Thursday, September 22, 2011

Perverse nostalgia

I happened to be walking along Gulou Dongdajie at something after 10pm last night, past the new Guitar Bar, when I heard the all too familiar strains of El Condor Pasa blaring out of the doorway.

That tune, more than any other on their completely unvarying set list of plodding, elevator-muzak 'classics', got to bug the crap of me when they were at their tiny original location half-way down Nanluoguxiang - because it seemed to be be always what they were playing when I was heading down to my local, 12 Square Metres, in the mid-evening.

They seem to have shunted back their playlist by an hour or so (it was usually around 9.15 or 9.20 that I'd encounter the song in those days), but otherwise things at the Guitar Bar are EXACTLY THE SAME.

And you know what? For a moment, I found myself thinking, "Ah, that... I almost miss that!"

It's a funny thing, nostalgia: memory-triggers give us a warm feeling, even if the memory they summon is not a positive one; it's as if the mere act of remembering somehow gives us pleasure.

Well, the set list at The Guitar Bar is exactly the same. The amount of custom has dropped off substantially. Or perhaps it's just that 6 people might have looked like a decent crowd in that cramped original venue, but in the new, much larger space it seems pitiful. Nightly live music was a unique offering on Nanluoguxiang until recently, and there's such a huge amount of foot traffic down that street that you're always going to attract in a fair few curious punters with something like that, no matter how crassly the music is done or how crap your bar is in other respects. This doesn't seem to be true on Gulou Dongdajie, even though it is only just around the corner. The street is very nearly as busy, but it's a completely different demographic: mostly locals rather than tourists, mostly not very affluent, mostly interested in the cheap Chinese restaurants along the street rather than a 'Western nightlife' kind of experience.  The potential walk-by custom for a bar, I would surmise, is chiefly foreigners - on their way to Amigo or Amilal, or shuttling between Nanluoguxiang and the trendy Fangjia and Wudaoying hutongs off nearby Angdingmennei street - people who would not touch the Guitar Bar with a bargepole.

It's a pity, because it is a very nice space and a promising location. Vulture time, I think: I shall continue to monitor how dismal their custom is, and perhaps prepare to move in with a buy-out offer...

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