (off Jiaodaokou Nandajie, on the Banchang Hutong just before the Lusongyuan Hotel) is to have an official launch party from 8pm this Friday.

The new-look 12 Square Metres should be re-opening that night as well (subject to the smell of varnish having dissipated sufficiently, and JK the boss being able to keep on top of the wretched chesty cough we've all been suffering all week).

And Yann Gaulthier, the crazy Frenchman who gave us Café de la Poste and Salud, is leaving at the end of the month (to take on a new project in the Philippines) and so will be having a farewell thrash on Friday (probably the first of several; or one week-long one, if I know Yann).

It's going to be a busy night.....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How not to do it (1) - These are NOT the free drinks you're looking for

As I mentioned here (and here), new Sanlitun club Le Zazou was trying to boost custom during its first two weeks or so of 'soft opening' by offering FREE drinks.

I immediately expressed my scepticism as to whether this would turn out to be as worthwhile an offer as it first sounded.

Indeed it was not!

For a start, the promotion was hemmed round with restrictions. It only applied to their main bar (not the restaurant or the disco area [not sure if they even have another bar in there; it wasn't in operation the couple of times I looked in]); it only applied to vodka-based mixed drinks "made with Absolut vodka" (I'll come to that in a moment); and it didn't even apply to all the vodka drinks, only to a short list of 'special' cocktails - a distinction which the bar staff didn't do much if anything to bring to punters' attention. Even this somewhat limited offer could not be fully relied upon: I'm sure I'd originally seen it advertised as running from 8pm to midnight, but when I first tried it I was told that it didn't in fact kick in till 9pm. I heard from a couple of other people that there were one or two nights when they weren't running it at all (out of vodka??). And on New Year's Eve - without warning - they started issuing tickets to limit each customer to a single drink.

How stingy is that?! It's a textbook lesson in how to make a bad impression on people, even as you're trying to woo them with a promotional freebie.

And that wasn't even the worst of it.

Oh no. Most of the 'special' cocktails were not very special at all. Perhaps made with Chinese tastes in mind, they were all very low in alcohol and hideously syrupy. After my companion and I had done our duty by sampling each of them (and, after my first unhappy experience, I'd been doing my best to get the barman to "hold the syrup!" on subsequent mixes), I switched to vodka-tonics - the only other free item on the menu.

And, as if they weren't weak enough already, most of the 'specials' were being mixed in advance (maybe some hours in advance? in anticipation of a 'rush' that never came!) - allowing melted ice to dilute them even further, and any alcohol that might have been in them originally to evaporate.

There was little or no alcohol in any of the drinks anyway. My companion cannily switched to ordering the only cocktail that they didn't have pre-mixed and so had to make to order. She had several of them, indeed maybe a dozen or more during the three hours or so we were there. They had no visible effect on her whatsoever. I probably had at least 20 vodka-tonics (on top of half a dozen or so cocktails) - which should have been enough to put me into a coma, if they'd had anything like a decent pour in them. I felt scarcely any effect at all.

I was watching the barman carefully as he made my drinks. He was pouring in fairly generous slugs from a bottle labelled Absolut. I can only conclude that the bottle had been heavily watered down. (Although the bottle had no top on it, and no pourer - so evaporation might have been a bit of a problem.)

And that's if it was even Absolut vodka in the first place. Although I was scarcely experiencing even the mildest of tipsiness when I went home at 12.30, I awoke the next day with a quite ferocious headache (something that never happens to me with proper drinks). I therefore infer that what very little alcohol they served me that night was poisonously fake.

A few little pointers for you, chaps;-

1) If you're going to do a FREE drink promotion, you can't afford to be penny-pinching about it. Make sure that you have enough booze (and enough bar staff) to keep all your punters reasonably well satisfied. And if you do have to place limitations on the offer - range of eligible drinks, hours in effect, special rules for 'big nights' like New Year - advertise them WELL.

2) All drinks should be made to order (get some big shakers or mixing glasses, so you can make 4 or 5 at once, but don't pre-mix them; if you're mixing drinks by the vat, and letting all the ice melt into them, they're not 'cocktails' any more).

3) Use FULL POURS. It's essential to your future credibility. Don't try to "save money" by stinting on the alcohol-per-drink. You're supposed to have written off the expense as a promotion anyway (if you weren't getting it free or very cheap from the manufacturer/distributor in the first place). Quite apart from the very negative impression made on customers, it will probably be counter-productive anyway: heavy drinkers will just drink quicker and order more - ultimately consuming just as much vodka (and more of everything else).... and overwhelming your bar staff. People drink strong drinks slower. Cf. my example that night: with a decent slug of vodka in those drinks, I would have been content to drink them at a rate of 2 or 3 per hour.... rather than 8 or 10 per hour.

4) Make bloody sure the booze you're using is kosher. It's bad enough to leave your punters dissatisfied with weak drinks; it's very poor form to poison them as well. (Just because you're running a loss-making opening promotion, doesn't mean you can sink to the kind of brutal cost-cutting measures we see at the likes of Pure Girl and Tun.) I was under the impression that Absolut was actually sponsoring this promotion - although in this country, alas, the involvement of the manufacturer is no guarantee that the supply won't get contaminated somehow. However, even if Absolut was not directly involved in this, their name was being plastered all over the promotion, and the crappy drinks were being poured from their bottles. It's not only Le Zazou that took a huge hit in credibility from this shambles, but Absolut too - and if I had anything to do with promoting the brand in China, I'd be absolutely bloody seething about it. I wouldn't be too happy about short pours, badly made drinks, and open bottles; but watering down and/or contaminating the product with cheap fake booze - that really calls for some punitive action from Absolut, I'd suggest.

Oh yes - one final thing. On the night my friend and I went, it was very, very quiet. The bar staff were under no kind of pressure at all. There was thus no excuse at all (well, there never is; but certainly not in circumstances like that) not to refresh the ice and lemon in my glass regularly. After the same dry, stale sliver of lemon and nearly-melted heap of ice had been dropped back in front of my nose for the 6th or 7th time, I emptied it in an ashtray (after I'd drained the "vodka", of course; I wouldn't want to make a mess - only a point). Unbelievable.

I didn't just catch them on a bad night. Everyone I've met who went along during that opening fortnight was similarly outraged by the awfulness of the place. It's pretty much dead in the water as a business when it's scarcely even officially 'open'. It will take some kind of miracle from the management now to redeem those dire first impressions.

You know what, guys - if you were worried you couldn't really afford to do a proper 'free vodka' promotion for two whole weeks, you shouldn't have bothered. You would have done much, much better to run a 'cheap vodka' promotion, but ensure that the drinks (and the service) were really good. But that's China all over for you: no-one here ever seems to understand the concept of selling on quality; 'profit' seems only ever to be understood as the minimizing of overheads, not as the maximizing of turnover (and foreigners who've been here a while often get to be just as bad as the native Chinese; it's as if there's some kind of neuropathic contagion in the air). Sigh.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gourmet Night

Realising that Dr Manhattan would be leaving us shortly, a month or so back JK suggested that we should make the most of his remaining time with us by serially introducing him to some of the city's 'fine dining' experiences.

What he had in mind, in fact, was an occasional night out of riotous excess - with quantity-for-money rather than culinary finesse being our priority. Well, protracted and excessive consumption of alcohol - after getting a good stomach lining in at the start of the evening - is really the main aim.

So far, we've done Mexican, Japanese (I missed that one), Brazilian (one of those awful Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet versions of a Brazilian barbecue grill: pretty terrible food, but it was cheap, and there was a lot of meat!), and Russian (best of the lot so far: a surprisingly good all-you-can-eat - and all-you-can-drink! - buffet for only 88 kuai). We should be on for our 5th outing tonight (though we originally dubbed them 'Gluttony Thursdays', we've evolved a pretty flexible approach to which night we go for this).

Dr Manhattan - though well capable of extreme gourmandising - used to be a chef in one of his past lives, and so may perhaps occasionally hanker after something a little more upmarket.... but massive portions for relatively little money are the keynote of these evenings, dammit. If he starts trying to get fancy on us, I may have to ask for salad cream.

Another hiatus

The new-look 12 Square Metres is temporarily closed again.

JK decided the moment was apt to plane (and stain and varnish) his sturdy new bar counter (and a few other bits and pieces of new furniture), so he's shut up shop again for a few days while the lacquer dries.

If he can clear the chemical smell out of there, we should be open again on Thursday or Friday.

So..... that'll be the second "re-opening party" within a week [correction: a fortnight].

And then we have Australia Day looming next Tuesday.....

Too many excuses to drink!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cold feet again

Somehow or other, I got myself on to the e-mailing list of a couple of young ladies who run occasional speed-dating sessions (and other 'singles events') here in Beijing, and about 14 months ago I was actually on the brink of giving it a try.

They don't seem to have had so many of these evenings lately (or perhaps I just haven't been paying attention), but another one came around this Sunday, and again..... I was on the brink.

This doesn't seem like a particularly good time of year to be having such an event: the major influx of fresh blood in the expat community is usually in the late summer/early autumn. Not so many newbies are starting out on the Beijing experience in the middle of winter. And amongst the existing population, many people are still on their winter breaks; or only just back, and perhaps distracted by a bit of a holiday fling or a rekindling of old flames back home.

On the other hand, the 'long winter evenings' are apt to make even diehard singletons like myself suddenly covetous of a cosy bed partner. And the looming iceberg of Valentine's Day strikes a terror of loneliness into many people. Perhaps, after all, this is a good time to be looking...

Well, the organisers had chosen quite a nice bar for it (though not in my local neighbourhood this time), and I didn't have anything else to do on Sunday evening, but..... I'm afraid apathy won out again.

Next time, next time. I really am keen to do this now (not 'desperate', not 'desperate'; committed, focused.... receptive to trying to get into a relationship again). I'm even starting to feel quite inspired by the challenge of having to think of new and amusing things to ask and say for one-and-a-half hours without a break (a marathon of conversational creativity which daunted me last time, and was probably the main reason why I wimped out). Next time, next time....

I wonder, did any of my readers try this out? What did you make of it?

Bon mot for the week

"Milk is for babies. When you grow up, you have to drink beer."

Arnold Scharzennegger (1947- )

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Under The Affluence of Incohol

I go to the fridge looking for some words to drink.
Nothing there.
I call my friends."The pub! I'll bring the thesaurus." Agreed.
A stubbie. Exchange a few similes. Another stubbie.
Mix a few metaphors.

Hey, my friends say, "your slurds are starting to whirr.
You're under the affluence of incohol."
"No way," I reply, "I'm jober as a sudge."
My friends say I'm angling the queen's minglish.
I foe a threw insults back.
They call me a posspit.
They say "you know, Mir and better fours don't mix!"
What would nay though?

I have a bew more fears.
Febore I know it, the club is posing.
I'd stunk my last drubbie.
"Where's the posest club?" I ask.
"New hose? Let's wind fun."

We stralk along the wheat.
A cur lease par barses pie.
"Ello hoffy sir" I call out, ta rick you lately.
"Looking for mubble trakers?"

The cur lease par sterns and tops.
A blan in moo gets out and talks ooh ward me.
He holds out a rape tea corder.
He says
"Talk into this please until I say stop."
He is forking tunny.
"Could you gay that a sen?" I say.
He pea-reats simhelf.
"Fot the wuck moo do yean, pork into this tlease?
Eak spoper prenglish!"

"I'm sorry, sir. I'm arresting you for having a spoonerism level above the legal limit of 0.08 per hundred words. You will have to accompany me to the station."

Now I'm in sheep dit.
What started out as a bite with the noise, because of no fear in the bridge,
has nurned Terry, Terry vasty.
In the norming, I have to gee the sudge.
I have a very whore said.

"How do you plead?"

"Got nilty, whore onya" I say.
Whoops. He is pot rimnessed.

"I sentence you to four months silence.
Officer, take away his thesaurus.
You will be eligible for a dictionary no earlier than two months from now."

Dot will I woo? Fry mends won't mork to tea. I'm din is grace.
Cow will I hope with more funths of

David Peetz

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A momentous day

Brother blog Froogville has just clocked up posts 2,000 and 2,001!! Who'd have thought it?!

My 'drinking blog' here is lagging somewhat behind, but should be passing the 1,500 mark in a month or so. Exciting times!

Pet hate

The massive popularity of Pet Conspiracy rather mystifies me (good name, disappointing band). Oh yes, they try to bring an element of theatricality to their performance, introducing new fun pieces of business to each show - ripping up the scenery, forming a conga line, inviting audience members on stage to dance, etc, etc. All quite jolly, I grant you - but what about the music?

The music, I'm afraid, leaves me unimpressed - they just come across as a bunch of self-satisfied poseurs who can't really play all that well. Frontwoman Helen Feng tries to deflect comparisons with her other (much more rock'n'rolling) band Ziyo with a little self-mockery in one of her lyrics - "Doesn't this sound like Ziyo?" Unfortunately, that joke rather backfires because it is all too apposite: Pet Conspiracy's best songs do sound like Ziyo reject numbers - Ziyo songs played by a less good band, and without the benefit of having been honed through dozens of live performances. And that's the best songs; most of them aren't nearly as good as Ziyo's stuff.

I confess I have a low tolerance for electronica. And I'm inclined to resent the very idea of Pet Conspiracy because I'm disappointed that the project distracts so much of the lovely Helen's attention from the excellent Ziyo (and I also object to the fact that she's started insisting on noodling around with that dratted synthesizer of hers in Ziyo shows too; it is not an asset to their music or her performance).

However, I do try to be open-minded, you know: I like to test and challenge my prejudices fairly regularly. So, I thought I'd give Pet Conspiracy another go - I went to their Yugong Yishan gig on Friday night.

Well, I went, but I didn't stay. These days, an advertised 9.30 start usually means some music shortly after 10. Perhaps, since there's no support act, and since it's the weekend, more like 10.30 or 10.45 - but certainly not later than 11. Ahem - well, at nearly 11.30, there was still no sign of them going on stage, and I imagine the owners might have been holding back the start of the show to accommodate a huge gaggle of late-comers: when I left, there were at least a couple of hundred people mobbing the coat-check, or still queueing to get in. The crowd inside was already uncomfortably, dangerously packed (I've no idea what headcount limit the fire safety code gives them there, but I'm pretty sure that, whatever it is, they must have exceeded it last night). I quit for safety reasons as much as mere impatience (and general lack of enthusiasm for the band, and reluctance to keep on paying high prices for YGYS's poisonous fake booze, and the impossibility of being able to get anywhere near the stage).

Not only an over-large crowd, but an oppressively foreigner-dominated one. This is another of my pet gripes about Yugong: it is unaccountably popular with expat punters, who seem to like the loungey, clubby layout of the place (which I hate) while being strangely forgiving of the high prices, fake booze, and muddy sound. Chinese punters, I would like to think, are a little more discriminating; but it's probably just a case of them not being able to afford the high door fees being charged these days (80 kuai for one band??!!).

So, that's my major beef against Pet Conspiracy, apart from not liking their music - their huge following is almost exclusively laowai. I'd say at least 80% of the crowd on Friday night was non-Chinese; and, if you exclude overseas Chinese and the Chinese WAG phenomenon, probably 98 or 99%. And almost exclusively under 25 as well: NOT my kind of people!! Come, friendly bombs....

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where has all the Stella gone?

Some while back - maybe two or three weeks ago - I was denied my usual pint of Stella in Luga's Villa.

At the time, I dismissed this as a minor irritation, put it down to a fleeting glitch in supply (or the perennially flaky Luga having forgotten to order fresh stock!). The thought that he might have chosen to discontinue carrying this beer was briefly disturbing to me, but I put it out of my mind.

However, they still had no Stella at the start of this week. And other places seem to be running out too - Gingko, Fubar, Tun. I was relieved to find some last night at Nearby The Tree. (How? How do they still have it when everyone else has run dry? Do they get in twenty kegs at a time??)

I'm told that the distributor here has encountered some kind of problem with supplies from Belgium: it's suggested that one or two inbound containers due for distribution this month were either delayed in transit at sea or have been held up through customs. (I wonder: have the poor Belgians done something to offend the Chinese government? Has their Prime Minister been rash enough to profess that the Dalai Lama is really quite a nice chap, or something like that? Such petty punitive actions as delaying passage through customs of a country's goods usually have some such political motive.)

While trying to dig up some more definite information on this online (I failed), I learned that Belgium is suffering something of a beer famine (dread words!) itself at the moment. Supplies of many beers are being choked off by strike action against Anheuser Busch over threatened downsizing of its European workforce. However, that's blown up just this week, so it wouldn't yet be having any impact on the supply of imported beers in China. And I assume the disruption of supply is limited to Anheuser Busch brands - which don't include Stella, or the more worthwhile Belgian craft brews.

So, does anybody know for sure -- what's up with the Stella drought in Beijing??

HBH 165

A comfort, undrunk!
Talisman against the cold:
Hip-flask of whisky.

I have recently become the proud owner of a hip-flask for the first time in about twenty years. And I am finding it a very nice thing to have about me in this Arctic winter we're having - not just the reassurance of having an untapped emergency reserve of booze ready to hand; somehow, even just knowing it's there, without any thought of actually drinking from it, is a source of spiritual warmth.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Failure to communicate

I have commented on here more than once before about how unreliable listings in the expat magazines and websites can be, particularly for regularly repeating events. Venue owners put out a notice for a regular weekly or monthly event, and then...... well, they never think to modify the listing when they move or cancel the event shortly afterwards. And no-one from the magazines ever seems to check on the status of regular listings. I wonder, in fact, what the record for the most out-of-date listing would be? I think I've seen things that are up to about a year behind the times. I have even, on occasion, seen listings for bars and restaurants that have ceased to exist.

Unless you know that a weekly event is newly initiated, you should always treat such a listing with a large pinch of salt. Always try to check in advance with the venue, if possible. I'm never all that surprised by phantom listings.

Yesterday, however, I got caught out. Obiwan (not a particularly attractive destination for me, but only a fairly short walk from where I live) has been running a Wednesday night promotion called Jack Rabbit Slim's - after the diner in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction where Mia and Vincent enter the dance competition. Apparently you get a burger and fries and a three-hour free flow of draught Tsingtao while a DJ spins golden oldies from the '50s and '60s - all for just 50 rmb.

Now, that does sound rather fun. And very good value for money (a vital consideration for me, since I've earned bugger-all in the last four weeks).

This, I think, is a relatively recent innovation. And it seems to have achieved a particularly high prominence just lately: it's in all the listings magazines this month. I had, therefore, assumed that this might be part of the recently announced drive to revamp the place as it moves into its fourth year of operation.

I was too busy yesterday to call the bar myself to doublecheck, but I'd asked a friend to confirm with them if the event was still running and let me know if it wasn't. He didn't get back to me, so...... well, I thought we had a green light; I started rallying the troops.

It was, perhaps, lucky that the troops mostly declined to be rallied. Only the reliable Dr Manhattan answered the call.

We were cruelly disappointed: not only was there no Jack Rabbit Slim's night, there was no bar. The place is closed. (Closed, in fact, in a looks-like-it-might-never-reopen kind of way.)

There was much hullabaloo a month ago, when Ralph Ziegenhorn and Echo Sun of Q joined as new partners in the bar, with the intention - I presume - of taking the cocktail offerings up a notch or two in class. Other changes, including 'renovations', were mentioned in passing in their releases to the press - but nowhere, as far as I can find, was any reference made to being closed for a period.

My old buddy David Mitchell (the scintillating guitarist with Uyghur folk/jazz outfit Panjir) is supposed to be 'Director of Communications' there - but I don't think he's in Beijing at the moment (he hasn't been answering his phone for a while, anyway). There was a lot of favourable publicity about the joining of Ralph and Echo in December, but..... no news since. Dave, old son, it really would be a good idea to let people know that you're closed, why you're closed, and when you're going to re-open.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

'No Publicity'

I gather the great Jimmy Page may have played at D-22 last night.

I was afraid he might do something like that - end up playing at the only music club that's foreign-run.... even though it's small, remote, and doesn't have very good acoustics. A great pity - especially if that's the only place he plays on this trip.

I'm also somewhat disturbed, disapproving that one of the owners there put the news out on Twitter.

That seems to me like something of a breach of good manners (if not of an explicit agreement to keep the appearance hush-hush); and, indeed, a breach of common sense - with advance publicity, any advance publicity at all, there must surely have been a danger that an excessively large crowd might have been attracted, that the gig would have been ruined for all concerned.... perhaps even have had to be called off.

I figure Jimmy Page sets up an appearance like that just because he wants to play, maybe wants to jam a little with some of the local musicians he's been introduced to.... not because he wants to play to a crowd. I think he's sufficiently in control of his ego that he's not going to be upset about maybe playing to an empty room once in a while (and it's not as if he hasn't played in front of enough crowds in his time).

And there's no way Jimmy Page is ever going to play to an empty room. The immediate friends and family of any other musicians present (and of the sound man and the barmen, etc.) will automatically produce quite a decent little crowd... perhaps quite a large crowd. And the musicians' grapevine works pretty damn well: if Jimmy Page picks up his axe in this town, every rock guitarist out there is going to know about it and is going to be trying his damnedest to get to the gig - they won't even have to be told, they'll just feel the disturbance in the ether.

So, in my book, publicizing an informal appearance by one of the superheroes of rock'n'roll like that is very bad form. I shall be charitable and assume that the chaps at D-22 were just selflessly - if a bit naively - trying to make sure that as many of Jimmy's fans as possible would have the chance to see him, and were not thinking of promoting their club or boosting their profits (I certainly hope they weren't charging a door fee!).

My feeling is that Jimmy's fans - enough of them to make a fun evening of it, anyway - would find out through direct word-of-mouth. Broadcasting the news of his appearance on Twitter is likely to bring out droves of 'tourists', the dread hordes of Wudaokou Mandarin students, the mildly curious music fans or mere celebrity-spotters who don't really know Jimmy's music at all but just know that he's a name. That is going to spoil the gig for the real fans. (Yes, I know: I'm an elitist - and proud of it.)

The only things that might have saved last night from such dire overcrowding are: a) Tuesday is always the deadest night of the week; b) it was also the COLDEST night Beijing has seen in years (thus, even folks living nearby in Wudaokou may have been deterred from venturing out in such Arctic conditions); and c) the Twitter announcement only went out pretty late in the day (I'm not sure exactly when: I have no truck with that Twitter nonsense myself, but a friend forwarded me the news as soon as she saw it - shortly before 10pm) [and of course d) no-one much uses Twitter here, because it's blocked on the Chinese Internet].

No, I didn't go myself. I regret it bitterly, but...... I disapprove of D-22 (I disapprove in particular of them advertising this appearance; I feared that Jimmy might pull out..... or perhaps even that it might have been a phoney advertisement in the first place). And it's just too sodding far away (well, OK, it probably wouldn't be too far away if I didn't disapprove of it so much; it's not much further from me than 2 Kolegas, maybe even a smidge nearer, but I would certainly have gone to 2K at the drop of a hat).

I don't know how long JP's in town; at least one more day, I think. I'm hopeful he might attempt another 'unannounced' performance at one of the city's other music venues, a more accessible one in the city centre.

But if he does, you won't hear anything about it on this blog until after the event.

[I was wary of even mentioning his arrival in the city yesterday - but, if it hadn't been heavily publicized in advance, it wasn't any kind of a secret either, and I figured that anyone who's interested in these things would probably have been aware of it already. I certainly wouldn't have mentioned anything about where he might be playing. When blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite did an unadvertised Sunday afternoon 'workshop' session at Jianghu a couple of years back, the boss, Tianxiao, just told his musician friends and a handful of his most regular customers (well, OK, he's probably not that astute about marketing and new media, but..... I think he realised it wasn't appropriate to use anything other than direct contact to promote this event). That worked out just great: the room was packed, but not overfull; most of those present were musicians; indeed, almost all of them were Chinese musicians, many of them aspiring harp players looking to pick up a few tips from the master. That was exactly as it should have been. (When I became one of the lucky few to receive an invite from Tianxiao, I agonised as to whether I could pass on 'the secret' to anyone. Eventually I did so only to three or four hand-picked friends - all musicians or people in the music biz - and begged them not to tell anyone else.)

And that is exactly how it should be for any 'informal' Jimmy Page appearance around town, I feel.

Naughty, naughty, D-22, naughty, naughty.]

Update: I gather Jimmy popped into D-22 but didn't in fact play. That is a great relief to me: I would have hated to have missed a performance.

I'm still trying to find out what happened here - what kind of crowd was there, what else was going on that night, had JP ever planned or hoped to play there, how out of order were the owners in publicizing his appearance? When I hear more, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"We're not worthy!"

I've never been a great one for hero-worship or fanboydom or, heaven forbid, groupie-ish adulation of people just because they're talented (heavens, NO!), but.... you know, if I were to allow myself an occasional outbreak of such manner of hysterical over-excitement..... I would do it for Jimmy f***ing Page!!!!

Yes, the iconic Led Zeppelin guitarist is in Beijing this week - to promote the upcoming Show Of Peace concert due to be staged in Beijing on April 17th. [Er, a 'Peace' concert in Beijing?? What kind of sick joke is that? And what kind of a stupendous folly of misguided optimism on the part of the organisers?? I will gladly take bets from anyone who thinks that this event will not be cancelled at the last minute (as Oasis, and just about every other foreign band lined up to play here last year were; and as, I fear, The Killers, due here at the end of this month, very probably will be).]

Anyway, Jimmy's here for a big press conference tomorrow, and is meeting with a few local rock musicians on the side. He's not scheduled to play anywhere, but if he decides on an impromptu jam at some point..... well, I have my spies watching his movements. I'm hopeful that I might get at least a glimpse of the great man at some point - with or without his axe.

Here he is doing one of his trademark extended solos on Dazed and Confused, from a 1988 solo concert in Arizona (a longer clip - I think from this concert, certainly from this tour - is here: his entry to the stage, beer and cigarette in hand, is archetypally cool).

And here he is shredding the same song back in his younger days, with the Zep at Madison Square Garden in 1973.

And if you like blues (and I do), this is the marvellous Prison Blues (no video, unfortunately) from his 1988 album Outrider, with Chris Farlowe on vocals. However, probably the best bluesy bit of Jimmy I've been able to turn up on YouTube is the wonderful clip below (well, fairly shit sound and picture, but great music) of him at London's famous Marquee Club during rehearsals for some 1990 appearances with Aerosmith, jamming with Joe Perry on Hendrix's Red House (and a bit more of the same sort of stuff here, from the same session, slightly less awful sound). Awesome. I would sell my sainted grandmother's bones for a chance to see me some of that in Beijing - tomorrow, in April, whenever.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pool Party

Not quite the weather at the moment for that type of thing, you might think.

Indeed not. And I've never been a big fan of the poolside, anyway. When it comes to the arts of natation, I seem to have an overdeveloped aptitude for moving through water downwards, but the other directions quite defeat me.

No, of course, with me it would be the other kind of pool - the game of ball and cue.

New Dad, my long-time Pool Bar nemesis (we haven't played in the PB for a while; but lately his record against me in neighbourhood pool halls has been getting more and more humiliatingly dominant; time was when I could always take one game in three from him, but that's slipping to one game in five... or one game in seven or eight; last time we'd played, actually, I think I only managed one win in about twelve - my mojo is at the bottom of the sea), has recently purchased a family home out in one of the far northern 'burbs...... and he has set up his own pool room on the top floor. Lucky, lucky bastard! (Well, that's it: we're all doomed now. With the ability to practice daily, he's going to become unstoppable.)

This Saturday he was kind enough to invite a bunch of his pool-playing mates around for an extended afternoon/evening of laddish self-indulgence: beer, fast food, teasing each other about our sex lives (or lack thereof), and pool, pool, pool.

Enormous fun! I hope he'll invite us again soon. But, man, I really need to work on my game in the meantime - I'm not giving anyone much of a challenge at the moment.

A particularly timely bon mot

"The church is near, but the road is icy. The bar is far, but we will walk carefully."

Russian proverb

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I put this up on Froogville yesterday, but since these are notes of general interest or importance, relevant to both of my blogs, I figured I'd better cross-post it here too.

I have been pottering around my two blogs during this holiday doldrum period, tidying things up, and adding the odd update or supplement to key posts here and there.

I have, for example, added a few new photos to The Cast List, my frivolous attempt to find actors or other celebrity lookalikes to represent all the people who figure in my blogs; and I've also supplied a - long promised, long deferred - list of who those celebs are (in case you didn't recognise some of them).

I've added a new postscript to my comprehensive post on Beating Internet Censorship - to reflect the fact that since the Tibetan riots in March '08, the censorship regime in China has got so tough that just about all of the web-based proxies and the other cunning little workarounds (and even some of the less robust VPNs) that we used to rely on have now been snuffed out, and we really don't have much choice any more but to employ a subscription VPN service like Witopia.

There's been a similar update to my Where To Dine In Beijing post - noting, sadly, that a number of my recommended restaurants have closed down this year.

Earlier this week I posted a new, improved set of New Year's Resolutions for 2010 (an addition to, rather than a replacement for, the old faithfuls that I've been pursuing, valiantly but with limited success, for the past two years).

Also, of course, last week saw the major event of the Barstool year, the publication of my 2009 Froog Bar Awards - a comprehensive rundown of the best (and worst) places to drink in Beijing.

Finally, I have begun once more to update the sidebars to each of my blogs with a Pick of the Month 'random recommendation' from my early archives. (This month's selections I think I have in fact nominated before, so perhaps it's not as 'random' as all that! However, that just goes to show how good these two posts are.)

And, ah yes, the dratted sidebars. Oh dear. You might not be seeing them at all at the moment - try scrolling down to the very bottom of the page. Are they hiding there, underneath all the posts?

I think this problem is caused by the fact that for three months or so I was writing all my posts via e-mail, and somehow or other this managed to scramble the HTML so that the font sizes occasionally became ENORMOUS - hence, I suppose, leaving "no room" for the sidebars (even though the fonts are displaying as normal size on the blog) and causing them to be bumped to the bottom of the page, at least in certain browsers under certain conditions. I seem to have managed to restore Round-The-World Barstool Blues to normality by painstakingly resizing the text in all the afflicted posts, but I haven't got around to Froogville yet - it's a terribly slow and tedious process. Bear with me.

Remember, if you crave a peek at my sidebars (and why wouldn't you?), they're probably hiding at the foot of the page.

Friday, January 08, 2010


It's been a somewhat anxious week for me, a week of nervous anticipation, a week of deprivation.

I have been denied access to my 'second home', the 12 Square Metres bar - formerly "Beijing's Smallest Bar" * - at the bottom of Nanluoguxiang, all this week, while it has been closed for remodelling. (I have been watching this little video of the place - as it used to be - almost daily, and weeping nostalgic tears into my keyboard.)

But now a Phoenix is struggling out of the ashes (and the dust and the rubble) and preparing to take flight.

Having checked it out last night, I can say that the new space (fully three times as big as before) does look very promising.... and the new bar is a beautiful piece of wood.

However, we're still some weeks away, at least, from completing the transformation of the bar - the new room to the rear hasn't really taken shape yet; new decorations and furniture are needed; and the staining and varnishing of the new bar and bar stools will have to wait until after this damp weather clears and the wood can dry out properly. (And we may, one day, get an indoor toilet; but not yet a while.)

Nevertheless, Joseph and Li Mei are determined to open for business again tonight (the rear room might be curtained off until they get it spic and span; but the front bar is much as it ever was). And I imagine I - and most of the other 'regulars' - will be looking in to wish them well. (A quiet night among friends is far more alluring to me than some wanky nightclub launch event.)

* This always used to be their tagline, and it was rather too successful in attracting the attention (but not the custom) of Chinese tourists with digital cameras, who would drive the boss Joseph crazy with their incessant snapping away at the sign, the door, the window... the customers through the window. As fate would have it, it seems that just as they were deciding to expand the bar, a new little place has opened up in Sanlitun which might have stolen the mantle from them anyway - I haven't checked it out yet, but it's a place called Tryst which supposedly only has room for 5 or 6 customers at one time.

Signs of desperation

1) I've never been to super-ritzy nightclub Lan (the one with all the cod Louis Quatorze decor designed by Philippe Starck), and I don't suppose I'm ever likely to. It doesn't sound like my kind of place. In fact, I've never even worked out where it is.

I'm not sure how many other people go there. Only a handful of my friends ever have, and seldom more than once. It can't have been a good year or two to be launching such a venture, what with the Olympics killing Beijing's nightlife for much of last year, and then the 'meltdown' hitting us. I keep hearing of (half-hearted, short-lived) new initiatives to try and build a stronger clientele for the place, but nothing much seems to come of any of them.

And then..... I discovered from one of my cooler and more high-tone friends on New Year's Eve that they were doing an all-night 'free flow of drinks' deal.... for 90 kuai a head! I daresay there were all kinds of restrictions on it: surely no champagne, and probably only the cheapest house wines; perhaps some basic cocktails and mixed drinks, and domestic beers. But even so, 90rmb is a pretty keen price for an all-you-can-drink - especially on New Year's Eve. And at a place like Lan, 90 kuai would ordinarily buy you probably only one or two drinks.

Damn it, they were undercutting Luga - who was charging 100rmb for his New Year's Eve Party at the Villa (though with some discounts for advance or multiple ticket purchases), and was only offering heavily discounted drinks rather than a completely free flow. A deal that cheap at a place like Lan strikes the wrong note; it should be charging more than anyone else, to emphasise its class and exclusivity. If the place had any kind of a following at all, it could easily have charged a 200 or 300 kuai door fee for a New Year's Eve Party, even without offering a lot of specials on the drinks. When the city's swankiest nightclub is trying to compete with Luga's Villa for custom, I rather think it must be on its last legs.

2) New entry in the nightclub stakes (rather less swanky than Lan, but still with somewhat lofty ambitions) Le Zazou has its official launch tonight. There's an "exclusive, VIP pre-launch party - with French cabaret" from 8pm. Well, "exclusive" - except that they seem to have been giving away invitations to anyone who's gone in there this week (admittedly that's not many people, because of the post-holiday lull and the severely inclement weather). A double ticket found its way into my hands, but I decided it was not likely to be my kind of event and have been trying to give it to a good home. Trying and trying and trying. Can't give these tickets away! (Zazou hasn't been building itself much of a rep in its two weeks of 'soft opening', and I can see why. But more on that some other time....)

One thing these two rather sorry examples have in common is their indifferent - almost non-existent? - promotion. I didn't see any advertisements either for the Lan New Year's Eve offer or for tonight's Launch Party at Le Zazou.