Monday, January 31, 2011

Cheapskate Mondays

I looked into Let's Burger the other day for the first time in ages, and discovered that they're doing a promotion to try to liven up their slow Mondays: ALL drinks (incl. glasses of house wine and - allegedly - 330ml bottles of Kronenbourg 1664) are only 10 kuai.  That's a tempting offer - if I'm ever over Sanlitun way on a Monday afternoon or evening.

It's certainly a cosy, comfy spot to shelter from these winter winds.  And the burgers are unquestionably very good (probably the best in town right now)..... but the home fries are disgusting (cooked up hours in advance and left to go cold and soggy?), the prices are ridiculous (hello, Shanghai!), and it's altogether a bit too cosy and comfy to feel like a drinking spot - well, there's no bar to sit at!

If I felt in need of a burger hit (I do, once every three or four months...), I'd usually go to Blue Frog on its 'Burger Mondays' - but the last couple of times I tried that, the burger meat wasn't so good as in the past, and I quickly got discouraged.  The beer selection is limited and way too expensive.  And the two-for-one offer on burgers only is a twofold irritation: when I do manage to dig up any friends to join me, they always seem to come in even numbers, so we're always left with one burger over (why, oh why can't it just be half price?); and I resent the fact that my favourite chilli fries are not available at the affordable rate.  Blue Frog has survived into its third year, but I'm not sure that it's really making great money - still looks pretty deserted most other nights of the week.  It charges Beijing prices on Monday, and Shanghai prices the rest of the week; and it only packs in a crowd on Mondays - go figure.

The burger at 1st Floor is a fair bit smaller than the Frog's, but comparable quality and much cheaper.  Especially on Monday evenings, when all the food is half price; although, in those circumstances, it's hard to resist the allure of a hunk of beef tenderloin for just 50 kuai.

Even that deal at 1F is in danger of being blown out of the water by Flamme.  OK, the crazy deal they were briefly running at the end of last year - 100 kuai for all you can drink on Mondays, including cocktails! - has been discontinued (the Lord giveth...), but they've replaced that with an all-day half-price Happy Hour.  Given that their drinks selection - and their stellar cocktail menu - is more reasonably priced than just about anywhere else in town anyway, this is an absolute steal.  And I gather they've teamed this initiative with extending their Tuesday two-for-one steak deal to Mondays as well.

I think I might be finding myself in Sanlitun on Mondays a lot more often while this offer is on.  Ah, If only I could find an odd number of friends (rather than a number of odd friends)!

Bon mot for the week

"Aging isn't so bad, if you consider the alternatives."

Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How things change...

I think I date the beginning of my starting to become bothersomely overweight to the appearance of draught Stella in this town.

I think there had been intermittent sightings of it in upmarket bars or at special promotions since around '06, but it didn't start becoming at all common until '08; that was the year I started drinking it most of the time in the late, lamented Room 101.  And that was the year my waistline started to get "middle-aged" on me!

I think I date the beginning of my comparative 'poverty' to the appearance of decent bars in my neighbourhood.

In my first two or three years here, I scarcely went to bars at all: I had neither the time nor the inclination.  I wasn't a huge fan of the old Nanjie bar strip, and it was too far away from where I lived.

The Yandai Xijie Huxley's by Houhai was the first bar I started going in fairly 'regularly' - when did that open? some time in '05?  And even with that, I'd rarely go in more than once or twice a week; sometimes, not for a few weeks at a time.  The only brief period when I really became something like a regular there was the few months at the end of '05 when I was sorrow-drowning while going through my agonising on-again-off-again-what-the-hell-is-going-on-here? relationship with The Poet.

I liked my music bars - 2 Kolegas and the original (good!) Yugong Yishan and so on - but I'd only go to them a few times a month, and more for the music than the drinking.  I liked Reef, one of the first bars to open up on Nanluoguxiang (a relocation from the demolished Nanjie - so I suppose that must have been at the latter end of '05 as well).... but only when my waggish young friends in 'The Yacht Club' were convening there (which was rarely more than once or twice a month, and soon started dwindling to a handful of times a year).  I quite liked Salud when that opened up on Nanluoguxiang ('05, '06?), but it was a little too overpoweringly French - and a little too BIG - to woo me as a regular.

It was only when I discovered the Pool Bar early in 2007 that I started going out for a drink in my neighbourhood relatively frequently.  It was only when Room 101 briefly wooed me away from the Pool Bar in the first half of '08 (with its lovely, lovely little island bar - why, oh why did they ever remove that??) that I started drinking premium imported beers on a fairly regular basis.  It was only when I discovered 12 Square Metres in the autumn of 2008 that I finally recognised a place that was homely enough to attract me in more than a couple of times a week.  And it was only when 12 SqM expanded to triple the size this time last year (thus getting over the problem that it often seemed discouragingly full, even if there were only 4 or 5 people in!!), and then a little later installed a draught Kronenbourg tap (I don't like it as much as Stella, but it'll do), that I had a really attractive default boozer within walking distance - the kind of place that I might go almost any night of the week when I had nothing better to do, and felt bored loafing at home; the kind of place that I might conceivably go to every night of the week.

Yep, amazingly enough, I was not a particularly regular drinker (at least, not in foreign bars) when I started this blog four years ago.  I have only become even moderately regular within the last three or four years; I have only become really, really regular within the last year or so.  And it is all 12 Square Metres' fault!

I may need to try to readjust that 'lifestyle' again, because I'm just not making enough money to support it.

[The proliferation of cute little music bars around my neighbourhood, starting with Jiangjinjiu 5 years ago, and Jianghu 3 or 4 years ago, hasn't helped me either.  Nor has the appearance of good and underpriced malt whisky selections at places like The Bookworm and Amilal and El Nido...  But it's the siren call of a comfortable regular boozer that has really done for me.  I spent years complaining that I missed having somewhere like that in Beijing; and then I found one, and it ruined my life!  Oh, almost like a girlfriend.....]

Friday, January 28, 2011

HBH 219

Wine, too little truth;
Beer, too little or too much;
Whisky, just enough.

Such, at least, has been my experience.  If you really need to have a serious talk with someone.........  it's Suntory time 

Or (my preference)...............   Islay time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Froog Solutions (11)

Froog's solution to a conflict of debt....

Well, if I've owed The Weeble a wedge for a while now for renewing my VPN subscription for me on his credit card and I need to top up my electricity card... I figure I can live in darkness for a while.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anyone can be Aussie

Well, if you can pass the exam, that is.

Ah, things were so much easier in the good old, bad old days, when all you had to do was get caught pinching a loaf of bread.  Here's a brief animated history of Oz, if you need some more reminders of the 'highlights'.  Or check out this post from The Barstool the same time last year, for more key 'cultural' guidelines.

Yes, it's once again Australia Day.  And, as usual, the trio of Aussie-owned bars (12 Square Metres, MaoMaoChong and Ned's) clustered around the south end of Nanluoguxiang - the 'Vegemite Triangle' as Mr Boyce dubs this little nexus - will be celebrating their national heritage.... with drinks specials and excessive consumption.

Or so we are promised.

But, as I recall, last year's Oz Day party was a tad subdued - at least compared to the previous two years, when it had fallen over the weekend.  A midweek date isn't at all conducive to day-long drinking, nor to heavy night-long drinking.  And even those of us who don't have much employment to worry about at the moment may be discouraged from bar crawling by the brutal north winds we've been suffering so much of this winter.  The proximity of the Chinese Spring Festival is likely to dampen spirits and restrict numbers as well: the dratted holiday is barely a week away now, and almost everyone with any money or sense has fled the country already.... or is going to, within the next day or two.  [I think the best Australia Day bash I've been to was the one two years ago, where JK, the proprietor of 12 Square Metres, had been home in Oz for the big day, and threw a catch-up party when he got back a month later - on 26th February.  Australia, alas, picked a really bad day to be celebrating its nationhood in China.  Things would go much better in a month's time, when the weather's a wee bit warmer, and 90% of your mates aren't on holiday.]

It's also a bit discouraging that the Vegemite Trio have lately been the most egregious offenders in terms of the random opening vice that I complained of the other day.  Now, I forgive Sean at MMC, because he's been doing a sterling job of keeping the bar going singlehanded this month, while owners Stephen and Stephanie are away on holiday - and he has made it known to the regulars that he can't make it in before 7pm (or, when he's having to schlepp in from a day job in Yingzhuan [I don't even know where that is!], not before 7.30 or 8pm).  But god knows what's been up with Stevo at Ned's and Li Mei at 12 SqM: if a bar's not open by 7.30 or so, I kind of give up on it - and I don't think either of them have made that cut any time I've tried them in the past two or three weeks.  I expect they'll be making special efforts to open early today, perhaps even in the afternoon (well, probably not at MaoMao: it's one of Sean's 7.30-for-8 nights) - but I have to say, my confidence in their ability to open at a reasonable time, and my goodwill, have been seriously eroded by their erratic showing since Christmas.

So, I'm thinking I might give Australia Day a miss this year....  But I wish the best to all you Aussies (and faux-Aussies in search of a mid-week drinking excuse) who are stuck in The Jing on this national day: I hope you have a good time in the Vegemite Triangle, or wherever else you go for your bevvies.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The dream landscape

Most of the time, I don't remember my dreams.  And I am, on the whole, grateful for this, because when I do remember my dreams, it's usually because I've had a very disordered and unsatisfactory night's sleep - waking, or rising close to waking, several times.

On the other hand, the dreams I do remember tend to be extraordinarily vivid and richly detailed (and, often, narratively coherent), which makes me occasionally just a little regretful that I don't recall more of them.  A lot of people, I know, recommend keeping a notebook beside the bed to jot down anything you happen to remember if you wake briefly in the middle of the night - a 'Book of Dreams'.  I wonder quite how that works - is it just a case of facilitating the capture of fleeting memory traces, the fragments of dream story which endure in the first few moments of waking but have disappeared forever long before morning comes, or.... does the presence of the book, greedily waiting for content to be added to it, somehow make you more likely to wake up, more likely to remember, perhaps even subtly influence the kind of dreams you have?  Well, whatever - it wouldn't work for me at the moment, because the light in my bedroom's broken...

As I said in the opening post on here (long since added to the sidebar as the 'About the Blog' description), my memories of my drinking life tend to get muddled together; the fact that they all reside in a common category of my memory tends to create the misleading sensation that these recollections are all closely linked temporally and geographically as well.  Instead of a 'memory palace' for structuring my mental records, I seem to have a 'memory bar street' - and, usually, I picture it as being in either Oxford or Edinburgh (the two best pub towns I have known).  It worries me slightly that after so many years of drinking - almost exclusively - in Bejing, I might start to reassign my earlier drinking recollections, to locate them all in Nanluoguxiang or Sanlitun Nanjie or 'The Car Park'.  Luckily, that shows no signs of happening.  Perhaps quality trumps quantity in establishing the tracks - and the filing cabinets - in our memory.  Or perhaps it's just that the earliest memories create the templates, and later ones, however powerful or numerous, always meekly slot into the existing scheme.

Lately, I've been growing increasingly concerned about how this architecture of the memory may get distorted by the relentless industriousness of the imagination: as we get older, does it inevitably become harder - impossible - to distinguish between things that really happened and things we merely imagined.  I fear it may be a particular hazard for such an incorrigible storyteller as myself: casting an anecdote into words gives it a far more rigid and enduring form than the original memory, and can displace or corrupt that memory; the natural human impulse to embellish (and especially to seek to justify or exonerate oneself) can all too easily recast our image of what actually happened.  I am guiltily aware of there being a couple of stories I've invented about myself that now seem quite as real to me as my actual experiences, to the point where I am now only dimly, uncertainly, aware of the fiction; and, as my memory starts to become less robust in middle age, I fret that there may be other made-up (or heavily airbrushed!) incidents - tall tales and curious coincidences and moments of minor heroism - that have now become completely assimilated into what I think of as the true recollections of my real life.  My god, yes, this blog is probably full of them.

Anyway, this has been preying on my mind particularly of late because in the past week or so I've had two or three instances of - seemingly extended - dreaming about past phases of my life where I was drinking a lot (and enjoying my drinking!); but I realise that, although they fit very plausibly into my life history (the last, most intricate, mostly crisply remembered dream-sequence was clearly set during the period when I was working in Oxford in the early 1990s),.... well, um, these events, these drinking sessions didn't actually happen, these wonderful, sleazy, characterful bars didn't exist.  And yet they now seem very much as though they did; already I am having difficulty disentwining them from my real memories of Oxford in the '90s; and I rather fear that, before too long, they could supplant those true memories, or at least gain equal status alongside them, no longer recognised as products of the imagination.

I know I have had similar dreams quite often in the past; but usually these have been about single incidents or single nights of drinking, and mostly confined to just one bar - indeed, confined to a bar that did in fact exist, or was recognisably modelled on one or more bars that really existed (although there was an instance of a recurring dream I had a couple of years ago where the bar setting was a pure fantasy, with no close parallels in the real world).  These latest dreams were like potted summaries of extended periods in my life, involving whole networks of bars that I went to at different times, with different people, for different reasons - an astonishingly intricate fiction!!

And the dominant emotion I felt on waking from these dreams - before all the self-reflective angst above set in - was.... regret.  I found myself thinking, "Damn, THAT was good.  Pity that never happened.  I think that was actually even better than my Oxford experiences in the '90s."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Opening time

I am becoming increasingly disinclined to venture out in the evenings.

Savage winds seem to rage down from the north most nights, even when the days have been mild.  Most of my friends are away on holiday (or have left for good!).  And most of my favourite bars are not opening - at least not with any consistency.

Now, I sympathise with the difficulty of trying to run something like a bar business as an owner-manager, struggling to keep everything going almost singlehandedly.  And I sympathise with a disinclination to open early - or at all - when the weather is so inclement, and custom is so sparse.

But you need some kind of consistency and reliability about your opening policy.  You want to stop opening altogether on Sundays (Mondays, Tuesdays...) because there isn't enough business to make it worth your while?  Fine.  You want to start opening a bit later, at 7pm rather than 5pm or 6pm (or even at 7.30 or 8pm...)?  Fine.  But ADVERTISE your new opening times.  And then make sure you observe them as meticulously as possible.

You CAN'T just open whenever you feel like it - because, in no time at all, everyone will have stopped coming to your bar.

If we walk past a favourite bar that's usually open at 6pm or 7pm, and it's still not open at 7.30pm, we're going to assume that it will be closed all night.  There's really no point in opening up at 8.30pm - at least, not for those regular customers who always drop in early evening before heading off for a meal or a gig elsewhere.  Indeed, we'll probably assume - if it's in the slow first half of the week - that the owners have decided not to open at all on this day during the winter months.  And if it's during the busier second half of the week, we might well assume that the place is closed altogether; you really can't not open on time - even ONCE - on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday without people starting to think you might have gone out of business.

In fact, failing to open at a reasonable time, even once, potentially loses you A LOT of business (not just the business you might have got in that hour or two that you weren't open).  If a bar isn't open when I go to it, I'm going to go somewhere else.  I'll probably stay there all evening, and spend a shitload of money - and encourage my friends to come and join me there.  I might even start to like that somewhere else more than my former favourite bars, and elevate it to being my new default haunt.

If a bar is fairly regularly not open when I go to it (and I've had to go to some trouble to get there), I'm pretty soon going to give up on even bothering to check out whether it's open or not.

And if I've arranged to meet friends in a bar, and we've had to change our plans because that bar is mysteriously not open when we'd expected it to be open.... well, it's pretty difficult for me to persuade my east-side or south-side dwelling friends to come over to my part of town anyway; they're not going to have any truck with this particular bar any more (and this has happened three or four times now, just in the last few weeks).

A lackadaisacal approach to opening has always been my main problem with Ned's, the quaint little Aussie bar on Nanluoguxiang.  I like the folks there, but you just never know whether they're going to be open or not (especially early evening); and for that reason, regrettably, I have pretty much stopped going there - I probably only looked in on them a handful of times in the whole of last year.  Now, unfortunately, this disease has spread to a number of other bars in the area.

Bars - like trains - need to be RELIABLE.  If they're not, we'll find some other way of getting to our desired destination.

Bon mot for the week

"What we play is life."

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Great Love Songs (24)

Gosh, I suppose I must have had a crush on Suzanne Vega for 25 years now; I really ought to enrol her as one of my 'Fantasy Girlfriends' over on Froogville one day.  Another of her songs, Gypsy, was one of my earliest entries in this 'Great Songs' series.  Here's a wonderful live performance of the irresistibly lilting Caramel, with one of the all-time great bass lines.

And here's the original video.

And if your sweet tooth is not yet sated, here's a new version from her recent Love Songs anthology. Dreamy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Casting call

I've been thinking of making a few additions to my infamous Cast List post.  Here are a few of the possibilities I've been toying with....

Can you guess who they are??

HBH 218

Clock ticks, bottle pours,
The money slowly runs out;
A life slips away.

Shortage of cash always accentuates my glumness at this time of year, with a 3-4 month 'slowdown' (often a complete standstill) in work - from just before Christmas to well the other side of Chunjie - prompting me to embrace drastic economy measures.  It's not that I don't have any money, but I try to treat my savings as sancrosanct and live only on current cash-in-hand earnings.  Which means..... LOTS of "quiet evenings in", with only a bottle of Talisker and 1,500 DVDs for company.

And I am about to become officially 'broke'.  Yes, yes, I have my utilities mostly paid up until the end of my lease, and I've managed to salt away the next quarter's rent (which isn't even due for another 5 or 6 weeks), but I don't have any more "walking around money" - unless I raid the stash under the mattress.  Boo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recommended Posts, October-December 2009

A selection of highlights from just over a year ago....

Guided Tour - recommended posts from the 4th quarter of 2009

1)  Hunting of the snark  -  2nd October 2009
I disdain the vanity of 'live blogging', but.... I find the only way to make tolerable the banality of the PRC's "60th Birthday" parade through Beijing on the morning of October 1st is to mount a facetious commentary on it to my friends via SMS.

2)  A topical drinking game  -  8th October 2009
I come up with an idea for making the plodding propaganda epic, Founding Of The Republic (on nearly every cinema screen in the country during the National Holiday Week celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic), slightly more endurable.  Of course, it involves alcohol; lots of alcohol.

3)  All I want in a sports bar...  -  9th October 2009
Beijing these days just doesn't have any decent sports bars any more.  It shouldn't be that hard.  Here's my simple 'how to' wishlist.

4)  The invitation  -  19th October 2009
... to my birthday party.  (Yes, sorry you weren't actually invited.  But take a look - it's funny.)

5)  Trinity  -  23rd October 2009
What is with this 'rule of threes'?  There are only three bars I ever go to these days.  Perhaps even that's too many.  There are always three women on my mind.  That's definitely too many.

6)  The Beer Equivalence Index  -  27th October 2009
My useful tip for moderating your expenditure (and cheering yourself up) by calculating the value of everything (especially your meagre income) in terms of how many of the cheapest local beers you could buy for that much.  I added important supplements on using this technique to compare the cost of living in different cities/countries and to gauge the unevenness of income distribution in one city/country.

7)  Shit happens  -  12th November 2009
The Weeble and I engage in some banter on French profanity and Kurt Vonnegut...

8)  Beijing's Top Five Dive Bars  -  18th November 2009
I launch my new 'Top Fives' strand with a rundown of the sleaziest bars I have enjoyed drinking in over the last several years.  (Alas, only one of the five still exists.)

9)  A New Love  -  20th November 2009
No, don't be silly - not a woman, a drink!  I am smitten with a cocktail called The Black Feather (highlight of the menu at upmarket new bar, Apothecary - which, unfortunately, after a fairly promising start rapidly descended into being shit).

10)  A nasty moment  -  1st December 2009
I suffer a rather bizarre accident in a Chinese restaurant (but live to tell the tale, obviously).

11)  12 Square Metres: The Movie  -  7th December 2009
A local online TV station does a short travelogue spot on my favourite bar.

12)  Don't be a Chinese child  -  8th December 2009
I commemorate the 15th anniversary of the appalling Karamay theatre fire (in which over 300 people lost their lives, mostly young schoolchildren) with blind folk singer Zhou Yunpeng's scathing song on the subject.

13)  The veil pierced?  -  9th December 2009
I suffer a bit of a panic when it appears that my online anonymity has been compromised and a Beijing bar owner actually knows who I am.  This could be the end of everything!

14)  The perfect barmaid  -  18th December 2009
... can surely exist only in the realm of Platonic abstractions.  But we were lucky enough to experience a very close approximation for a short while earlier this year in Beijing.

15)  A man after my own heart  -  21st December 2009
Sometimes you encounter an ordinary Chinese bloke for whom you instinctively feel a deep kinship....

16)  Café Bohème  -  21st December 2009
A new-ish favourite find of mine in the hutongs....

17)  A Christmas Story  -  24th December 2009
From way back.... before I moved to China... a little anecdote of doomed romantic possibility that occurred during the 'Festive Season' - an early entry in my 'Great Dating Disasters' series.

18)  Little Frank  -  27th December 2009
Another dose of seasonal sentimentality: the story of the puppy who saved me from a nervous breakdown.

19)  More txt msg wistfulness  -  28th December 2009
A throwaway quip... that was just too good to throw away.

20)  My Top Five Christmases (in Beijing)  -  29th December 2009
Not all of them that wonderful, really; but each distinctive in its own way.  I was feeling particularly glum at Christmas this year, so thought I'd try to escape into nostalgia!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Way out yonder in Caochangdi (槽场地), a place which not so long ago was nought but a rough hamlet some miles clear of the tumultuous clamour of Beijing, but which is now, thanks to the tsunami-style onrush of the urban sprawl.... well, it's a different world out there, still.  It doesn't feel like Beijing, although it ought to.  Ranged along the outer edge of the North-East 5th Ringroad, it would appear now to have been absorbed into the mighty conurbation; Jiuxianqiao Lu, these days one of the most modern-seeming bits of Beijing, is only a couple of miles away; scores of trendy galleries and studios have sprung up around it, making it an offshoot of the not-so-far away Dashanzi/798 'art zone'; and yet, and yet.... somehow there's an obstinate grunginess about the place that gamely resists re-classification as a 'suburb'.

It is, thus, somewhat incongruous and surprising to find in the midst of this shabby little colony of unreconstructed 1970s China a rather classy and foreigner-friendly little restaurant called - quite quaintly, cleverly - Fodder Factory (a rare, possibly even unique example of business naming that is both appropriate [for a potentially mildly trendy, but still quite down-at-heel and unpretentious restaurant] and a good translation of the Chinese [apparently the area has been known for decades as a centre for the production of agricultural feed, and this is what Caochangdi means]).

The friendly laoban speaks very good English, and has translated his short-ish but just slightly out-of-the-ordinary menu into good English.  The decor is a cosy blend of naturally weathered traditional Qing-style furniture, diverting art bric-a-brac and pop culture kitsch (just enough, not wildly overdone as in most Chinese places of this type), and a few notes of memorable eccentricity (a very well-travelled double bass, missing a string, hangs upside down behind the bar).  The portion sizes are mostly pretty generous, and it's tasty, clean, well-prepared stuff.  At the weekend, we ended up spending only around 80 rmb each - despite a rash over-order on the desserts and drinking cocktails and semi-premium beers.

I would go out there again for the food (even though it's 10 or 12 miles from where I live, and I don't have much choice but to negotiate with a hei che driver in order to return to civilization afterwards), but... oh my god, I would certainly go out there for the booze.  I think the local beer is only 4 or 5 rmb for a big one, and they have some good imported stuff for 15 or 20, but the value is the 700ml bottles of Asahi Super Dry for 10 rmb.  Most of the cocktails and mixed drinks are only 20 or 25 rmb.  Their Long Island Iced Tea has the requisite five full, big measures (and, as far as I could tell from a few tentative sips of my friend's drink, full strength, non-fake booze!) for.... 30 rmb.  He's really not making much money on that.

Ah, this is what all of Beijing - the cheaper, more fun bits, anyway - used to be like 6 or 7 years ago, before the Olympics came along and spoiled everything.  No, no, it isn't.  It's what a few of the very best places were almost like, and we imagined the rest ought to be.  This is nostalgia, with improvements.

I am seriously tempted to look into hiring a mini-van and taking The Lads out there for a Big Sesh one Saturday Night.  I think we'd be "showing a profit" within a couple of hours.

And even if we didn't quite cover our transport costs.... well, it's just a much nicer place to drink - and eat - than almost anywhere I can think of in the city itself.  This could be my 'Big Thing' of the year....

(But then, I went a couple of times early last summer, and haven't managed to get back again since.  It is in Caochangdi, goddammit.  I think even our neighbour city of Tianjin is probably easier to get to [5 or 6 times as far, but with express road and rail links].  Christ, if you have the horror of hei che drivers that I do, even Shanghai is arguably easier to get to: the airports are crap, and miles out of town, but at least you can ride in on the subway these days....  It's a problem, yes it is.  But I think mini-bus hire might be THE ANSWER.  Watch this space.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

A lucky escape

Ruby acted as a mule for me when returning from her Christmas hols, bringing me back a nice bottle of whisky from the airport shop - Talisker.

I only managed to finally meet up with her to collect, after a week or more of near-misses and postponements, last Thursday.

I was walking around with it in a carrier bag, but just as we were entering a hole-in-the-wall restaurant to nab a few quick chuanr before checking out some music.... well, I still can't fathom how this happened, but somehow the darn bottle squirmed out of the bag (curse you, slippery material of MaoMaoChong carriers!), popped up in the air, performed two or three taunting end-over-end rotations, and then fell - from fully four feet off the ground - on to the hard, tiled floor... where it bounced tinnily, once, twice, thrice.  And it didn't break.

I was amazed.  Giddy with relief, but amazed.  As soon as I saw that I wasn't going to be able to make the saving catch, I'd given up on my expensive treat, written it off as lost.  The sight of the bottle lying at my feet - rocking from side to side, and with its gorgeous contents clouded, positively fizzing with the unwonted energy I had imparted to it - produced a lurching feeling of cognitive dissonance: it simply did not seem possible that it should have survived unscathed.

I'm going to enjoy drinking this all the more now.

Gosh, they know how to make glass - as well as whisky - in Scotland!

Bon mot for the week

"Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sombre news

I learned a couple of days ago that a 'cyber friend', someone I have recently come to know and like through her regular contributions to the comment threads on a favourite blog, was among the victims of the Tucson shooting last weekend.  Luckily, despite being wounded three times, it seems she was not too badly injured, is not in danger, should make a full recovery.

I was very distressed to discover this, and I think I should take a break from the usual frivolities on here for a few days.

Please take a look at the piece I just wrote about Ashleigh over on my other blog here; and then take a look at this post on her blog, where you can check for updates on her status and leave goodwill messages for her.

HBH 217

A few friends drop in,
Wine on the kitchen table;
Simplest parties best.

We had a very low-key birthday celebration for my friend DD at the start of the week; very low-key, but very pleasant.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Froog Solutions (10) [The L'esprit de l'escalier edition]

Froog's solution to the problem of being repeatedly embarrassed to be asked by strangers in bars what he does for a living, and blurting out answers that are inappropriately long and inappropriately honest, such as "I don't have any work at the moment and I'm not sure when I'm going to have any again and I'm probably more or less unemployable and I'm hating China these days and getting desperate to escape but I have no idea how I'm going to be able to do that" etc.:

"I'm in change management."

I wish I'd thought of that sooner.  I'm going to use it next time.

Froog Solutions (9)

Froog's solution to the problem of only having around 2,000 rmb to last until the end of the month:

Convert it all into booze (for drinking at home) now... and see how long it lasts.

Well, no, not really.  I did toy with the idea, though...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They don't mean ME, I hope!

No, surely not.

I might blog about being in bars, but I don't blog while in a bar.  I consider that appallingly anti-social, and a major waste of being in a bar.

I can't stand people who take their laptops into bars all the time.  We have a number of folks who do it at 12 Square Metres, and set them up on the counter - taking up valuable space that should be devoted to drinking and talking.  Gordon Bennet!  At least leave the big stuff at home, please, people.  If you're that addicted to getting online every few minutes, you can use an i-Phone or something.

Yet again, I despair of the modern world....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Performance review (last year's Resolutions revisited)

I decided not to bother with any of that New Year's Resolutions guff this year (not with any I'd embarrass myself in public with, anyway; I have some private goals - but private they are going to remain, for the time being at least).

However, I thought I'd offer a brisk review of how I did on last year's.  (Um, not very well.)

1)  I am going to finish unpacking and get my apartment straightened out by this weekend.
(ALMOST.  Well, I got my kitchen sorted out [a MAJOR undertaking!] within a couple of days of that Resolutions post at the beginning of the year, but progress in other areas was fitful, and the new pad wasn't really starting to look shipshape until the end of January.)

2) I am going to have a party at the beginning of next month.
(YES.  The infamous housewarming party at the start of February.  Yes, it happened.  No, it wasn't very good [attendance heavily impacted by inclement weather and the proximity of the Chinese New Year!], but it happened.) 

3) I am finally going to stop moping about Madame X.
(ALMOST.  I'm still suffering the occasional slight relapse; but, on the whole, I've done pretty well.)

4) I am going to visit Bangladesh.
(NOT MY FAULT.  The friend - crush - I was hoping to visit there was in the process of quitting the country, and travelling all over the place at the beginning of last year.  We did at least meet up when she was passing through Beijing in May.)

5) I am going to get a paid writing gig by the middle of this year.
(KIND OF.  Again, I fear it's probably more of a not really.  I have become an occasional 'China columnist' for a friend's motor racing website [under the tongue-in-cheek alias Giles Wade]; but I'm still not too sure when or how I'm actually going to get paid for this.  Just more hobby writing, really; nothing that's going to make my name.)

6) I am going to break myself of my 'pool divination' superstition.
(KIND OF.  Well, not really, NO.  Fact is, I didn't play very much pool or show very much interest in women this year; so, I undermined the power of the superstition [that success on the table is linked to  positivity and good fortune in other areas of my life, particularly romance] only by avoiding the input of any relevant new data - and that probably doesn't really count.)

7) I am going to invest in a bar or restaurant.
(NO.  Opportunities, alas, continue to be very limited; particularly for someone with a lot of enthusiasm and intelligence but very little actual capital.  JK was offering to sell the bar to me a few months back, but his asking price was.... somewhat unrealistic.  And I pondered having a dabble - as a consultant/manager/PR guy - in a couple of obviously failing Chinese ventures, but... couldn't see any way of making sure I got paid.  So.... this one's STILL LIVE for 2011!!!)

8) I am going to complete the Great Wall Marathon this May.
(NO.  I've been dogged by recurring injuries - and more generalised and mysterious 'ill health' - throughout the year, and have scarcely done any running at all.  Wretched.)

[Yes, I already offered a very similar mid-year review back in July...  No further progress, really.  I fear that, by the second half of the year, I had dropped even the pretence of trying with most of these...]

Bon mot for the week

"From the death of the old the new proceeds, and the life of truth from the death of creeds."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Another absinthe poem

I have been meaning for ages to dig out some more poems on absinthe, but I only just got around to applying myself to this task. I rather like this fine evocation of the feeling of being pleasantly wasted during the daytime - a feeling I haven't known in... a year or two, I would guess. For all its image as a non-stop party town, Beijing doesn't seem to be a place where people indulge in daytime drinking.

The Absinthe Drinker

Gently I wave the visible world away.
Far off, I hear a roar, afar yet near,
Far off and strange, a voice is in my ear,
And is the voice my own? the words I say
Fall strangely, like a dream, across the day;
And the dim sunshine is a dream. How clear,
New as the world to lovers' eyes, appear
The men and women passing on their way.

The world is very fair. The hours are all
Linked in a dance of mere forgetfulness.
I am at peace with God and man. O glide,
Sands of the hour-glass that I count not, fall
Serenely: scarce I feel your soft caress,
Rocked on this dreamy and indifferent tide.

Arthur Symons (1865-1945)

[Picasso's Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (The Absinthe Drinker) sold at Christie's a few months ago for $51.2 million.]

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A new music option

I admit I'm getting a bit jaded with gig-going in Beijing.  Most of the great rock bands of the last decade are either in decline or I'm getting bored with them through over-familiarity.  And - with the exception of the mind-blowing AIS - few of the new bands to emerge in the last few years have made much impression on me.

And jazz has always been very much the poor relation of the Beijing music scene.  The never very successful CD Jazz Café has attempted to reposition itself - with even more limited success thus far, I gather - as CD Blues; and while its sister club East Shore Live Jazz on Qianhai is a great little venue, it seems to have the same handful of house bands in permanent residency.  And the Tuesday night jazz jams at Jianghu seem to have faltered...  Very disappointing.

But somehow or other French harmonica virtuoso Laurent Maur has recently washed up on our shores.  He's currently duetting with a wonderful flautist called Emilie Calmé (it is only with great difficulty that I restrain myself from channelling Tino).  I first caught them doing a few songs together at one of VA's jam nights a month or so back, and had been blown away, very eager to hear more - so I was extremely grateful to my indispensable music grapevine Ruby for tipping me off at the last minute that they were going to do a full show at VA last Thursday.  Alas, in these January doldrums only about half a dozen people turned out to hear them - but I hope they won't be discouraged from seeking other gigs.  I'd love to see them with a permanent residency at East Shore!  It would be good to see them hooking up with a full band, too; at present, they're just playing with a recorded backing track on the laptop, which is OK, but, you know, it ain't got that swing.

I've been digging around on YouTube to see if I could find anything of them, but without much joy.  There is this extended experimental piece (I must pass it on to Crazy John, the man who invariably becomes aroused when he hears the term 'avant garde' used about music) by Octobre, a band Emilie used to perform with back in Bordeaux (though here she's just playing percussion in the background).  And Laurent has posted a few of his performances, the best of which (at least in terms of the video quality) is this, playing with a full orchestra.

["Now, Mr Burgundy, you will play some yazz flute for us." I knew I couldn't resist...]

Well, what do you know?  Laurent and Emilie are apparently going to be back at VA Bar again next Thursday, the 13th (although I have my doubts about the validity of that listing in the latest City Weekend: it's not in VA's programme for this month, and it seems a tad unlikely they would play the same venue two weeks in succession).  In the same - perhaps not so reliable - magazine, we are told that a Laurent Maur Quintet is going to be appearing at East Shore next Sunday.... warming up for the regular Sunday act, pianist Pierre Pradat and his trio.  Again I rather suspect this is a mangled listing: I think I'd place a little bet that in fact Laurent and Emilie are just going to sit in with Pierre's group.  But we shall see.  Either way, it should be well worth a look.
[Aha, I was mistaken on that City Weekend listing for this Thursday - one of those problems that arises from CW coming out on Thursdays.  No-one ever sees it until Friday at the earliest, so it's not widely appreciated that it comes out on Thursdays (and bi-weekly at that; very hard to keep track of its due-out dates, when all of its competitor publications are monthly).  And listings for a Thursday on the cusp sometimes - but not always - make it into back-to-back editions.  I'd just assumed that the new CW, which appeared to have come out after last week's gig, must be referring to a gig this week.  But NO.  Sorry.  The Sunday date (the 16th) at East Shore looks solid, though.]

UPDATE - 12/1/11:  Oh, darn it!  I just heard from Jean-Sébastien Héry, an old friend of Laurent and Emilie, that the pair just had to go back to France at short notice - so Sunday's date (the 16th) with Pierre is OFF.  Hopefully, they'll be visiting again at some point later in the year, perhaps playing a few festivals over the summer.  I am all the more grateful to have heard them play a few times during their brief stay here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

HBH 216

Lonely blows the wind
Down empty streets, past locked front doors.
Winter doldrum days.

I nipped out on Wednesday to see if anything was going on around my usual neighbourhood.  There were only a handful of people to be seen on Nanluoguxiang.  Several bars and cafés - including my best beloved 12 Square Metres - had decided they couldn't be bothered to open on such a raw night.  My favourite restaurant down that street, usually packed at 7.30pm, had only two small groups in - one of whom was just about to leave.  Returning past Salud a couple of hours later, I found the place about as dead as I've ever seen it - only about half a dozen people in, and no sign of the promised music show.  Stephen and Stephanie down at MaoMaoChong, anticipating how dead business is likely to be at this time of year, have decided to take the whole month off for a trip home to Oz - but at least their pal Sean is keeping the bar open for them.  That provided the one familiar haven in the 'hood on this night; but I had feared I might get trapped there all night by a guilty impulse to keep the barman company - luckily, after an hour and a half or so, someone else finally showed up.

I suppose a lot of laowai aren't yet back from their Christmas/New Year holidays.  And the wind has been particularly brutal over the past couple of weeks, enough to keep even the hardiest of us indoors for days at a time.  But gosh, I don't remember things being quite this QUIET in January ever before.  And we're still four weeks away from the Chinese Spring Festival - things will really be dead around then.  I wouldn't be a bar/restaurant owner at this time of year...

[By the way, I am aware of the syllable count offence in the second line; but I happen to think that, in this instance, the extra syllable sounds better.  So there.]

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Top Five Mornings After

My most loyal commenter over the past couple of years, JES, kindly sent me a link the other day to an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper on The 10 Best Fictional Hangovers.  (I do read The Guardian online fairly regularly, but this had somehow passed me by.)  All the expected entries are there: Kingsley Amis' Jim Dixon feeling as if he's "been expertly beaten up by the secret police", and Richard E. Grant in Withnail & I announcing, "I feel as if a pig shat in my head."  And there were a few that were new to me, too.  An amusing waste of 5 minutes.

And this got me to thinking, What incidents from my own experience might I compare to these?

Well, the problem is - as any long-standing readers of the blog might just conceivably recall - I don't get hangovers.  Not really.  I had ONE, an oh-god-NEVER-again humdinger after my brother's 21st birthday party (when I was only 14); and I think that set my pain threshold so high that I've never really suffered any post-drinking unpleasantness that seemed worth complaining of since.

However, I have - a handful or so times in my life (mostly in my first year or two at college, funnily enough) - drunk so much that I suffered a near total blackout about what had happened the preceding evening, and had to try to piece together the "unfortunate events" from the fragmentary clues in my immediate environment when I returned to consciousness the next day.  I think I can probably muster a Top Five from those experiences.

My Top Five Strange Morning-After Experiences

5)  How did she get there?
Well, I was a pretty wild drinker on occasion during my first year or two in Beijing as well.  I was too poor to drink anything other than the piss-weak local beer, but I'd often stay up half the night shooting the shit with my two best buddies, drinking solidly for 6 or 8 hours at a stretch.  After one such occasion, I was mildly alarmed - on rising shortly before dawn to stumble to the bathroom for an emergency piss - to discover a naked woman sprawled on the floor of my shower.  (Full story here.)

4)  TRAPPED - in my own trousers!
I had a good couple of years in Oxford in the '90s, returning to the scene of my wild undergraduate days to work as a private tutor for a while (after a nasty illness had punted me out of my schoolmastering career).  Because my old college buddies were not long out of that carefree world of drinking every night (far enough distanced to be starting to feel nostalgic for it, but not yet encumbered with the mortgages and marriages and so on that would get in the way of occasionally reliving it), I became a fairly regular focus of weekend reunions - often having three or four buddies crash out with me in my small (two single beds and a couple of armchairs) flat on Walton Street.  After one of the best of these - the exact details of where we went, and how much we drank, and WHY have always remained foggy; but there must have been A LOT of booze consumed - I found that I had stupidly hobbled myself by attempting to take off my jeans without removing my shoes first.  The jeans were stuck fast, wrapped around my ankles, pulled only a little way past the end of my toes; the legs of the jeans had somehow become so twisted that they were practically cutting off the blood supply to my feet.  And I found I'd given myself horrible rugburns dragging myself to bed.  I rather feared I was going to have to cut open a nearly new pair of jeans in order to extricate myself, but - with some difficulty - I eventually managed to slide a pair of scissors up inside the bottom of the trouser legs to snip through my shoelaces; after which, I was (not without some further struggle) able to remove the shoes, and finally the trousers.  That was probably the most angstful first twenty minutes of consciousness I have known the morning after a heavy night.

3)  Mysteriously neat
After one of the heaviest of my early college drinking experiences, I awoke the next day feeling remarkably tranquil and refreshed - far better than I had any right to, after the excesses of the night before.  Remarkably good physically; morally, I confess, I was a little troubled - there were nagging doubts that I might possibly have behaved badly the night before.  As I looked around my tiny student room, the first indication that something was seriously amiss was my clothes: they were folded neatly on the upright chair beside my desk.  Not casually draped over the chair back (as I'd usually leave them, if I went to bed moderately sober); not discarded in a rumpled heap on the floor (as I'd usually leave them, if I went to bed moderately drunk); not still on my body (as I'd often leave them, if I went to bed very drunk); neatly folded.  Further investigations revealed that I didn't have my room key, either; how on earth had I got to bed the night before??  Well.... as near as I can piece it together, a group of my new friends called down to me from an upstairs room (where they were, I believe, having the also popular but much more genteel tea-and-toast kind of undergraduate party - tea and toast at midnight??  oh yes, we were young and crazy then!) as I returned to the Freshmen's accommodation block after an evening of over-indulgence at some 'cocktail party' or other (all the rage in '80s Oxford, in the wake of the enormous success of Granada TV's adaptation of Brideshead Revisited - and a particularly dangerous phenomenon for the inexperienced drinker, because you never quite knew what you were imbibing or how strong it was; plus, these things tended to be all-you-can-drink deals, and an 18-year-old knows no self-restraint!).  One of them had lost or mislaid her room key, and we had already ascertained (don't ask me how) that her key and mine were a match (there were a lot of these key pairings in that building; not awfully secure, really), so she asked if she could borrow mine.  Recklessly, I tried to throw it up to their window 30 ft above.  Amazingly, I succeeded (though probably only after umpteen botched attempts; this detail is not recorded).  The friend only took a minute or two to open up her room, while I waited down below, in the small courtyard inside the building gate - next to the rubbish bins. Then she threw the key back down to me.  And - unsurprisingly - I had missed the catch.  It seems - although at this point my friends' versions of events became very sketchy, and not entirely consistent - that I convinced myself that the keys had fallen into one of the giant wheelie-bins (no lids on the darn things, or the lids open!!), and so I'd climbed inside it to try and retrieve them; I failed to find them, but made rather a laborious effort of climbing out again, and may have fallen and hit my head slightly as I did so.  At which point, two of my friends from the room above descended to rescue me - escorting me back to my room, undressing me, putting me to bed, and folding my clothes up for me.  Yes, they were  both girls - I blush for shame.  One of them was the one I'd been lending my keys to; hers, it seems, had somehow been locked inside her room, and she'd used them to open my room for me (convenient!).  My keys - which apparently hadn't been in the bin at all, but lying on the ground in more-or-less plain sight - were recovered by someone else, and returned to the College Lodge for my collection later.  Gosh, we were a friendly and helpful community - the joy of being a member of a small college!

2)  You don't want an audience for this
Fast-forwarding several years again to my spell back in that second-floor flat on Walton St in Oxford in the '90s... this was where I first started hanging out a lot with my two good buddies (and occasional commenters on my blogs) James The Nags and The British Cowboy (although he was yet to become The Cowboy), who were both stalwarts of the Oxford Union, and thus regularly managed to get themselves invited to the weekly freebie debauch of the Presidential Drinks (this was nominally a thank-you party for the celebrity guests who'd spoken in that evening's debate; but in practice the star speakers almost invariably headed straight off to a hotel somewhere, or tried to catch the last train back to London, so it was just an enormous piss-up for the Pres, and his friends, and the friends of his friends...).  A few times one or other of my new pals would entice me along to one of these (I didn't require a lot of persuading, truth be told).  And on one particularly extreme occasion... just as I was about to head home, at 1am or 2am, already severely pissed, The Nags lurched up to me, barely capable of speech but with an excited gleam in his eye.  "Look what I've found," he burbled, and produced an unopened bottle of Highland Park whisky from behind his back.  I think we drank at least half of it over the next couple of hours, with only a little help from a couple of other revellers.  In fact, the lion's share of it was mine.  I didn't have to work until the early afternoon the next day (a 16-year-old student was coming to my flat for a private Latin lesson), but, after consumption like that, I slept deeply until very shortly before then.  I found that on getting home I had managed to disrobe, but hadn't made it to the bedroom; I had crashed out in an armchair, wearing only my boxer shorts.  I had only ten minutes or so before my class was due to begin.  And I had a nagging feeling that I must have thrown up somewhere when I got home.  So, I spent several minutes running all over the flat half-naked, madly searching in every obscure corner I could think of for potentially embarrassing patches of vomit.  Mercifully, I appeared to be living in a vomit-free environment after all.  But I now had only about three minutes to spruce myself up and put on some clothes.  It was at this point that I noticed a pair of window-cleaners had been enjoying my strange performance...

And the doozie of them all....

1)  Ships that pass in the night
During my second year as an undergraduate (we don't use that 'sophomore' terminology in the UK, you know), I was very unhappy in my studies, and drinking.... well, for a while, way too much, I admit.  I think I was sort of experimenting with it as a drug, seeing how blitzed I could get with it, rather than just enjoying it as a mild buzz and a social lubricant.  I was - on just a handful of occasions - doing things like drinking a third  or more of a bottle of vodka, and then going down the pub for the night.  On one of these occasions I achieved a complete memory wipe - a blackout period whose contents I was never able to piece together, because I had apparently not been hanging with any of my usual friends (at least, not after the early evening), and so didn't have anyone to give me helpful reminders.  As with No. 3) above, I felt indecently well on waking, positively serene.  But the scene that greeted me in my room was even more puzzling than in that earlier instance.  I was naked in bed, apart from a pair of boxer shorts and my socks (I usually took my socks off, but put a t-shirt on to go to bed).  I was wearing a pair of sunglasses (at night, indoors, in bed??  and I didn't own any sunglasses!).  Two empty bottles of white wine were on my coffee table (I hadn't had any wine in the room, so I must have bought them from somewhere that night).  Strangest of all, dozens of my record sleeves were strewn across the floor; and some of my records were out of their sleeves (I would never, never, NEVER treat my records so disrespectfully!).  Ah yes, and there were two wine glasses on the table - one of them with lipstick on it.  I had evidently had one of the great music-enthusiasm-sharing evenings of my life with an entirely unknown young lady (but a lady, it would seem, of some taste and discernment).  I was very disappointed that I was never able to discover who she was, that she never came back to see me again.  I do hope I didn't do anything to scare or offend her that night.  (I think it's very unlikely; I'm just not that sort of guy.  Anyway, I like to fill in the gaps of that strange night with positive fantasies...)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My new hero

While doing some research this afternoon on national drinking habits (for work, honestly!), I happened to turn up this story on the Malaysian Pen-Tailed Tree Shrew (Ptilocercus Iowii).  It seems it was all over the worldwide media around the end of July 2008, but it passed me by somehow (I was probably a bit distracted by all the Beijing Olympics brouhaha).  Apparently, this little critter lives exclusively on nectar from the buds of the bertam palm - but this stuff naturally ferments, attaining an alcoholic content of up to 3.8% ("one of the highest alcohol concentrations ever recorded in a natural food"), comparable to what we'd call a 'light beer' in the West, and a smidge stronger than most of the local beers here in China.  And despite guzzling continuously for hours at a time, and clocking up blood alcohol percentages that would have most of us talking to God on the Big White Telephone.... this tiny tough-guy mysteriously shows "no sign of intoxication".

Respect, little fella.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The worst bar in the world??

I actually took a look inside the long derided La Fite Exotic English Bar (well, actually it's 'Exotic British', but let's not be pedantic) the other day.

The upper mounting of the 'pull' handle on the outside door has become detached, rotates freely around the lower mounting, threatens to come off in your hand when you grab it.  And the staff just shrug at you dumbly with a "Yeah, it's broken; ha-ha" kind of look which implies to me that it is probably NEVER going to be fixed.  This alone could tell you just about everything you'd ever need to know about this irrelevance of a bar (in my latest Froog Bar Awards I gave it the title of the city's Most Pointless New Bar).  The 'a' in 'Bar' on their neon sign (which they never seem to switch on anyway) has already come loose and lolls upside down.  I'm told that they used to have a large fibreglass Alsatian outside (??!!), but they seem to have decided to get rid of that - after someone tore its head off.

The interior displays most of the typical Chinese vices: despite having a fair-sized space, they've thrown so much furniture in there that it feels cramped and cluttered; there's nothing that establishes any 'theme' or character to the place; the level of lighting is, of course, much too high; and there is a hint of an unaired, slightly musty sort of smell  (probably suggesting that some of the staff sleep on site).

Ah, the staff.... never having seen a customer before, they are uncertain how to respond to our intrusion.  They rouse themselves grudgingly from their slump of catatonic boredom, but cannot bring themselves to utter a single word towards us - not even a mumbled ni hao.  At least they don't attempt to stop me from picking up a menu for myself to peruse their prices.

Aha - and here's the really big problem.  Despite having absolutely nothing - apart, perhaps, from a few incongruously fancy leather-look upholstered benches - that could elevate them above the level of a quaint neighbourhood dive bar, their prices across the board are 5-10 rmb more than you'd generally expect.  25 rmb for a stubbie of Tsingtao?!  Get OUT of here!!

No, I did not stay for a drink.

The only thing that may possibly save this dire venue from the accolade of being Beijing's (and China's, and the world's) WORST bar is that it has two near neighbours - Looking and Camel Bar - which look as though they might be even more awful.

It fair brings a tear to the eye to think that the one remnant of the great old Sanlitun South Bar Street has sunk to this.....