Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Five Disappointments of the Year

Another prelude to the in-gestation 'Annual Bar Awards' post....

'Tis the season to be griping, so here are my top gripes of the year.

The Top Five disappointments on the Beijing bar scene this year

5)  The (new) Stumble Inn
This scarcely even makes it into the category of 'disappointments', since I never really expected anything of it.  The original location on Lucky Street had shown some promise in its early days, but rapidly dispelled our optimism with its increasingly scattergun efforts to attract punters (courting the pre-clubbing crowd bound for White Rabbit destroyed it as a sports bar!); and whatever was good about it was largely down to the longer-standing members of staff who'd been running the place as Sangria for a year or more previously.  After a hiatus of over a year, the Version 2.0 has opened... upstairs in a mall; and it's spread over two floors - which is doubly bad juju.  What's more, it's a long way upstairs: psychologically it's very dispiriting to hack up those two or three flights of steps... and then find that the staff want you to go up another one, because nobody really uses the downstairs bar!  And it's almost impossible to see from ground level (it would be completely invisible, but for empty window of a currently vacant unit opposite providing a vivid reflection of one of their distinctive yellow signs; but you've got to crane your neck at just the right moment even to glimpse that).  Because it's in The Village, it's wince-makingly expensive.  I could go on.  The design is naff, the service awful, the pool table an abomination - there is nothing about the place I like.

4)  Gulou 121
'Disappointment', it should be noted, is not a measure of how bad a place is, but of how far it falls short of one's hopes or expectations.  There's nothing all that wrong with Gulou 121, but.... I became unduly excited about there being a new dive bar - and a new live music venue - opening practically on my doorstep.  The place just hasn't made anything of itself since its debut at the end of April.  Shan Ren played there a week or so after they opened, but they are still - I think - the only band of note to have appeared there.  The decent little stage and sound system seem to be used most nights only for excruciatingly lame jam/karaoke sessions by backpackers from the hostel up the road.  I noticed much of the interior decor was being gutted a few days ago, which perhaps heralds some sort of a revamp.  But it wasn't the decor that has been the problem: it's the complete absence of marketing or band booking.

3)  1st Floor
Now, I've never liked 2nd Floor - its predecessor, sister establishment up above - nor, indeed, Patrick from The Tree who is rumoured to be an investor; so, I didn't have any very high hopes of this place.  But... it's a great space and a great location.  And they have a very decent chef (the tenderloin is a very close second to Flamme's, and considerably more keenly priced - particularly when you consider that you get a small side salad and some roast potatoes for free, rather than having to pay extra for everything).... I've been going in quite a lot on Mondays, when all the food is half price.  However, the quality of the menu is extremely variable (the chilli is disgusting, all heat but no flavour; and when I tried the nachos a few weeks back, they were left under the hotlamp for so long that they'd completed dried out... and started to singe).  The decor is too light, and the acoustics deafeningly tinny (you really need to put something on those high, bare walls, guys); it becomes impossible to hear yourself think once there are more than a dozen or so people in.  And the service is very haphazard.  In particular, it can be almost impossible to get any attention at the bar (a problem shared, curiously enough, by 2nd Floor); I've two or three times had friends give up on the place because they couldn't get served promptly; and I once had a girl decline/forget to pour the drink I'd ordered because she'd decided to go 'on a break' at that precise moment!  Worst of all, it's a very smoky bar.... a vice perhaps encouraged by the fact that the staff smoke behind the bar!!!  Ugh!!!

2)  The Box
Now, I have nothing much against The Box, but.... it's barely 8 minutes' walk from my apartment, it offers Western food and 10-kuai draft beers.... and I hardly ever go there.  The food isn't exactly unpleasant, but neither is it anything very special; and even the quite low prices just don't entice me back. The sandwiches have good bread, but sometimes dodgy fillings (the 'Philly Cheesesteak' is a particularly big letdown, with an excess of gooey cheese but scarcely any discernible meat).  The 'Buffalo Wings' are more sweet than spicy, and have that luminous, unnatural pinky-orange colour that one associates with Chinese sweet'n'sour dishes.  Many have complained that their 'poutine' is even more inauthentic, being made with regular melted cheddar rather than the traditional curds; but what bothers me about it is the utterly tasteless - and vaguely gelatinous - 'gravy'.  The chicken burger is the best - and best value - thing on the menu, I think.  But even if the food doesn't really float my boat, it's the kind of place that I'd like to hang out in once in a while, just for a last drink on the way home, or a first one on the way out in the evening.  Unfortunately, it's just too gosh-darned small: there's no bar to speak of, nowhere to stand, and the few tiny tables fill up pretty quickly.  And it has the standard Chinese failings of stark decor and too-bright lighting, wanting to leave a TV on the whole time (which becomes a tiresome distraction, and forces you to shout to maintain a conversation), having rattly acoustics and zero ventilation - smokey, noisy, an eye-strain.... and so-so food.  Oh dear.  The people that run it are really nice, and I'd like to see them make a success of this, but at present - for me - it's misfiring on all cylinders.

Which leaves us with the ignominious top spot being filled by.....

1)  2 Kolegas
Or, more specifically, those ridiculous new speaker stacks which are far too tall and far too loud for such a bijou venue: they seriously obstruct the view of the stage from almost anywhere in the room (except front and centre; from the bar - formerly the best position for watching a show - the performers are now almost completely invisible!), spoiling the atmosphere of the gigs there; and they are so damn eardrum-shreddingly, sanity-threateningly LOUD that you simply can't enter the room without earplugs in.  Ridiculous!!  I used to love Kolegas to death, but every experience I've had there in the past year or so has been extremely disappointing - mainly because of those bloody speakers - and I've found myself becoming disinclined to head out there any more.  It's very sad.  I hope they'll see sense soon, and revert to using smaller speakers that allow you to see and enjoy the show.


Ruby said...

How about the five BEST things from this year to balance it out? (Come on, I know you can come up with five at least over a whole 12 months!)

Froog said...

Well, I did a post last week on my Top Five New Favourite Hangouts....

If I had to choose 'things' or 'phenomena' rather than just venues....

I supposed I'd have to say....

The Amilal first anniversary party last January 1st where Alus tried to murder me with single malt whiskies.

Discovering by purest good luck that The Redbucks were going to play a completely unadvertised gig at the new Zui Yuefang back in March or April - possibly the only time in the last year or so that the crowd was small enough to allow you to see and hear them properly. Ah, Daisy...

The World Cup - and in particular, Germany spanking the Argies, and me winning that bet with Zef on Spain to win the whole thing.

AIS winning Battle of the Bands, of course.

And "Monday Nights with Nigel" throughout the middle of the year.