Thursday, March 25, 2010

What if they closed a bar and nobody noticed?

I had been meaning to start an occasional series pondering the shifting fashions in the Beijing nightlife scene, with the theme "Does anyone go to.... any more?"

The projected first post for this strand was - of course - going to be "Does anyone go to The Rickshaw any more?"

I missed my window on that. The place closed - abruptly, without any advance warning, without any farewell party - a month or so ago. The avarice of their rent-gouging landlord was blamed, but.... well, the place had been moribund for the better part of two years anyway.

I don't think I set foot in it once during 2009, and I doubt if any of my friends (many of whom were quite keen on the place as an after-work rendezvous when it first opened) had either. It had always seemed ominously quiet whenever I walked past on my way to The Bookworm - positively funereal compared to the wild frat-boy whooping and hollering that used to emanate from the place through '07 and on into early '08. They'd lost their outside seating area and hugely popular beer-pong table (I always suspected that it wasn't covered by their lease anyway, and that they had no legal right to occupy that space). They'd lost their satellite TV sports (they never did have much idea how to operate the channels, and the TVs weren't very good quality; but then, I gather, the satellite signal started packing up altogether, and for a long time the only thing they seemed to be able to offer was Women's NBA; then they lost that too; I heard tell they were blaming new construction for blocking out their signal, but that sounds like hogwash to me - there's nothing all that tall near to them that hasn't been there for years, whereas The Den is surrounded by tall new constructions but is managing to preserve its satellite sports feed). But above all, they'd lost their way: once the owners' new venture, Saddle Cantina, became such a big hit, they were never to be seen in the old Rickshaw any more, with the result that the already abysmal standards of service there just plummeted through the floor. The final nail in the coffin was the stupid decision to impose an unadvertised 15% surcharge on everything while the Olympics were on; most of their regular clientele had been driven out of the city already by the crazy visa regulations that summer; and tourists or other passing trade were not going to be won over by an attitude like that - the place was completely deserted every time I looked in that August. And I don't think it ever really recovered.

They were probably getting caned by the new competition in the area as well: Nanjie became the 'in' place for the youngsters; Tun became - for a while - the big weekend party spot and pick-up joint; the expanded Luga's and the new Luga's Villa (and the sadly short-lived Stumble Inn) were also hitting much the same demographic, and hitting it better; and a lot of their custom was probably being cannibalised by their own new venture, the Saddle Cantina (which I find charm-free, hellishly noisy, and seriously overpriced - but it is, for some strange reason, hugely successful).

Yep, Rickshaw had its little spell of vogueishness, of being super-successful (probably peaking in the summer/autumn of 2007)..... and then it just DIED on its feet.

By chance, I had happened to look in there two or three times just before it closed. It was completely empty on each occasion (and these were early evenings, Wednesday or Thursday, when you'd expect a fairly decent after-work crowd to be starting to show up). The staff fell on me like piranhas, hassling me to take a seat and look at the drinks list when it was very clear I was just checking to see if friends were there - a glaring sign of desperation, an indication that the end was at hand. [I've encountered the same thing at Tun a number of times in recent months. I wonder how much longer that place can keep limping on. "Does anyone still go to Tun?"]


The British Cowboy said...

I have to say you have just added to my personal vision of hell. It's now a bar at closing time, jam packed, when you know the bartender won't cut you the slack and serve you a drink after last call, with only the WNBA on the TVs.

Froog said...

Well, why would you stay if you can't get another drink? This is a hell of your own making, Cowboy.

I find the WNBA rather less tedious than the men's NBA, but I am, as you know, extremely basketball-averse.

You have no conception of how bad this bar was in every other way as well. Frankly, I never understood its year of modishness. I suppose it had a good location, and it was for a little while just about the only foreigner bar in that neck of the woods. Now there's been a splurge of new bar and restaurant openings nearby, and it's just got wiped out.

The British Cowboy said...

You stay because it is Hell, Froog. I don't believe there is an option when one is in Hell to say "Whoops, not enjoying this any more, I think I will leave now."

And for the love of all things Holy, nobody prefers the WNBA. I can see an argument between men's college basketball and the NBA, but the WNBA? The thing basketball has going for it is the athleticism involved - I don't think there is any major sport that comes close to it for that. And that is simply not present in the women's professional game to anywhere near the degree of the men's.

The NBA ranks pretty firmly fourth in my American sports interest, but I can get suckered in to a random game every now and then. I won't consciously go out to see it, unlike the other sports, though.

Gary said...

I kinda liked Rickshaw when it was new, but it did seem to be drawing a young crowd. You figure that area must be up for redevelopment soon.

Froog said...

Yes, a lot of people seemed to like The Rickshaw when it was new, Gary. I wasn't one of them.

It doesn't seem as if there any plans to demolish that ugly and isolated little blockhouse just yet. I hear the landlord has just re-let it!

Froog said...

Sorry, Cowboy, I hadn't twigged that you were talking about a literal hell rather than just a hellishly bad bar experience.

I am immune to the appeal of the slam dunk. Players who are smaller, can't jump as high (whether men or women - I love the idea of an under-6ft basketball league) have to be able to pass and shoot better.

And you may have developed a romantic weakness for large black men during your time in prison, but they don't do anything for me. There is at least the possibility that some WNBA players might be passably cute.

The British Cowboy said...

WNBA players just don't pass or shoot better. They pass and shoot a lot worse. The reason they may at times have better percentage shooting rates is because of the absence of defense.

Froog said...

Your cellmate's excellent scoring record might be attributed to the same cause - "absence of defense".