Monday, March 14, 2011

Mongolian expansion

Alus, the creator of cosy bohemian hideaway Amilal, has finally got around to launching his long-rumoured second venue.

It seemed at first that the new place was was to have borne the name Amilana (ostensibly the originally intended name of Amilal... but abandoned in deference to a signwriter's mistake?!), but now our genial laoban has put up a sign outside saying Alus. Or rather, Aluss. [Now, that's a whole can of worms in itself. My friend The Weeble has long quixotically sought to popularise the spelling 'Alc' for our favourite Mongolian barkeep's name, although he has never deigned to explain the rationale for this. And, master of many languages though he is, I don't think he numbers Mongolian among them. 'Alus' seems to be the more logical Romanization of how he says his name, and this is the way that almost everyone else spells it. (I myself have oscillated inconsistently between common sense and The Weeble, just as I have flirted with trying to think of our second home in the hutongs as Amilana rather than Amilal.) Now, the man himself seems to be endorsing a double 's' at the end of his name: 'Aluss'. Though I wonder if in fact it was meant to be Alus's (place), and the signwriter has bungled again.]

There was a rather grand opening party for the - as yet unnamed - new venue at the end of the Spring Festival (with free Harbin and Tsingtao beers, and a musical performance by Mongolian folk-rockers Hanggai - although I missed them, alas), and then a second opening last Friday to launch a small exhibition of Alus's (I think this is the spelling I'm going with until The Weeble comes up with a satisfactory explanation for that 'c') atmospheric - grainy, blurry, black-and-white - photographs of the Mongolian steppes. No freebies this time around, but there was a more substantial bar available (a fair number of the imported beers and malt whiskies had been carried over from Amilal), and the superb multi-instrumentalist Ajinai gave us a few traditional Mongolian songs (ably assisted by Sam on the hand drum). God, I love the timbre of the morin khuur (the Mongolian 'horsehead fiddle' - a large, upright, two-stringed fiddle that sounds something like a cello would sound if it had had a very lonely childhood in the desolate grasslands), can't get enough of that instrument!! (It was unfortunate that a pair of builders were drilling holes in the wall outside to hang up the new 'Aluss' sign while this wonderful music was in full flow.)

Alus's hopes for this new place place remain somewhat obscure. It's a good exhibition space; but, at the moment at least, it's too big and too bare to be much good for live music - it has a terrible echoey acoustic. With its bare floor and stark white walls (and, thus far, minimal furniture), it's not nearly cosy enough to appeal as a coffee bar sort of spot; and I think it's too spartan to work even as an industrial-minimalist sort of trendy cocktail bar. I can't see the wisdom of opening up a second place so close to his original bar; and even though it's in a rather more prominent location than dear old follow-the-trail-of-breadcrumbs Amilal, I fear being upstairs (and seemingly inside a clothes shop) is going to be a major handicap to attracting much passing trade. He doesn't seem to have taken any significant steps towards kitting it out or finding staff for it yet (on these first two isolated openings, he's just closed up Amilal for the night and moved everyone over to the new place).

Perhaps he is going to run it just as an occasional special event venue. I hope he hasn't committed himself to too high a rent. And I hope, hope, hope it's not going to have a negative impact on the running of our beloved Amilal.

But that's Mongolians for you: they can never rest content with one success; always they look wistfully towards the horizon for new worlds to conquer.

Do you hear the thundering hooves?

[I'm told Aluss has been fully 'open' since that day, and is siphoning off some of the young trendies from Amilal. It seems to be pitching itself primarily as a 'coffee shop' - something like Café Zarah - although it appears to be attracting more trade in the evenings. And I'm told that, after a couple of weeks, they still didn't have a coffee machine! I fear for the place's viability. For one thing, they really need a street-level sign to give it some visibility.]


The Weeble said...

In the Cyrillic orthography for Mongolian, his name would be "A(L)C" (the "L" being a lambda), so I'm just transliterating. "Alus" and "Aluss" are derived from the Chinese representation of his name, "A-lu-si." In point of fact, his name is one syllable; ditto his brother Wul ("Wula"). But it's a losing battle and I'm just being a pedant and I've seen no indication that he cares very much one way or the other; he probably feels more or less the same way I did, having grown up hearing and seeing diverse mispronunciations and misspellings of my name.

As for the urge towards expansion: I do hope that the new place will not prove his Afghanistan, but I have my doubts as well. On the other hand, it is stocked with a very nice American pale ale.

Froog said...

But who any more uses the Cyrillic orthography? Isn't that all very Cold War?

And the Cyrillic 'C' is an 's'. So, a Romanization rather than a Cyrillicization would be 'Als'; and would probably require extension into a double syllable, because too many consonants together just don't look elegant (and that is how everyone - including himself - seems to say it).

So, is the new place open on a regular basis now?? What for?? Who's running it??

The Weeble said...

The new place appears to be open on a regular basis now - Wul is helming it. Unlike Amilal, it will be open during the day, and I suspect it will make for a nice place to drink coffee and people-watch through the windows.

I'm not really sold on it as a bar either, but we'll see -- maybe they'll pull a rabbit out of the hat with this one. I'd been somewhat dubious about Amilal when Alc walked me through it back in January 09 -- so my taste is clearly not indicative of anything. With any luck, the Eurotrash, hipsters, and other New People will gravitate towards the new place and leave Amilal for the lifers.