Friday, April 15, 2011


The other week, a friend was trying to goad me into joining him at a ridiculously overpriced bar.*

I responded: "Or I could just set fire to a pile of money. That way, at least my ancestors might have a good time."

* The bar was Face, a Shanghai transplant with Shanghai prices - round about twice as expensive across the board as almost any other bar in Beijing (other than hotel bars or members' clubs, that is; and it's really not at that level of swankiness). I went in a few times when it first opened three or four years ago, and thought it showed promise. The prices, I think, were not quite so stupid back then. The staff were very good. And they did things like ask you what kind of gin you wanted in your G&T, something that was unheard of in The Jing back then. And they did a proper 'happy hour' - everything half price. However, I had a particularly dispiriting experience there with Madame X, my great thwarted infatuation of a few years ago (not the bar's fault, but it was an unhappy memory that rather deterred me from returning). And it is rather off the beaten track for me. And too damned expensive. I hadn't been there in a year or two.

And yet, strangely, I have a group of friends who have made the place a fairly regular after-work rendezvous. They've built up a good relationship with the staff there. And they seem to like the fact that they almost always have the place completely to themselves (if the bar has any custom at all, I assume it must be the high-rollers who like the air of 'exclusivity' engendered by the ridiculously high prices, and are actually put off by a 'happy hour' that might entice the riff-raff in; early evening, the place is almost invariably deserted). And, from time to time, they badger me into joining them. I am usually resistant. I hadn't answered the call in well over a year, perhaps nearer to two. But a few weeks back, I gave in.... and was horrified by how much worse the place has become.

Even my friends admit the place is losing much of whatever 'charm' it once had for them. The prices have got steeper. Several of the long-standing staff have left recently. They no longer ask you about your gin preference. Indeed, the 'happy hour' tariff now seems to be restricted to just a few items: 30 kuai for a glass of Carlsberg (yep, a glass; just 250ml, I think) or a mixed drink (the G&T is made with a 'house gin' that they decline to identify for you; I've had weaker ones, but it is served - heretically - in a tall glass, with far more ice than either gin or tonic water; not good). 30 kuai???? That's full price - more than full price - at most other places. How can they expect to compete with the generous 'happy hours' at nearby Scarlett or Fubar or George's? Well, maybe they don't want to.

But WHY do my friends still go there?  It makes no sense. I must try to break them of this foolishness.

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