Sunday, March 27, 2011

Top Five Places To Drink Outdoors

Spring always seems to arrive in Beijing on the last weekend of March (well, every year I've been here, except last year - when it continued bitterly cold through most of April, and we didn't really experience a "spring" at all). It's perhaps a smidge late this year... but it's stayed just above freezing overnight for the past 3 or 4 days, and today is the first day the temperature has nudged above 60⁰ F. Hence, the birds are singing their heads off, and the buds are stirring, poised to burst forth in the next day or two.  By the middle of the week, we're predicted to be enjoying temperatures in the 70s.

This seems like a good excuse to review some of my favourite places for drinking in the open air. If I were a well-heeled Eastsider, I might mention places like Q or Capital M - upscale bars and restaurants that are noted for their terraces. But I never go to places like that.  No, my preferred venues for spring and summer drinking are more like this....

My Top Five Places To Drink Outdoors

5)  Out in the country
A couple of my friends, DD and The Choirboy, rent small courtyard homes out in Huairou County as weekend getaways (coincidentally, almost next door to each other in the same village).  These are very, very fine spots for imbibing beers around a barbecue, but.... unfortunately, the three-hour travelling time to get there is a bit of a disincentive, and I only ever make it out there a few times each year.

4)  Any xiaomaibu
The authentic Beijing experience involves buying a beer from a neighbourhood convenience store on a hutong and then lounging around outside to shoot the breeze with the owner, or watch a group of old codgers playing Chinese chess on the sidewalk.

3)  Any Xinjiang restaurant with seating on the street
Alas, our old Nanluoguxiang favourite - "The Kebab Queen" - is long gone now. Moreover, sitting outside was widely outlawed during the run-up to the Olympics three years ago, and in many parts of the city the practice has been slow to re-establish itself. However, there are still plenty of places in the hutongs around my way where you can do this - almost all of them Muslim chuanr factories - and this is how I'll probably spend most of the my summer... if the weather's nice.

2)  A friend's veranda or balcony or rooftop
I have many fond memories of drinking on a roof or a balcony in years past. Unfortunately, I don't really know anyone who has such a thing any more. My friend KP used to have a great penthouse apartment with a terrace just south of Chaoyang Park, but she sold it a couple of years ago and moved to somewhere rather more modest. The Choirboy has a nice but very tiny courtyard - that's about it for the open-air drinking in my circle at the moment. I really should try and find a siheyuan of my own again....

And in the top spot....

1)  'The Steps'
Arguably just a variation on 4) above, but this is particularly special for me.  For 5 or 6 years now, my best buddy The Choirboy and I have enjoyed fairly regular weekend rendezvous in Bell Tower Square, getting a few 2 kuai beers (well, 3 kuai now) and lounging on the steps in front of the Tower and watching the world go by.

Who needs Sanlitun and its poncey roof-terrace bars?  Really??


Gary said...

Oh that makes me nostalgic for the Jing. Downing a cold Yanjing on one of those tiny plastic stools in front of the neighborhood store is a great way to spend a summer's evening.

Froog said...

Squatting on those ridiculous stools wrecks my knees and my bum cheeks if I do it for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

But loafing on a sidewalk is definitely good for the soul.

Nice to have you back, Gary. You have been a busy commenter today!

Aer Conditionat said...

A beer in the mountains i like the most, for me this is the best place in the world.

Froog said...

Ooh, a Romanian Spambot broke through my defences!