Thursday, July 22, 2010

Game of the names

Someone happened to ask me the other day - a not uncommon question, but the first time in ages it had been put to me - what would I call a bar or restaurant of my own?

Then, by one of those odd little coincidences, the very next evening I discovered in an old wallet a scrap of paper on which The Chairman and I had written down some name suggestions in a drunken and frivolous moment a couple of years back. [I believe that it may have been inspired by the "competition" the Room 101 owners announced to find a name for their relaunched and rebranded business towards the end of 2008. I never heard any more of that, and don't know if their eventual name selection did come from a customer suggestion or if it was rewarded in any way. I suspect not. One of the many extraordinary faux pas those guys committed in creating their new place was choosing the deeply crappy name Ginkgo for it. Nobody really knows what a 'ginkgo' is; almost no-one can spell it correctly (it's one of those words that I keep on tripping up over myself); nobody knows what it is in Chinese; and it has absolutely no associations with anything whatsoever. For me, it might perhaps be suggestive of a health-food or vitamin shop, or a massage parlour - but not a bloomin' restaurant!]

A further preamble - I don't at all approve of the idea of a combined bar/restaurant; I believe such places seldom or never really work (another element of the great sequential foot-shooting that Ginkgo pulled off!), and they hold no appeal for me. Now, there's no reason why a restaurant shouldn't have a separate bar area (although I don't think it ever really needs one); and it's nice if such a bar is good enough to draw customers of its own, independent of the restaurant's food; but if the bar gets too good, too successful, it starts distracting from the restaurant, dilutes the focus of the business. It's not easy - or desirable, I don't think - for a bar and a restaurant to co-exist successfully. This applies somewhat even to places that just do 'bar food': if the food becomes too elaborate or sophisticated, if the food starts becoming a major part of the draw, then the place is morphing into a restaurant - and suffering as a bar (it's one of the main reasons that I don't particularly like The Den or The Tree as drinking hangouts: far too many people go there to eat!).

Having got that little gripe out of my system..... here are some of those names I dug up the other day. (I hasten to add that they are not particularly good names [though much, much better than Ginkgo!], being generated as they were by a drunken stream of consciousness, for a particular occasion. I'm still not sure how I'd answer that opening question: what would I call a bar of my own?)

(I think that might have been one of The Chairman's offerings. Sounds more like a cocktail bar or wine bar than a bar bar to me....)

(A natural development, of course, from Room 101.... which was in itself a fairly questionable piece of bar-naming ["the worst thing in the world"?!], but seemed to work out pretty well: it was simple, memorable, and those who knew the reference were prepared to treat it as intended ironically; and the owners elaborated on this quite cleverly - quite obscurely - by producing staff t-shirts with Winston Smith's citizen number on them.)

(Another cocktail bar name....)

100 Flowers
(A very apposite reference for China - though not a very pleasant one. And perhaps a tad obscure for those who aren't au fait with their modern Chinese history.)

(A playful jibe at the French component of 101's original ownership syndicate! Ah, it would be a great name for an English restaurant.... if such a thing could ever exist!)

(Hmm, I see this as being more of a studenty type of place up in Wudaokou - perhaps even a meat-market/disco like Propaganda.)

Rick's Café
(The only place I've ever come across somewhere that takes its name from Bogie's famous nightclub in Casablanca is Negril, at the western tip of Jamaica. Odd. You'd think that such a universally recognisable pop culture reference would have been exploited for marketing myriads of bars all around the world. I wonder if the Warner Bros. goons crack down on this kind of thing?? Not in China, surely?! I'd love to try and do a Rick's one day, somewhere; but I think my conception of the place - though it might include the jazz/cabaret of the movie - would be very different in lots of ways.)

(This is the kind of name that is prompted primarily by the conceits of the interior design team rather than any other consideration: you can see that austere black-and-white theme, can't you? Not a completely terrible name; better than Ginkgo; but not great.)

The Workers' Flag
(".... is soaked in drink./ It's not as red as you may think...." Oh, how many times did I sing that in my far-off student days? An unusual name, but a very workable one, I think: fits in nicely with the locale in Communist China, immediately suggests a simple but catchy logo/symbol/gimmick.... and might possibly attract an amusingly outspoken clientele of would-be philosopher-revolutionaries.)

(One of my favourites from this little selection. For me, it would fit a restaurant better than a bar - but that was what Ginkgo was aiming to be. It's the Spanish for 'destiny' [the great golfer Seve Ballesteros used to invoke it a lot whenever his winning ways deserted him: "I feel I have many more victories yet in my destino."], so it might prove particularly attractive as a 'date place'.)

The Blackout Bar
(This was in fact a suggestion from my erstwhile drinking companion, the determinedly eccentric young American boozehound Crazy Chris - inspired by his experiences in Korea, where he was never able to remember the name of his favourite late-night drinking den.)

(Now, this could definitely work! A New York cultural reference that will beguile the Chinese punters, and one that comes complete with its own - incomparably groovy - theme song. Oh yes, someone should do this.)

Oh, of course, I suggested Fubar as an ideal name for a bar in China on here long, long ago..... but someone has done that now. (I'm still waiting for my royalties.)

If you have any ideas for good bar names, I remind you that we already have a thread for that - please go and leave your contributions there.


James the Nag said...

The one I always fancied running was a bar called "The Library" in Oxford so that undergraduates could say to their tutor "But I was in the Library all day"... .

Froog said...

Yes, I think tutors would pretty soon have wised up to that one, James.

Seminar or Symposium might work in the same kind of way.

And you see what you've done? You've got me leaving comments in the wrong place as well!

JK said...

There has been a Rick's Cafe in Nanxincang (next to Dadong Duck) for a couple of years now.

Froog said...

Really?? It's probably just a cafe, though, right? That doesn't count!