Monday, April 25, 2011

The Beijinger Bar and Club Awards - it's déjà vu all over again

The nominations for the 'Best Bar' category in The Beijinger's awards this year are:

d lounge
El Nido
1st Floor
Paddy O’Shea’s
Yugong Yishan

As I complained last year, it is kind of perverse to lump all varieties of 'bar' in together in this.  Hotel bars, cocktail lounges, dance clubs and live music venues - and, this year, 'hutong bars' - get double or treble coverage with their own specific categories, while honest-to-god bars tend to get sidelined.

This year, once again, I would say that most of the nominees are not 'real bars'. Apothecary, d lounge, and Mesh are cocktail lounges; Punk and Yugong Yishan are music venues; MaoMaoChong is primarily a pizza restaurant. So, that leaves 1st Floor, Paddy O'Shea's, and El Nido.

And, as I further griped in a comment on that post last year, the nominations phase at least (and, I fear, the voting too to some extent, despite supposedly elaborate efforts by organiser Michael Wester to weed out 'ballot stuffing') is clearly heavily influenced by the wealthier venues that hire PR firms to organise 'campaigns' for them. Nobody I know goes to Mesh; having been a handful of times myself, I would say that its customer base is primarily Chinese yuppies; I can't believe that it has anything like as much of a laowai following - in the field of cocktail bars - as Mix or Q Bar or George's or Xiu or Atmosphere (or even the perpetually dismal but long-established Centro). Pure PR power behind that nomination.

It would also seem that sheer novelty holds quite a sway over the younger generation of attention-span-challenged voters. The three frontrunners this year (apart from Paddy O'Shea's, which will obviously win) are El Nido, MaoMaoChong, and 1st Floor - which all opened just last year. Yet the veterans of the scene are all mysteriously overlooked (in terms of revenue, the most consistently high-performing bars in this city must surely be The Den, The Tree, Maggie's, and Suzie Wong's - where are they in this list?). Even last year's runaway winner Fubar has dropped out of sight this time around - oh, the fickle Beijing drinking crowd!

I'm glad to see El Nido and MaoMaoChong receive some public recognition here. These, I feel, are 'genuine' nominations, the result of effusive word-of-mouth support from happy customers rather than a big advertising spend. However, I dread to think what the consequences of this publicity might be. They're both much too small to cope with large crowds, and the essential element of their charm at the moment is the sense of being a 'clubhouse' for small bands of enthusiastic regulars who live locally; 'success' would spoil them, perhaps destroy them. 'Hidden Gem' or 'Hutong Bar' is their proper niche.

I have the same reservations about my other favourites in the area where I live: 12 Square Metres, Amilal, The Pool Bar, Jianghu, and Tree House are great little bars - but emphasis on the little. They cannot, do not, should not aspire to garner headlines and attempt to draw in big crowds; they simply wouldn't be able to cope. The 'Best Bar' accolade, I feel, must be reserved for a bar that can unite some of the disparate constituencies amongst Beijing's drinkers, that can both attract and deal with fairly large numbers of people - a 'destination' bar.

My nominations for 'Beijing's Best Bar' would be as follows:

The Brick
The Tree
The Den
The Bookworm
Saddle Cantina
Black Sun
Paddy O'Shea's

Note that, of these, I only really like the first and last. However, they all have the 'profile' to be worthy of consideration: just about everybody's heard of them, even if they've never been to them. They can reasonably be defined primarily as 'bars' rather than anything else (no 'double love' for hutong hideaways or music clubs or swanky cocktail bars). And they do - just about (The Brick, Black Sun, and Kai are at the more bijou end of the spectrum; but I was trying to be as inclusive as possible) - have the capacity to cope with high customer traffic.

Only ONE of these bars made it into The Beijinger's nominations??!! Something going wrong round here....

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