Friday, February 11, 2011

The Superbowl that (nearly) wasn't

Finding a venue to watch the Superbowl has become next-to-impossible.

I had originally planned to try out the (consistently well spoken of since it opened... a couple of years back now, I suppose) Irish Volunteer out by the Lido.  However, despite cruising past that area relatively often (DVD-buying sprees at Tom's or Sunday afternoon walks out to Dashanzi...), I have never yet managed to suss out exactly where it is.  And I hear it's a fairly small venue, so I feared there'd be a serious danger of unpleasant overcrowding.  And I found I just didn't have the requisite will-power to schlepp all the way out there on my own that early in the morning.  The reason I still haven't tried the place out in nearly two years is that it's just too damned far away.

My second choice would have been The Brick - but owner Lee had told me he wouldn't be able to open up because of his competing commitment to help run The Stumble Inn (of which I had better say no more).  Also pretty bloody remote from me, but reasonably accessible via the Line 10 subway: I was disappointed to learn that was a no-go.  I heard belatedly that Chad was planning to show the game at Grinders down that way, but... well, I wasn't confident I could rely on that information (does he even have a TV screen in there, much less a satellite??  I wasn't going to undertake such a huge trek just to watch the local BTV coverage on a small screen!)... and it's not a very cosy venue - more wine bar or bistro than bar.

So, my default option - purely on grounds of accessibility and reliability - became Paddy O'Shea's.  But boy, was that crowded!!  You could scarcely get in the door half an hour before the start of the game.  They were trying to redirect people to the Indian restaurant upstairs, but that didn't have a very appealing ambience (and was rapidly becoming almost as packed out as the downstairs).  Even worse, the audience here seemed to be entirely composed of raucous young Americans - who had played the game themselves in high school or college.  Very bulky lads, most of them.  And not adept at manouevring through narrow gaps; I lost count of the number of times I got barged in the back in just a few minutes.  And the handful of diminutive wait staff were completely lost in this burly throng: it was impossible to get a drink.  And the sound system in there is just awful: despite being boomingly loud, it was too indistinct to render the commentary comprehensible.  Time to try other options.

Sanlitun, alas, proved to be a ghost town: Luga's Villa (scene of my Superbowl bender last year) was... closed!! WTF??!!  (I suspect this means the place is on its last legs, if not demised already.)  So were 1st Floor and Bar Blu and the Saddle Cantina, which are the sort of places you'd expect to make an effort to show this.  (So too, apparently, was the Blue Frog, which had been advertised as planning to show the game; although the place is too pricey and too upstairs in a mall to win my consideration.  The same factors weighed against the Stumble Inn [which had, in any case, ineptly ruled itself out of contention by advertising - possibly misleadingly - a 150 kuai door charge!] and the Union Grille; although a couple of people have told me that the latter - despite being uncomfortably full - provided a pretty good experience of the big game.)

I moseyed by The Den, which - just before kick-off - seemed, surprisingly, to be not that full.  Pretty full, but not jammed-to-the-rafters full like Paddy's.  It might have had something to do with the two goons on the door, who seemed to be trying to extract a 50 kuai door fee.  I understand from someone who went a little later that this was supposed to be a special 'breakfast' deal, and was not compulsory - but that's not what they were saying to me at 7.30am.  He also told me they had a special deal on some of the beers - Beijing Draft and Carlsberg for 15 kuai, or something like that.  Again, NOT advertised outside, or mentioned by the guys on the door.  I hadn't fancied paying an extra 50 kuai (even if I was going to get some free food with it).  And I'd been worried that regular morning prices at The Den would be in force, and thus prohibitively expensive (their 'happy hour' tariff isn't really cheap; just a tad lower than other would-be 'high-end' bars these days, but not CHEAP; the double price they charge most of the time is just outrageous).  But I don't think even the 15-kuai beers offer would have tempted me in: the draught beer there has been disgustingly skanky every time I've tried it in the last couple of years or so.  I rather think they're getting their kegs at a discount because they're beyond their use-by date (and/or they never clean their lines).  No, The Den was not appealing.  Only one more possibility left to explore, and that a very outside chance....

I'd heard that Chicago Bears fans had been enjoying some of the playoff games in secret lock-ins at Hooters (the Chinese owner, apparently, supports the Bears), so I thought I'd give that a try.  Indeed, it was open.  Well, kind of.  The boss still hadn't remembered to open the front door 10 minutes after kick-off, which perhaps accounted for the fact that there was only one guy there watching with him.  And despite assurances that the game was to be available with both Chinese and English coverage, the TVs were only showing BTV (perhaps he meant that you could still just about hear the original American commentary at low volume underneath the inane babble of the Chinese presenters?).  Then I looked at the menu and remembered why I never go to this place - 28rmb for a stubbie of Tsingtao???  No, thank you.

I toyed with the idea of getting a cab out to the Irish Volunteer, but in the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday there are very few cabs out and about around Gongti at that time in the morning.  So, I found myself giving up and taking the subway home.  At least I was able to get a jian bing for breakfast at Dongsi Shitiao, and I made it back just in time for the start of the 2nd quarter (though, of course, I'd missed the Packers storming to an early 14-0 lead).  After a while, I became quite adept at 'tuning out' the distracting Chinese commentary (although at times it could become overpoweringly obtrusive:  "That guy just got kicked in the nuts - HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAA!!!").

Hell of a game!  The Packers had me sweating bullets in the last couple of minutes - but I had remained robustly confident through most of the game that they would prevail in the end.  Go, you Packers, GO!!!  (I've long had a soft spot for them; an inclination reinforced by fear of verbal or physical battery by my bud The British Cowboy if I dare to express any interest in or sympathy for any other team!)

[I'd been a little surprised - nay, mystified - by the size of the turnout at Paddy's.  It's not a great bar, and not - usually - a very American bar.  I hadn't known that the enormous Goose & Duck sports bar - a staple for Eastsiders - was closed for renovations!!  Or that The Den would have surly doormen discouraging people from entering.  Or that Luga's Villa would be CLOSED.  Or that just about everywhere else would be closed too.  There's been a huge increase in the number of Americans - young Americans, especially - in Beijing in the last few years; but there's been a dramatic withering in the number of sports bars.  I rather fear that I'm going to have to watch the Superbowl at home every year from now on...]


Anonymous said...

Sounds like its a good time to open a sports bar. Wasn't that a dream/goal of yours? I thought i remembered reading that on your blog before. It may just be transferrence though, cause its certainly a dream of mine.

Froog said...

A bar, yes; a sports bar, not so much.

But there is certainly a need. The two oldest-established sports bars here, Frank's Place and The Goose & Duck moved out of the city centre (way out, beyond the 4th Ringroad) a few years back. The other old stager, The Den, has apparently stopped playing game commentaries altogether; and, outside of its 'happy hour', it's prohibitively expensive. New openings in the last few years have all proven to be crap.

I went to the wildly erratic Luga's Villa last night to watch the Premiership football (because Paddy O'Shea's was once again so packed that it was impossible to get served). At 11pm, a DJ started up!! Within an hour or so, he had largely emptied the place... and I survived to the end of the Arsenal v Wolves game by improvising some earplugs from pieces of paper serviettes.

Oh my god, yes, THERE IS A NEED.