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....]


Beijing Daze said...

Just like with the restaurant awards, we'll probably see the usual suspects pick up the wins but that just reflects where Beijing's expats tend to go IMHO. We might not agree with the picks but it's a matter of numbers at the end of the day and that is what makes The Beijinger awards special!

A few years back, D22 came out of nowhere to claim Bar of the Year and they definitely are west of town :-) I wish more folks would recognize the quality of the Gulou/NLGX offerings but at the same time, the thought of the sanlitun crowd haunting that area is enough to send shivers down my spine....i guess at the end of the day, I'd rather them not get certain types of recognition maybe.

As someone who has been voting on the awards as well as nominating venues for the past few years, I can tell you that the emails to verify your vote will come once we edge closer to the date.


Froog said...

Well, thanks for the reassurance, BD, but.... a thing like that (automated online vote-counting) ought to send an immediate confirmation. And last year, for me (and a few other people I know), no such confirmation ever came.

The nominations phase is obviously more or less completely controlled by the wealthier venue owners (despite the utterly token "you're not a bar owner, are you?" question at the top of the voting form); and, I fear, the voting is largely dominated by them, too. Nothing else would really explain wins in the past for the likes of Centro.

While I was quite pleased to see an 'outsider' like D-22 come through a couple of years back (although it was still at that time a pretty godawful bar; I feel it's got much better as a bar, but still kind of sucks as a music venue), I think that was mostly down to a big push by Michael Pettis rather than a spontaneous growndswell of support from its punters.

I suppose Salud might fail in a popular vote because so much of its clientele is French or Chinese and they probably can't be bothered with The Beijinger. However, it is unfathomable that it didn't even make the nominations. I nominated it, and I'm sure several other people must have done as well.

And with some of the other categories, it would be reasonable to expect a certain comprehensiveness in the nominations: there still aren't that many music venues in the city. Why isn't Jiangjinjiu in there alongside D-22 and 2 Kolegas? How come all the crappy hotel lounges get nominated as jazz venues, but Jianghu doesn't? With categories like that, you scarcely even need a nominations round - you could just list all the eligible venues and give the voters a free choice.

If it were "just about the numbers", some of those places I mentioned towards the end would certainly have been in the running. Xiu might have a 'following' of sorts, but it's not drawing huge crowds; Kokomo, Cantina etc. are. The 'bars' that get nominated for these awards are - mostly - bars that have a PR team working for them. (And, maybe, there's an element of bars that are truly successful not needing to be much concerned about participating in this farce.)

Ruby said...

I've just cast my votes and I actually had to abstain from voting in a surprising amount of categories having never visited the nominees and never intending to! (d-lounge, Xiu, Punk etc)

I ended up sticking to my regular haunts, 12SQM, MMC, Amilal, Fubar and Tryst. Salud also got a few write in votes. Kolegas wins hands down for music, but I think Jianghu and Salud should both have been there as well.

Funniest nominees - Best place to find a date - Magggies?? If you're paying for her, can you really call it a date? Sexiest bar staff - Fubar?? Cute, yes, but SEXY? Maybe after a few too many Cock Shots!

In other bar-related news, Tryst has re-opened it's doors and tonight is Tryst Tuesday with Pat. Will I see either of you boys behind the typewriter? Mr Daze, perfect chance for you to overcome your fear of crossing the Great Gongti divide. It's really not so scary on the north side!