Friday, April 30, 2010

HBH 180

Two wins, two losses.
Bare records hide the beauty:
Glimmers of greatness.

Boy, I was really on my game in the Pool Bar last night. For about fifteen minutes, anyway. Savour it while it lasts....

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Music news snippets

Hebei glam-punksters Rustic won the Global Battle of the Bands title in London on Tuesday night. Congratulations to Lucifer, Ricky and Li Fan - I hope they'll still talk to us now that they're famous.

Mao Live House got closed down at short notice a couple of weeks back. Fire safety code problems were cited as the reason (what the fuck? I have another post or several in me about that....), but one has to suspect there was something more 'political' going on. However, my sources tell me that the management is hoping to get the place rocking again soon - next week, with any luck.

Visiting French rasta Moussa Boudra had managed to assemble a crew of local musicians into one of the best little reggae bands we've ever seen in Beijing. Unfortunately, the gig at Salud last night (which I've heard is likely to be his last appearance in China on this trip) got squelched by the police around 11pm. Now, this always happens at Salud, and usually a bit of sweet-talking and an offer of a couple of smokes sends the local flatfoots on their way to the next item of pointless harassment on their schedule. On this occasion, though, they weren't the usual guys from the local beat, and they were being a bit more antsy about it. I left before things had been resolved, but I hear tell that it proved to be a permanent interruption of the music. The further rumour (so delicious it must be true) is that the reason for the ridiculous over-anxiety of the authorities was the presence in the neighbourhood of visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Oh, the irony of trying to avoid incommoding the French head of state by suppressing the performance of a French musician in a predominantly French bar!! And, of course, they were (as usual) so busy doling out grief to the only laowai bar on the strip (yes, it's the biggest and most successful bar also; and yes, the music can get noisy; but they only get this hassle because it's not a 'Chinese bar' - despite at least 50% of the clientele and the major shareholder being Chinese) that they didn't get around to addressing any of the other habitual noise pollution on the street (Guitar Bar, I'm looking at you).

And, thank heavens, we are finally looking forward this imminent holiday weekend to a resumption of the Midi Festival in Haidian Park, Beijing's best, biggest, longest-running open-air music event - an event stupidly suppressed by our city authorities in the last two years. If the weather is even half-way decent, that's where I'm likely to be on Saturday and Sunday.

However, I shouldn't overlook the Strawberry Festival also happening over the long holiday weekend. Leading local indie label Modern Sky Records did this for the first time last May (and last October as well?), and already it's growing into something that could rival Midi (although most of the big local acts will be playing both). Unfortunately, it's in Tongzhou. I heard very good things about last year's event(s). And it seems to be pushing itself as a more mellow, eclectic, hippie-ish sort of event (in contrast to Midi, which - apart from the token 'folk stage' - tends towards the heavier end of the spectrum, particularly with the imported Nordic metalheads on the bill). Unfortunately, it's in Tongzhou. I still haven't worked out how to get to Tongzhou. God knows, Haidian Park isn't exactly a doddle to get to, but Tongzhou?? I really should try to get out there for one day, though. It seems as though it has become one of the new boho quarters of outlying Beijing - remote enough to still have (sort of) affordable rents, but still (sort of) accessible via the subway.

Gosh, there's such a lot been going on lately.....

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


My occasional drinking buddy Big Chris is quitting town somewhat precipitately, hoping to find 'greener pastures' down in Guangdong. He was supposed to have been getting on a train this morning.

He left behind him his double bass (not a very portable item, a double bass) - slightly foxed, but free to a good home. He'd made the decision to leave at very short notice, and was more than a bit manic with packing and so on these past few days; he didn't have the time to spare to do anything about finding a foster home for his orphan bass. So, I volunteered to help.

Sometimes, I come to regret my Samaritanly tendencies.

I don't know where Chris's most recent apartment is. And for the past four or five days he has been mostly too busy even to answer the phone or respond to text messages. This has made trying to hook him up with people that might want his bass..... well, difficult.

Adding to these communication difficulties has been the steadily deteriorating service I've been getting from China Unicom in recent weeks. If I have an even slightly less-than-optimum signal strength (and Unicom's signal is never all that strong anywhere), I seem to get the volume reduced to barely audible and/or impenetrable background hiss & crackle and/or a one-way connection only (I can hear my caller fine, or they can hear me, but not both - how the heck does that happen??). That has made it very frustrating trying to contact musician friends who might have had leads for people who might have wanted to take on a double bass.

And to make matters even worse.... my first inspiration for a likely bass-adopter was Tianxiao, the mercurial boss at the Jianghu music bar. I thought - if he felt he had room to store the thing - that it might come in handy for the Tuesday night jazz jams there. Since TX's English is about as good as my Chinese, I thought I'd enlist the help of The Weeble as a go-between to explain the situation to him. Unfortunately, The Weeble is not the most amenable of collaborators in such a venture since - a) he uses an i-Phone, and they are notoriously unreliable with text messages at times; and b) he's a translator, and is thus asleep for large parts of the day when the rest of the world is conventionally awake. Even more unfortunately, the mobile phone number TX has been putting out on his business cards for the past three years appears to be a dud; or, at any rate, he never answers it. So, there I am, trying to reach a man with no phone, via a friend who doesn't answer text messages, in order to liaise with another friend who is likewise 99% incommunicado. It gets to be more than a little galling, I can tell you. [Yes, sorry, TX - you missed out on a free double bass for the bar there. What's up with your phone??]

Anyway, having wasted most of the weekend on that wild goose chase, I then found myself facing rather extreme time pressure - with only 24 hours left to arrange for the pick-up of the dratted bass. Alas, Beijingers, especially expat Beijingers, especially expat Beijinger musos, seem not to be very conversant with the concept of time pressure: I got a number of exasperatingly woolly "Oh, I'll think about it; I might call him in a day or two"-type answers. Hellloooo - which part of "He's leaving in 48 hours" did you not get?

I even offered to take possession of the instrument myself for a few days, until someone else could pick it up (although Chris still hadn't told me where he was living; and I have been unusually busy at work the last two days).

Thank heavens, that proved not to be necessary, after all (although it might have impressed my neighbours, who, I fret, view me with a slight snobbish disdain - I live in a Chinese classical musicians' danwei): my guitarist friend Dan stepped forward at the 11th hour to claim the bass, and was able to collect it himself yesterday morning.

The whole business had by then, though, consumed far too much of my time and my peace of mind over the previous five days. I won't be taking on any more 'good deeds' like that for a while.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This is how I usually feel....

.... in The Den.... or Saddle Cantina.... or....

Have I really become such a miserable old git? Or was I born that way?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bon mot for the week

"There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Today is an excuse for cut-price day-long drinking - with Aussie and non-Aussie mates - in Nanluoguxiang's 'Oz Triangle' of Ned's, 12 Square Metres, and Mao Mao Chong.

However, we shouldn't forget that this is also a sombre occasion, a day to recall and reflect on the sacrifices made by the armed forces of Australia and New Zealand in the 20th Century's wars - and particularly in the disastrous Gallipoli landings of 1915.

I first came to know And the band played 'Waltzing Matilda'..., one of the most devastating of all war songs, through the Pogues' version, with which they closed their Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash album in 1985. Here it is, accompanied by a montage of photographs and paintings of Australian soldiers in WWI.

Many years later, I got to hear its original composer, Eric Bogle, perform it at an intimate little Sunday afternoon gig at the ANZAC Club in Toronto (I suppose that was exactly 12 years ago). Bogle sings it below (again accompanied by period photographs).

However, I think my favourite performance of the song is this one, by the great Liam Clancy.

I'm hoping at least one of these recordings - The Pogues' one, probably - has found its way on to the playlist at 12 Square Metres today (Big Nige has been tasked with taking care of this). Yes, it's a bit of a downer; but it's also an inspiringly good song; and it is what today is really all about.

I hope to enjoy a fine day's boozing with many friends, old and new; but let's not forget what our pretext for drinking today is.

[Other versions: The Pogues perform it live here (not very good sound quality, unfortunately). Here's a Joan Baez version (no video) - beautifully sung, of course, but doesn't really fit the point of view the song is written from. And another great Australian folk singer, John Williamson, sings it here.]

A flip too far?

My post on beermat flipping last week led me (well, yet another hat-tip, of course, to the indefatigable JES) to the sport's shrine site, - where I learned that Mr Jim Haysom (clearly one of the Great British Eccentrics) is today going to attempt to set a new world record for beermat flipping: flipping a stack of of 25 mats wherever he can find an opportunity, almost twice every minute, for the five or six hours that it takes him to run the London Marathon! 15,000 flipped beermats is the total he's gunning for (having wisely scaled back from an initial goal of over 1 million!).

Good luck, Jim!! There is still time to sponsor him.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


My photographer friend K had a 'warming' bash for her new studio last night.

It was a bit of a trek to get there (my first time to Caochangdi - it's in the same neighbourhood as 798, a similar set-up with old factory and warehouse space now being colonised by artists, but.... it's just outside the 5th Ringroad; and that doesn't really feel like Beijing any more, that's the countryside), but it was well worth it. It's a much bigger space than I was expecting, impressively clean, bright and well-equipped (inside loo!); and - surprisingly, considering the height of the roof and the bareness of the walls - the acoustics worked out pretty well. We had live entertainment from the band Girls Are Waiting To Meet You, as well as a couple of other musician friends of K's and some DJs. We had a very cheap bar. We had body-painted wait staff (from a distance, you really couldn't tell that they were naked from the waist up; and one tried not to stare). And we had free chuanr: the proprietor of a nearby Muslim restaurant had set up a portable barbecue outside to supply a steady stream of mutton-sticks, chicken wings, and nang bread. This was perhaps the biggest highlight of all: I have to find out where this guy's restaurant is - that was some of the best chuanr I've had here (the flatbreads in particular were wonderfully fresh and fluffy, delicately spiced, and perfectly toasted; it is going to be hard now to tolerate the stale, dry, part-burned, part-uncooked ones we so often have to suffer; even my favourite local joint on Gulou Dong has the unfortunate quirk of using - overusing - a rather too sweet liquid topping rather than just dry spices to finish its bread).

So, I've made it to the half-way point in my four-day party marathon. I'm not sure I'm going to survive; I went down with a vicious dose of tummy-rot on Thursday, and I've been sleeping badly all week (it's getting light ridiculously early in the mornings now; I really need to try and get myself some blackout curtains for the bedroom) - factors which are badly cutting into my stamina and sociability (I had to quit the party well before midnight last night - but still didn't get to bed very early because it took me nearly half an hour to find a cab). The prospect of all-day drinking tomorrow is starting to seem daunting rather than delightful (particularly as I'm going to have very early starts at work on Monday and Tuesday). If I can't find a way of settling my growling bowels, I fear I'm going to have to have a detox day today. And maybe tomorrow as well. Sigh. I'm not the man I used to be.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Five weeks late.....

.... but what the hey, better late than never. I finally got my St Patrick's Day celebration last night when Blackwater (the unlikely fusion of Black Cat Bone's playful frontman Des McGarry and the jazzy No Name Trio forming Beijing's newest band to specialise in Irish folk tunes) turned up to play at Jianghu. Great tunes, great times, and a lot of friends on hand too. However, it wasn't uncomfortably overcrowded, as the place has been on most of my recent visits (and despite there being no cover this time); I suppose the majority of the capital's music-lovers had gone to the Yushu Earthquake Charity Concert at Mako Live. I'm afraid I probably had a little bit too much to drink....

[To add to my musical delight this night, I discovered later that the Pool Bar now has the Squirrel Nut Zippers on its playlist!]

HBH 179

Tasty but dangerous,
Threatening days on toilet.
Beware cloudy beer.

The 'yellow beer' (Gleckes homebrew) at Jianghu last night was particularly chewy. Delicious, but I knew I was going to suffer for it today. I tried to limit my consumption, but.... people would keep buying me drinks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Top Five Passion-killers

More of a 'bottom five', really - the factors that most discourage me from dating a Chinese girl.

I've been contemplating a post on this topic for ever such a long time, but have been wary of attempting one because of the sensitive nature of the topic: I don't want to appear unduly harsh, or to over-generalize, and I certainly don't want these remarks to sound racist. So, first, a few disclaimers.

I lack the exaggerated susceptibility that many 'Western' men seem to have - or rapidly develop when exposed to a 'target-rich environment' - for Asian ladies; but I am not completely averse: I count Japanese and American Chinese girls amongst my past loves, and I have been very, very interested in a few Chinese girls I've met here (although these were mostly girls from Taiwan or Hong Kong, and I think there's some significance in that; it's not so much the physical type that fails to attract me as the education level, mindset, and cultural awareness one typically finds amongst girls from the Chinese mainland).

So, if I over-generalize, please forgive me: I do so only for the sake of simplicity, or to try to achieve rhetorical or humorous effects. I know that there are many, many exceptions to the points I will make below. Indeed, a number of my (foreign male) friends have done very, very well for themselves with their Chinese wives/girlfriends. However, in just about every case, these are girls who have achieved an exceptionally high level of English and/or have worked or studied overseas for a considerable period and/or now work for a major foreign company. Most Chinese girls don't have that level of exposure to 'Western' culture and ways of thinking, and so - for me - tend to come up rather short in terms of being interesting or attractive personalities.

Here, then, are my.....

Top Five Turn-offs About Chinese Girls

5) Chinese girls don't drink
Really, many of them don't drink at all: they'll nurse a single drink - even if it's just a fruit juice or a tonic water - for the whole evening. I don't insist that everyone should drink alcohol, much less that they should drink as much as me; in fact, a girl who drinks heavily or tends to get drunk is severely unattractive. But a night out drinking is one of the cornerstones of socializing in 'Western' culture, and I need a girl who can understand that, tolerate it, and join in with it occasionally to at least a modest degree. If you only have one or two drinks all evening, and make them last for hours at a time.... well, that's just weird; you're not entering into the spirit of the gathering; and you're making everyone feel a little uncomfortable, giving the impression that you dislike or disapprove of the activity. (Of course, there is the further problem that most Chinese have little or no tolerance for alcohol; and Chinese girls who attempt to drink socially with foreign friends often get fally-down drunk on two or three bottles of Tsingtao or a single glass of red wine.)

4) Chinese girls don't eat
The small stature of the Chinese, I've discovered, is almost entirely attributable to diet rather than genetics. In the last generation, Chinese boys from well-to-do families have started to become both tall and big-boned, often dwarfing their parents who grew up in the hunger years of the '50s and '60s. On the subway each day I see many young lads well over six feet tall. I'd guess the average height of Chinese males - for the urban population, at least - must have surged by several inches in the last twenty years. There has been little or no corresponding increase in the size of the girls: it's still pretty uncommon to find a Chinese girl much taller than 5'2" or 5'3", and many are below 5'. Girls, I guess, aren't encouraged to eat, aren't fed as much as boys when they're growing up. And an unhealthy fixation with body image is one of the less worthwhile cultural influences to have intruded from abroad in the course of China's modernization. Chinese girls fret about their figure, fret about their weight, and don't like to eat very much. Food, in my book, is one of the greatest pleasures in life; and I want to go out with someone who can enjoy that pleasure with me without inhibition - not someone who'll order the smallest dish on the menu and then just pick at it. (And the unfortunate corollary here is that many Chinese girls have the figures of pre-teen boys - not a look that I find attractive!)

3) Chinese girls have, er, quirky aesthetic sensibilities
Well, I was trying to be tactful there. 'Immature' is probably more le mot juste. What is it with this Hello Kitty obsession? My ten-year-old niece has grown out of Hello Kitty! Chinese taste - particularly female Chinese taste - is in many areas, well, (depending on your mood) either "charmingly naive" or "irritatingly childish".

2) Chinese girls know jack-shit about music
Music is another of my great enthusiasms, and I want to be with someone I can share that enthusiasm with. Most Chinese, I've found, have a very, very limited knowledge of music (of any form; even Chinese music, come to that); even those involved in the rock music scene often have a strikingly limited familiarity with the roots of the music they're playing. What's worse, they often don't seem to have any curiosity to discover more - they're quite content with their narrow little repertoire (which, for most people outside the rock'n'roll community, is saccharine middle-of-the-road 'elevator music'-type stuff or mawkish Cantopop). I've said before that any Chinese girl I'd consider dating should at least know who Charlie Parker is. I don't insist that she should like him, but she ought to recognise the name. (I'm not such a big fan myself, don't know all that much of his music; but I recognise that he was a giant in his genre, a consummate musician who has been hugely influential on his peers and successors.) This is, alas, just a part of the wider problem that most Chinese are extremely ignorant of 'Western' culture and history - or of anything very much outside of China - and, worse, seem incurious to learn more. Sorry to be a bit of a 'cultural imperialist' here, but 'Western' culture - particularly Anglophone literary culture, the Judaeo-Christian ethical/religious tradition, and modern American pop culture - is the dominant world culture, massively influential in almost every country (including China - although the poverty of the education system here and a long tradition of xenophobia are slowing its ingress). And if you want to have friends - especially a boyfriend/husband - from a Western country, then you really need to be well-versed in this cultural background. You can't expect to get every little cultural reference, but you should hope to get some of the more common and obvious ones, and you should want to try to understand more. A relationship is going to fizzle if you meet your partner with blank incomprehension or withering lack of interest every single time he mentions a favourite film, book, musician, sports team, etc.
[I think most foreigners who live in China do go to some lengths to try to get know Chinese culture: some acquire quite a high level of proficiency in the spoken language; most will dabble in calligraphy or tea ceremony culture; many take an interest in contemporary Chinese cinema, literature or music, etc. I rarely see comparable efforts made to close the cultural divide in the other direction.]

And finally.... the biggest turn-off of all.....

1) Chinese girls are too single-mindedly focused on finding a foreign boyfriend
I know - a lot of guys don't mind this: they're flattered by the attention, grateful that life is so easy for them here. But I find it severely off-putting, for several reasons. It suggests that a girl has some kind of hang-up about her own culture and ethnicity, a deep-seated dissatisfaction, perhaps a self-loathing even, with regard to her identity - and that's not a healthy or attractive state of mind (just what exactly is so awful about Chinese men, and why are foreign men so wonderful by comparison??). It suggests that a girl is shallow and materialistic (is she just looking for a more affluent lifestyle, or the chance to escape overseas?). It can create the impression that a girl is too 'easy' ("Oooh, you're foreign! Let's go to bed!"). Worst of all, it suggests that the girl is fixated on arbitrary and pre-determined factors rather than approaching a possible relationship in an open-minded way, that she is interested only in external characteristics rather than the inner person, in what you are rather than who you are. This is not by any means a uniquely Chinese problem: I've known many Western women who set unreasonably restrictive criteria for themselves, insisting that they can only be interested in men of a certain height or age or social background, or only in men who have fair hair or a moustache or a Roman nose. When you emphasise such arbitrary external features you are ignoring the individual. I want someone to love me for who I am (faults and all!), not simply because I fit into some crude preconceived template of compatibility that might just as easily fit countless hundreds (or millions!) of other guys. I want a girl to be attracted to me by my qualities of personality, my tastes and prejudices, my intelligence and humour - not by extraneous features like my height or my accent or the colour of my eyes.... or my nationality. I get very rapidly ticked off with girls - of whatever ethnicity or nationality - telling me that I'm attractive just because I'm British, or that I'm handsome just because I don't look Chinese. This is not the way to a thinking man's heart, ladies.

So, if any Chinese girls should happen to read this.... please don't think I am being mean in my criticisms. I do not intend to be. I would like to think that these observations might be helpful. If you are attracted to foreign men, there's nothing wrong with that. But I would recommend you to think very carefully about why you are attracted to foreign men, to become more self-aware about that and better able to explain it. And if you are attracted to one particular foreign man, please try to analyse why you are attracted to him as a person - regardless of his nationality. And please, try to take a bit more of an interest in learning about 'Western' culture, and make a bit more of an effort to fit in with 'Western' ways of socializing. Good luck!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Charity Concert

There was to have been a benefit gig at new eastside venue Mako Live tonight, to raise money for earthquake relief efforts in the area around Yushu in Qinghai.

However, since the government has decreed a national day of mourning today, the event has had to be put back to tomorrow evening - Thursday 22nd.

My favourite Beijing musician Xiao He (who I haven't heard for far too long now) is supposed to be headlining, and also featured will be Jianghu regular Zhou Yunpeng and a bunch of other leading figures in the Chinese "folk" scene.

I, alas, shall be otherwise engaged with The Chairman - but it should be an interesting concert, and it's for a good cause: I heartily encourage people to go (such few readers as I may have, readers in Beijing).

[Hat-tip to 'Ruby' for forwarding me the link.]

A MAN's city??

Don't ask me how this happened, but in my e-mail Inbox this morning I received a link to AskMen's 2010 survey report on the 29 Best Cities For A Man To Live In (why 29? who knows??).

It's a very badly laid-out feature, with no overall display of the rankings: you have to laboriously click through the cities one by one (with the fairly superfluous introductory page, and one or two interpolated pages of advertising, that's over 30 clicks - yawn!).

And what do we find if we persevere through to the end?

Well, a few rather unexpected picks early on: Bogota at 27, for instance, and Beirut (Beirut?!) at 19. You start to wonder if Medellin or Baghdad may feature.

London only just makes it into the top 5 (but at least we beat Berlin and Paris, so Brits are happy!).

My friend JK will no doubt be chuffed that his native Melbourne took the No. 2 spot (and that makes it basically the winner, because New York is clearly given the top position merely because it is New York rather than for any of the objective criteria supposedly consulted).

And what of our own dear Beijing? We have Hong Kong coming in at number 13, and Shanghai (horrors!) at 21, but where is Beijing?? Nowhere to be found. A shocking omission! I think we should start lobbying now to rectify this injustice in next year's survey. Are you with me, gentlemen?

By the way, I note that Shanghai is rated as marginally more expensive than London and Paris on the Mercer Cost of Living Index (and this despite the dirt-cheap public transport and street food??) - ouch!

However, Beijing is - somehow - rated even worse, only a smidge behind New York City, with a rating of 99.6!! I must assume that this is largely down to property prices, since, even with the recent infestation of mega-malls and fancy-dan bar-restaurants, Beijing is quite clearly nowhere near as expensive as Shanghai to live in (or at any rate, to drink in) quite yet.

[Well, one of the key criteria in this survey - since this is a "men's" magazine - was 'dating': they purported to measure the male-female ratio (but not the single male-single female ratio, or the age distribution!) and the proportion of university-educated women in the population to produce a 'good dating quotient' for each city under consideration. Hmm. Deep scepticisim here. However, I can see that this might have been one major factor counting against Beijing (well, that and the pollution). I have another post brewing on that topic. Tomorrow, maybe....]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ooh - a BIG week!!

As I ruefully observed in a text message last night.

The Chairman, you see, has decided to celebrate his birthday this year. And he's decided to celebrate it on the day on which it actually falls (I don't remember him being a stickler for this principle in the past). And this year, that's a Thursday.

My oldest Beijing-ren friend, K, is holding an event on Friday - which threatens to run late and be significantly alcoholic (and is in a dauntingly remote location which may seriously overstretch my taxi-driver-wrangling skills when I'm trying to get home pissed up at 2am).

And then Saturday..... oh my god, well, there's just too much happening on Saturday: I don't think I'm going to be able to fit it all in. In fact, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to fit any of it in. I think I'll probably need a 'recovery day' (I'm not the man I once was!) after that Thursday/Friday double-whammy.

And then on Sunday...... JK is doing an all-day bash at 12 Square Metres for Anzac Day. Half-price Cooper's again. Oh dear, oh dear. (And we're supposed to be christening the new indoor loo in the next few days, too. It's all happening this week.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

When is a bar not a bar?

A: When it's nominated for The Beijinger's Bar and Club Awards!!

I despair of these 'reader survey' events, I really do.

In fact, I wonder if the whole thing isn't just a sham. Nearly 48 hours after I tried to register my votes, I still haven't received the e-mail 'confirmation' without which my ballot is supposedly invalid. I recall now that there was a similar problem last year. I imagine that many - perhaps most, perhaps all - of the ballots submitted by ordinary readers are not getting counted at all. Is it just the unreliability of that 'survey monkey' widget, or should we suspect some sort of foul play? Is Jeb Bush running this poll??

There are a lot of other things that are f***ed up about this year's poll. I was a nominator this year, and the criterion for nominations in the 'new bar' category was, I think, that they should have opened since the beginning of last December. Now, that is a ridiculous rule. I don't see any problem at all with considering all bars that have opened within the last year (maybe even within the last 15 or 16 months, since places may take a while to get on the radar, and typically describe their first month or two of operation as a 'soft opening' only). I imagine most of the other nominators thought the same - or didn't even bother to read the rubric. But, if you are going to set that out as your rule of eligibility, you can't just then throw it out of the window because most of your nominators ignored it: under the rules as laid down, a number of the nominees in this category - notably Fubar, and [I guess; I have never been, never expect to go, didn't really clock when it opened] d lounge - are simply not eligible.

And when is a 'barman' not a barman? When he's the owner/manager and rarely even steps behind the bar, much less serves anyone a drink. Chad Lager and Karl Long are not eligible in this category. What the fuck?!

It gets even worse in the star category of 'Bar or Club of the Year' (nominees courtesy of Beijing Boyce; there doesn't seem to be anywhere convenient to view them on The Beijinger site without completing the poll). A cocktail bar is not really a 'bar' (and there are two other categories for places which prioritise their cocktails: 'Best Cocktails' and 'Best Individual Cocktail'). And it is sheer perversity to lump 'clubs' in with 'bars': it's not comparing like with like. There are other categories for dance clubs, live music venues, cocktail joints, and hotel bars. There should be one that's just for bars!!!

Of the nominees in this category, if you disregard the inappropriately nominated super-expensive hotel bars (Xiu, Mesh, Punk) and the super-expensive cocktail lounge/nightclubby places (Q, Apothecary, Suzie Wong's), the live music venue (Yugong Yishan - no-one would ever go there for anything but the music or other special event; it's not a 'bar'!) and the restaurant (Blue Frog?! OK, they do quite a range of cocktails and so on, but there is hardly any space to sit at the bar, and even if you do manage to sit there, they kind of expect you to order some food: it is first and foremost - first and last - a restaurant, not a 'bar'!), that only leaves 3 actual 'bars'. And they are not a very impressive selection: Second Floor (2F), a very so-so bar which benefits from its central location but has only a niche following - generally deserted at least 4 or 5 nights out of 7; the noisy, expensive, and service-free Paddy O'Shea's, which perhaps benefits unduly from being the only bar on Dongzhimenwai, but I imagine prospers principally on punters who are, for one reason or another, disenchanted with The Den, Luga's Villa, or Durty Nellie's; and Fubar, which has only enjoyed uninterrupted opening for 4 or 5 months, and hasn't fully found its feet yet.

Fubar, I feel, should have been eligible for 'New Bar of the Year' this year, but not for 'Bar of the Year' (this year, it's still just a little too early to tell how it's going to turn out; next year, I think, it's likely to be a deserving winner [if the vote isn't completely rigged]; this year, it could well win too - indeed, quite possibly by a landslide - but mainly because of the almost complete absence of realistic opposition in the category).

Where are the bars that really ought to be in contention?? Where are The Den and The Tree (they're not great favourites of mine, but their ability to remain a perennial resort for such diverse sections of the expat community deserves some respect)? Where is The Bookworm (OK, it's not primarily a bar, but a café and event venue; but if they're going to make the category this broad, it deserves inclusion)? Where is Cheers (the best little bar in Sanlitun)? Where are Kokomo and the Saddle Cantina (I don't like them myself, but they have become hugely popular)?

And, above all, why is there so little recognition for anything west of Dongsi Shitiao??

For me, the hands-down winner would surely have to be Salud. These days, it's rarely empty even on the traditionally slow Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; the second half of the week, it's regularly packed to the rafters. I don't know of any other place that consistently does that kind of business, and achieves it through a good space, good decor, good staff, and good value. The only other possible contender over the past year, I would say, would be our own dear Amilal - which has certainly been the phenomenon of the year, but..... well, it's just too darned small to make the kind of impact you need for the top prize in awards like this. 'Hidden Gem' is its level, and long may it so remain.

Really, though, the nominations here are just bizarre. And the nominating, categorizing, and voting procedures have been such a shambles, I would advise everyone to boycott the whole stupid affair.

[Of course, that doesn't mean I'll turn down the chance of a free piss-up if I get invited to the awards ceremony again....]

An illustrated bon mot for the week

Another gem from Hugh MacLeod....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Great Love Songs (18)

I remember being enchanted by this classic soldier's song when I encountered it in the superb Thames Television documentary series about WWII, The World At War, which first aired in the early '70s, when I was only 8 or 9 years old. A dozen or more years later, I finally acquired it on record - one of the tracks on the soundtrack album of Dennis Potter's musical TV drama The Singing Detective, a wonderful anthology of hits from the Thirties and Forties. It acquired a particular resonance for me at that time, since I had joined the Army reserves while at university and for me the experience of military training was intensely vivid: I always tried to enter into the situation imaginatively, to treat each field exercise as if it were real warfare. It was always physically and emotionally exhausting, sometimes terrifying, often depressing; but it cultivated a sympathy, a sense of engagement with the soldiers who had fought in the major wars earlier in the century - especially with my paternal grandfather who had fought and been severely wounded in WWI, and with my father, who narrowly missed serving in WWII but had seen active service in the post-war peacekeeping operation in Palestine. It was no doubt a rather self-indulgent melancholy to compare the hardship and isolation we suffered on two-week summer camps to the situation of soldiers in the World Wars, who might be away from home for months or years at a time, but.... well, those exercises could be so arduous, and it was a life so utterly strange, so completely divorced from our regular existence that our sense of time and reality got somewhat warped: it really could start to seem like months since we'd seen our girlfriends, and to feel as though it might be months more before we could return to a normal life. And so.... we would often find ourselves humming this tune around the campfires at night. (I recall one friend of mine wrote a love letter to his girlfriend one night with a stub of pencil, resting his notepaper on the stock of his rifle. Strange days.)

The definitive version of the song, of course, is Lale Andersen's 1939 German recording (this link includes the German lyrics, which, I learn from Wikipedia, were written by Hans Leip during WWI). When the song became popular with Allied soldiers too, she made an English version in 1942 (the English lyrics included with this posting). The British "Forces' Sweetheart" Vera Lynn recorded it too, but her version is pretty horrible. Perhaps the best-loved interpretation is this one by the great Marlene Dietrich (no video of her singing it live seems to be available, alas). Lale Andersen, however, was still doing a pretty good job on it even at the end of her career - here she is singing it on TV in the late 1960s. Other oddities I've turned up on YouTube are a wartime Italian version (singer uncredited), a bizarre 1943 propaganda version inciting German troops to rebel against Hitler (singer again uncredited), drag artist 'Amanda Lear' aping Dietrich in the wondrously weird-sounding 1978 Nazi 'comedy' Zio Adolfo, in arte Führer, and the unlikely pairing of Nina Hagen and Nana Mouskouri, again in drag (well, white tie and tails, anyway), again aping Dietrich, on an '80s TV show.

However, for today's clip I thought I'd give you this excerpt from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's stupendous 1981 film Lili Marleen, starring the lovely Hanna Schygulla as a glamorous cabaret singer forced to sing for the Nazis (while hiding her love for her Jewish pianist/composer, and doing a bit of spying on the side, if I remember aright). My more devoted readers may recall that this film featured as one of the ten most memorable cinema-going experiences of my life in a post on Froogville a couple of years ago. [According to IMDB, the screenplay was adapted from a novel called Der Himmel hat viele Farben written by..... Lale Andersen! I'm not sure if I believe that.]

[The multi-talented Ms Schygulla has a rather good singing voice herself, but in this scene she appears to be miming (to Lale Andersen's version of the song??). However, in this clip where she performs the song again later in the film it looks as though she might be singing it herself. She is certainly singing it in this excellent live performance from a later TV show.]

Friday, April 16, 2010

I'd rather be square than FourSquare

I see indications that - as I predicted a month ago - the FourSquare fad is waning, its bubble about to burst.

The worldwide FourSquare Day today has a scent of desperation about it: a last-ditch promotional ploy to try to generate some fresh momentum for an idea that's very nearly dead on its feet.

Some of my younger, more tech-friendly acquaintances are planning to join the 'tweet-up' (dread word; no, silly, silly, silly word!) in Sanlitun this evening, which will climax in Fubar's quixotic attempt to garner the highest total of simultaneously 'signed-in' FourSquare users of any bar in the world (a goal they could only conceivably achieve if hundreds of people sign in without actually being there!). I hope they have a jolly evening; and I wish Chad well in the pursuit of his crazy dream at Fubar - but wild horses wouldn't get me anywhere near this event.

I sincerely hope that by the end of this summer we won't be hearing any more about this FourSquare nonsense.

HBH 178

Old friends and late nights:
A return to student days;
Twenty years undone.

It was a delight to have my old Oxford buddy Dr W in town over the last 10 days. Gosh, we go way back - it is in fact considerably more than twenty years, over half of my lifetime... the whole of my adult life. There is a special potency in friendships that have endured that long.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another sighting

I saw Jim Boyce in passing again last night. I fear the dear chap really doesn't like me....

What's your -ism?

My great blog-friend JES posted this amusing little piece yesterday, challenging his regular readers to identify a distinctive quirk or party trick, a personal piece of shtick which might be regarded as their -ism: a Weebleism, a Choirboyism, a Chairmanism, a Froogism, and so on.

I was prompted to offer the following response.

I suppose I am moderately notorious for my beermat flipping. You know the trick - where you balance a beermat on the edge of a bar counter or a table with an inch or two protruding over the rim, then bring your hand up from underneath, flicking the protruding edge of the beermat with the tips of your fingers so that it jumps in the air and performs a 180-degree rotation, and catching it cleanly with the same hand in one easy, continuous motion.

It's fairly straightforward to pull it off with just one beermat, even when you're a little squiffy. The challenge is usually seen as being to discover how tall a stack of beermats you can flip and catch without dropping any. I don't like this approach: it seems to me to be pursuing failure rather than success; it inevitably ends with beermats littered all over the floor and much embarrassment.

I prefer to elaborate the trick by switching to using the left hand. Or, when I'm really in my groove, to do synchronous flips with the left and right hand. Or to try flipping with the palm upward (strangely, this is much, much harder than the conventional palm-down technique). Or, when I'm really showing off, to attempt left- and right-handed flips, one palm-up and one palm-down. What larks! (I have annoyed bar owners across Beijing - and all around the world - by initiating mass beermat-flipping face-offs.)

However, I'm not sure that this is really unique enough (although I don't think I've ever seen anyone else attempting the last variation - other than in emulation of me), or sufficiently distinctive of me to be labelled a Froogism.

I prefer to think of Froogisms as my occasional self-composed bons mots, particularly the ones I share with friends in text messages.

[JES has discovered that there is a website devoted to this noble art: - what else? Gosh, they do take it seriously: there are stern warnings against trying to do two-handed flipping with uneven stacks of beermats.... because "it would look odd"!]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The final word(?) on Madame X....

She's gone now - and with her going, a considerable weight is lifted from me (although the litter of three years' worth of regrets, resentments, and recriminations is not going to be swept out of my heart overnight...).

I endeavoured to arrange a brief 'farewell' meeting with my fateful Madame X - lunch, a drink, a walk in the park, dropping round for a cup of tea, whatever - and, as with 90% of the other times I'd tried to do something like this over the last few years, I encountered an icy shoulder: she told me that she didn't have even five minutes to spare me in her last two weeks here.

However, by way of token 'friendliness'/consolation/encouragement, she e-mailed me that we should catch up when she makes an already-planned return visit here..... next July.

My response: Wow, is that a raincheck? You don't usually give me those! But I don't think they're valid for more than a year...

Monday, April 12, 2010


More and more places seem to be offering live music of late.

I mentioned the big new music venue Mako Live down at Shuangjing a few weeks ago. I haven't had the chance to check that out yet, but apparently they've had quite a few gigs there already, and it's starting to create some very good buzz.

This weekend, I finally got around to trying the Orange Tree, the new bistro venture from the people who created Fish Nation (well, I guess it may have been open about a year now, but they haven't been promoting it very heavily, and it's only recently that anyone seems to have begun talking about it). The food and the service are still a bit hit-and-miss, but it's a much broader and more impressive menu than we were used to at Fish Nation, and seems mostly quite good, and reasonable value. And it's a great little space they have there. Ooh, and a good list of imported beers too. The weekend brunches - which currently come with a complimentary Bloody Mary or Mimosa per person (my companions weren't drinking on Saturday, so I got moderately wrecked on their freebies) - could well become a regular indulgence: comparable to The Vineyard, but without (as yet) the crazy crowds; and only a couple of minutes' walk from Houhai. However, most intriguing aspect of the place is that they are apparently planning to offer live music (they have a fairly decent-looking little PA and their own drum kit). This Saturday evening, jazzy chanteuse Jess Meider was scheduled to play a solo show. I would have been very tempted to go back for that, but.....

Well, while walking off my Bloody Mary excess on the only properly sunny afternoon we've yet enjoyed this year I happened to pass a discreet little hutong bar on the 2nd Ringroad, just east of Beiluoguxiang. The name seems only to be advertised in Chinese script; I'm told it transliterates as something like Zui Le Fang. (Correction: it's actually Zui Yuefang, 醉乐房, which of course means 'Drunk Music House' [sometimes I find the simplicity and directness of Chinese quite beguiling!]. I blame Guitar Man Dan for the initial error.) My guitar-playing friend Dan tipped me off about it when he played a gig there a month or so back, but I hadn't been free that night, and I'd rather forgotten about it again.... until this Saturday afternoon, when I just happened to notice that there was this possibly bar-like place in front of me - with what looked like they might be gig listings chalked on a blackboard by the door - and the recollection suddenly rushed back. I wandered over to check it out and discovered...... young American bluegrass band The Redbucks were due to play that night! I was sold. And the gig did not disappoint: it's a very cosy space, with a good sound system, not unreasonable prices (the Tsingers is 20kuai, which always smarts a little - but I suppose that's not at all bad for a music bar; and the rather murky 'draught' beer was bizarrely being served out of kai shui flasks - I never did get to the bottom of that little oddity!), and friendly owners. I'll definitely be back.

My perambulations that day also introduced me to Vanguard (or VA Bar, as they seem to be preferring to call themselves for short), a new-ish place on the Wudaoying Hutong, just next to The Vineyard. This place, too, is evidently attempting to establish itself as a fairly regular live music venue, with more or less weekly gigs, mostly of a jazzy character, over the last month or so. Quebecoise siren Marie-Claude will be there this Friday. Sold!

It's particularly nice for me that all of these promising new venues are within about 15 or 20 minutes of where I live. Why do so many people choose to live on the east side of town??

The weekly bon mot

"No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single."

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Top Five Bar Promotion ideas

Now that he's expanded the bar to some forty-odd square metres, JK, the boss of my 'local', the now somewhat inaccurately-named 12 Square Metres, has been canvassing ideas for trying to boost the clientele. And I have been in a rich vein of creative form just lately. Unfortunately, our laoban does not seem to like any of my innovative suggestions - so I'll just have to share them on here with you instead.

My Top Five Ideas For Bar Promotions

5) The Secret Discount
Last week, when JK announced a one-off "two-for-one on everything" deal to try to attract some punters on a miserably rainy night, he was complaining that there were a couple of his more exotic spirit offerings on which he would - just about - be losing money. He was therefore unwilling to reveal what these critically-priced bottles were; this excited much speculation on the part of the few regulars, and we were in fact tempted to work our way along the top shelf whiskies until we saw evidence of an incipient heart attack in our profit-conscious host. This gave me the idea that if JK announced that each night one of the drinks in his impressively stocked back bar would be very heavily discounted - or perhaps even free - but not tell anyone which one it was..... well, I think it would be unlikely that anyone would discover what the 'secret discount' was (or would abuse it too much if they did), but many people might be encouraged to try more spirits than they otherwise would to try to find it.
[If the boss is so concerned about potentially losing a lot of money on this gimmick, you could hem it around with additional restrictions: perhaps only offer the drink FREE or VERY CHEAP until a certain time, or only to the first person to order it that evening. I'd suggest that the 'secret discount' should be written down inside a sealed envelope displayed on the bar, and that after 10 or 11pm - or after someone discovers it by chance - the envelope should be opened and the drink offered at half-price for the rest of the evening. Just a silly game - but quite compelling, I think.]

4) The Matrix Party
Costume parties are always fun. Costume parties with movie themes are the best. And the Matrix trilogy are particularly good films to have on in the background - so much action! Moreover, it's a relatively simple theme to dress for, so long as you have some sunglasses and something black to wear. Heck, you could even wear a grubby old sweater for the outside-the-Matrix look. Or a business suit (ideally with shades and earpiece) to be Agent Smith. Or you could go for one of the more exotic characters like the smoking-jacketed Merovingian or his glamorous Monica Bellucci Mrs or the scary-loony Trainman or.... Oh yes, endless possibilities. Probably better suited to the winter months, though. I really want to do one of these one day.

3) Shots based on the i-Tunes playlist
We always used to complain that The B-52s came up rather too often on JK's background music selection at 12SqM; particularly as the playlist included only three of their songs - Rock Lobster, Love Shack, and Roam - and it tended to be the especially irritating Rock Lobster that would pop up almost every night, sometimes even more than once a night. However, this annoyance became much more tolerable when Dr Manhattan and I hit on the idea of using it as an excuse to order B-52 shots whenever one of these songs was played! Alas, the band seems to have been expunged from the playlist now - we used to hate them for their ubiquity, but we miss them now they're gone. The regulars are lobbying gently for their reinstatement. I've also recommended that JK devise some new shots related to regular highlights on his playlist - AC/DC, Guns'n'Roses, Shu-Bi-Dua (most excellent Danish calypso band!) - and offer them as a 'special' whenever one of the songs is randomly selected by i-Tunes (although there is of course one slight hazard: punters with i-Phones can log in to the playlist and 'promote' songs they want to hear in the projected running order).

2) The 'Crack-The-Seal' Party
The person who can drink the most draught beers before having to go to the toilet gets the cost of those beers refunded (OR all of his subsequent beers for free... OR a significant quantity of free beer, anyway). Beautifully simple in its appeal to the macho competitive instinct. I have suggested this as a theme to christen the new inside toilet at 12SqM (which JK is threatening to install within the next week or two). It has been objected that the idea is not novel, since Paddy O'Shea's has already tried something similar. I disagree: as you'd expect from a dump as resolutely unclassy as O'Shea's, their idea was to run a 'happy hour' until the first person in the bar went to the loo - a cheapskate way of ensuring that the promotion wouldn't go on too long, and a nasty invocation of peer pressure/mob rule reminiscent of those sadistically vindictive Japanese game shows. My idea is for a straight contest: individual, one-on-one, mano-a-mano - a laddish pissing competition; or, rather, a no-pissing competition. I think it could work well. And I'd rather fancy my chances.

But the pick of the crop is....

1) The Five-Minute 'Happy Hour'
'Happy Hour' discounts for five minutes at a time - whether at set times (e.g., every hour, on the hour) or randomly at various points during the evening, announced by the surprise ringing of a bell. This is in fact an inspiration from my erstwhile drinking companion Crazy Chris: we tried it at the old Room 101 a couple of years ago, and oh my god, did it work!!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Brief notes

Beijing Boyce has been running a contest this week for 'thumbnail reviews' of Beijing bars and restaurants, Twitter-style, in 140 characters or less. I famously disapprove of this Twitter nonsense, but... it's a bit of fun, and there's booze to be won.

Well, there's no actual judgement of merit; each contribution earns you one spot in a random draw for prizes. The 'competition' is supposed to remain open until 5pm today if you want to try your luck.

Here are my efforts:

No longer accurate, but not misleading: 12 Square Metres trebled in size, but still cosiest, friendliest bar in BJ – with best whisky shelf!

Owner Shaun in a permanent stupor; guest barman Pat works Tuesday magic; an antique typewriter and a policeman’s cap meet at Tryst.

Hidden in a hutong, newcomer Mao Mao Chong has Beijing’s chewiest pizza dough and its best cocktails.

Coolest man in Beijing invites you into his cosy courtyard home, plays Tom Waits and Jacques Brel, pours a huge single malt for 50rmb: Amilal.

Apothecary is Beijing’s smuggest bar: a service charge for poor service, high prices for weak drinks, and a snooty management.

An unnecessary apostrophe; but a good space and a friendly welcome make The Smuggler’s the best of the cheap dives.

HBH 177

Late nights and no sleep:
The football season's climax,
A six-week ordeal.

Yes, it's that time of year again. And then we have the World Cup.... I don't think I'm going to survive.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Early doors (More on the Apothecary debate)

As I noted a couple of weeks or so back, The Drugstore (as Dr Manhattan and I liked to call Apothecary) has been getting a very bad press lately.

I mentioned in that earlier post that Leon Lee, one of the owners, had replied on the City Weekend thread in which much of the criticism of the place had been aired, but didn't seem to me to have done a very good job of soothing anyone's ire. When I last dropped by the bar, I saw that they've pinned up a set of 'House Rules' on the door - seemingly complaining about rambunctious behaviour they've suffered from some patrons. Like the City Weekend 'explanation', this comes across as a bit whiny and self-righteous. I suggested at the end of my first post on this that I had a feeling that it was an attitude problem of the owners/management, a lack of flair for customer relations that was the biggest cause of The Drugstore's sudden slump in popularity.

From Leon's City Weekend post, it would appear that perhaps the bar has simply been a victim of its own popularity: it was starting to get so busy - at least on weekends - that it had been necessary to introduce a 'door policy', i.e. to limit the number of people who could come in.

I am unconvinced of this explanation. Setting a maximum on the number of punters you can accommodate at one time should not equate to a 'no standing at the bar' policy (the major complaint that disgruntled customers have been making, and seem to be continuing to make). If they just mean that they don't want to let people in to stand at the bar while they wait for a table when they're at or close to their supposed capacity, they should make that clearer. (And they should explain it, above all, to their staff, who all seem to think it means that standing at the bar is not allowed at any time for any reason.) Refusing to let people come in to wait/stand at the bar when there is clearly room to do so is naturally going to piss them off. The 'maximum numbers' policy - like so much else at that place - does not seem to be well thought-out or well implemented.

Well, for a start, a numbers cap is not the same as a 'door policy'. If you start talking about a 'door policy', people fret that they're being excluded because of the way they dress, or their age, or their accent or something. I would suggest that the best way of implementing a numbers cap would be to have a sign on the door that says something like: Sorry, we just can't comfortably fit any more people in at the moment. Please try again in 20 minutes or so, or give us a call on.... to see if we're a bit less busy.

Having a guy on the door turning people away for no very clearly explained reason - for reasons that might be part of an unwritten dress code, or a judgement that your 'face does not fit' - is extremely bad for your image.

Moreover, most prospective customers would surely turn away unbidden if they saw that the place was that busy, so you'd think a formal numbers cap would be superfluous (but perhaps not?). A lot of the negative feedback about the place seems to have come from people who had had a hard time of getting in, or at any rate of being allowed to stand at the bar, even when it wasn't all that busy at all.

And they only just realised the need for a numbers cap?? The place is not all that big, so on the basis of space alone there's obviously an upper limit. Leon mentioned a figure of 65, based on the number of seats. I'm surprised they have that much seating, but.... you have to reckon on less than optimal use of your seats most of the time (tables of 4 may only have 2 or 3 people at them, etc.). You can't comfortably get very many people at the bar (standing or otherwise). And my guess is that the place will start feeling uncomfortably crowded - and uncomfortably noisy - with only 40 to 50 people in there. So, your numbers cap ought to be set somewhere around there - and you should have realised that before you opened.

But even that's probably way too many, given that (the last time I looked, anyway) they only have two bartenders. It takes the best part of 2 minutes to make a cocktail carefully, and you can't get your average much below that without putting intolerable pressure on your staff and compromising the quality of your product. You have to figure that most people are going to drink at least 2, maybe 3 drinks an hour (tip: giving larger measures would not only increase customer satisfaction but reduce the demand on your barmen) - so, each barman can only service around 10 customers, 12 at the outside (and you ought to cut your barmen some slack in this kind of calculation, so that they're not continuously working flat out; and so that there's not too much of a wait even if several people place orders in quick succession).

I would say Apothecary is only set up to handle 20 to 25 people drinking cocktails at a time, and if they've been getting significantly over that number, it's no wonder they've started getting such terrible reviews.

I observed in my initial review - during the 'honeymoon period' of their soft opening back in December - that there were a number of things they needed to do to speed up the service: having waitresses or non-specialist barmen who could fill orders for standard mixed drinks, beer, and wine (They don't have wine, I've recently learned - that's just crazy! And they could do with a better beer selection too. You can't insist that everyone should drink cocktails!); and having one or more runners to service the back bar, to keep the cocktail-mixing stations constantly replenished with fresh ice and clean implements, maybe even to ferry the bottles to and fro, etc., to optimise the efficiency of your mixing guys. I should probably add to these tips: get at least one more cocktail barman - for your busiest nights, at any rate.

Leon's whingeing about how "artisanally made" cocktails take so much time to prepare comes off as precious and self-satisfied. And it's BULLSHIT. The cocktail orders are taking too long to be filled because they don't have enough staff, and the bar is not efficiently run. Sort that out, and your customers may start loving you again.

Although I'd suggest you also need to ditch the attitude. And the overpriced snacks. And the misfiring 'homemade' fetish (that ginger beer is just nasty; and the bitters ain't much better). And think about increasing some of your pours. And add some quality beer and wine choices. And lose that service charge.

That's not really so much to ask. But Apothecary's owners unfortunately exude this air of "Oh, but our bar is already PERFECT. You just don't understand how difficult it is to run a bar like this. We don't need impatient, unappreciative, unsophisticated customers like you."

Er, no it isn't. Yes, I do. And you can't disrespect your customers like that and stay in business.

Good luck, boys. I'd say you've got about three months to turn it around. Of course, it's a little unfortunate that summer's nearly here and you don't have a terrace, but.... the task is not impossible.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Nominator

Last week, I was picked - "at random" - to contribute suggestions for this year's Bar and Club Awards from The Beijinger magazine.

After careful thought, I gave my 'Best Bar' nod to Salud - because, this being a general survey of the bar scene citywide, I thought it inappropriate to just bang the drum for a few of my quirky personal favourites. Of course, I have a much deeper affection for spots like 12 Square Metres and Amilal and The Pool Bar, but these are never - I hope - the kind of places that are going to attract a mass following. I feel these awards ought to recognise the bars that are doing enough things consistently right to draw large and diverse crowds on a regular basis. By that criterion, Salud wins hands down - at least amongst the bars that I frequent.

At the nomination stage, the magazine is trying out some new categories this year, but I think it's unlikely many of them will make it into the final awards ('Sexiest Bar Staff'??!!). This did, however, give me the opportunity to boost some of my pet faves: Amilal clearly has the 'Best Music Selection' of any bar in the history of the world ever, while Mao Mao Chong deserves puffs as 'Hidden Gem' and 'Best Cocktail Selection', and 12 Square Metres is surely the city's 'Friendliest Bar' (er, or is that just because I'm friends with the owners?) and has the 'Best Whisky Selection' (very narrowly over Amilal).

Some of the other categories I declined to register any preference in. I know nothing about the city's nightclub scene (other than that Club Le Zazou sucks donkey balls). I don't approve of 'whisky bars' - they seem to me to be one of those uniquely strange efflorescences of Japanese culture, very nearly as weird and objectionable as schoolgirl-panty vending machines. I don't understand how 'Best Decor' functions as an award category: for me, the supreme, the only merit in a bar's decor is that you don't notice it; if you notice it, they're trying too hard, and it's probably shit; if you don't notice it, it's probably 'good', but you can't very well nominate it for an award. And I objected to 'Best Cheap Drinks' as an oxymoron: there are either Fake Drinks or Expensive Drinks - ain't no middle path any more.

It will be interesting (well, no, it will probably just be depressing) to see how far the seething expat masses concur with my views.

Pranks and parodies

There was a pretty funny spoof of Beijing's burger-addicted barfly Jim Boyce on City Weekend last week for April Fool's Day - well worth a look if you missed it. (I wonder who was responsible for it? Not me, I assure you.)

My own modest attempt at some once-a-year spoofing seems to have gone unexposed (though the ever-shrewd Gary had his suspicions) - or perhaps just unnoticed. Well, New Media has admitted to being completely duped by it; and The British Cowboy commented on it without evidencing any scepticism (although he, of course, does not live in Beijing, so might be a little more easily forgiven his gullibility). I haven't asked anyone else yet - although The Weeble, ultra-pedant that he is, can usually be relied upon to pitch in promptly whenever he thinks he catches the scent of a rat.

Monday, April 05, 2010

New Picks of the Month

Time to revamp my 'blast from the past' recommendations over in the sidebar again.

From Froogville, this time I choose A Beijing street scene - my description of a protracted confrontation over an almost-traffic-accident between a dakuan ('big shot') and a 'man of the people'.

And from The Barstool, I recommend this little essay on the topic of Wingmanship (including a first reference to the dratted Madame X, bane of my life for more than three years now).

Bon mot for the week

"Longevity is the reward of abstinence. Hmm, I mean the penalty."


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Qualis artifex pereo

A friend was complaining that there was nothing to photograph with her camera-phone in a bar we were in the other week. I demonstrated that there's always something to photograph.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The dinosaurs ROAR!!

Tang Dynasty are one of China's earliest rock bands, with a history going back 20 years or so. I gather they do metal with a prog-rock twist, incorporating lots of classical Chinese allusions into their lyrics. (I believe I saw them play once, at the Midi Festival years and years ago - but I don't recall too much about it now.)

I don't think they've played together much for years now, but it seems they're getting back together for a tour this year and have just cut a new EP. Their opening show was last Sunday night at Star Live - with Brain Failure (which is, I'm told, a rather inspired elaboration of the Chinese for 'aneurism'), generally reckoned to be Bejing's biggest rock band of the moment, opening for them. That's quite a bill! And, for once, you could count on it being a proper rock'n'roll crowd, and 99% Chinese - rather than the hordes of Wudaokou language students and other laowai poseurs we have to endure at Yugong Yishan and D-22.

I really ought to have gone, but was fretting about ill-health and penury and a huge editing job hanging over me like the sword of Damocles.

It appears to have been a great show: check out the review here on BeijingDaze (a very useful resource for keeping in touch with developments on the Beijing music scene) written by guest blogger 'Miss Ruby' (who hangs out around here from time to time, but mostly in 'lurk' mode - or perhaps under other guises).