The unfortunate consequence of Paddy O'Shea's having become in effect the only game in town as far as sports bars go is that it is now often too crowded for its own good. It was impossible to get through the door well before kick-off in this year's Superbowl. And it's becoming a problem on proper football nights (that's 'soccer' to you, Yankees) that it is attracting ever larger numbers of Chinese fans (who mostly drink little or nothing, but take up so much space that it becomes difficult for anyone else to get served promptly). It's just not viable to try to watch Manchester United games there any more (because 80% of Chinese football 'fans' support Man U, and the place gets completely heaved out with them).
Enter James Joyce - not the Irish literary giant, but the new bar bearing his name that opened up on Xindong Lu a month or so ago. OK, it's still a bit all-over-the-place in a lot of ways (rather provisional-looking menu, staff who don't know how much anything costs, very limited 'happy hour' advertised only discreetly on a blackboard behind the bar), and some of its prices are pitched stupidly high (the food, in particular, needs to be closer to The Den's price level than Blue Frog's!!). However, it has a real wood fire down at the far end of the room, it serves way the best pint of Guinness in town (for 50 kuai - which, alas, counts as "cheap" these days), the spirits appear to be all non-fake (which is becoming a real rarity around Sanlitun), the staff are mostly pretty good, and the Malaysian Chinese landlady is a diamond. And they have a great location, just off Sanlitun, midway between The Den and Paddy's - poised to catch their overspill.
They only have two TVs at the moment, but they are good ones; and I like the fact that means that it doesn't feel like primarily or exclusively a sports bar, that it's possible to ignore the game if you just want a drink and a chat with friends. What's more, the landlady is well clued in to what's on - which is seldom or never true anywhere else (even Paddy's suffers headless chicken syndrome whenever manager Karl's not around).
And nobody seems to know about the place yet. (Or maybe they do, but they're put off by the prices.) So, it's becoming a very attractive, uncrowded alternative to Paddy's - and the other wretched representatives in the sports bar field. I've watched my last few English Premier League matches there - last week's Manchester derby, this weekend's thriller between Chelsea and Arsenal.
Some of those prices make me wince, though. A proper 'happy hour' would go a long way to overcoming the psychological barrier I feel about spending money in there.
And I've just discovered that local station BTV6 has a full programme of live Premiership matches this year (for the first time in ages). I think I'll be doing most of my football watching at home from now on - at least during the long cold months of winter which are now descending upon us.