There's nothing like A FREE PISS-UP as a last hurrah for a condemned man, so it was fortuitous timing indeed that The Beijinger Bar & Club Awards junket should fall this year on the weekend before I leave China.
Though I have railed often against the organization of this event, and raised doubts about the legitimacy of its polling (half the votes seem never to get counted because of glitches with the survey widget or failure of the second round of e-mail "voting confirmation"), but on this occasion... the results seemed fairly credible... rational.... well-deserved (even if arrived at by dubious methods). Migas seems like an appropriate winner of the 'Best Bar' award: it's not the kind of place that I would ever go to, but it appears to be well-run, and it has certainly made a splash this year, garnered a lot of good press. It's nice also to see a more European-oriented venue being honoured in these awards; in the past, they have tended to be dominated by places popular with the Anglophone, and more specifically with the American crowd.
And I was pleased to see friends do well: Stephanie Rocard was 'Bar Personality of the Year', and she and Stephen won a clutch of other awards for their hutong haven MaoMaoChong, the biggest haul of the day (they've immediately gone on holiday to celebrate; but I gather they have some distinguished guest barmen holding the fort for them this week); the lads from new music bar Temple won a couple of gongs; and Jeff from Mai picked up one of the Editor's Picks as 'Best New Bar'.
The venue (the sunken 'amphitheatre' at the south end of the Sanlitun SOHO mall) didn't work out too badly either - although an open-air event was taking a big chance on the weather staying fine. Things did get uncomfortably humid for a while in the mid-afternoon, and it began spotting with rain in the evening - but nothing too serious. It was also quite a democratic choice, in that non-ticket-holders could watch the show for free from the surrounding galleries (although there never seemed to be more than a couple of dozen such onlookers, all Chinese - most of them probably plain-clothes policemen, or citizen vigilantes hoping to get footage of riotous debauch on their camera-phones for uploading to the new 'Shame foreigners!' Weibo thread).
Much credit is also due to the team from Vandergeeten beer distributors who kept draught Stella, Hoegaarden, and Chimay flowing freely throughout, and managed to remain remarkably good-natured while doing so, even though increasing numbers of their consumers were not behaving so decorously. They even managed to get hold of some additional kegs after they'd appeared to run out more than an hour before the end - which was an especially impressive achievement. At just about every event of this nature I've been to before, the booze has run out prematurely.
The security and cleaning staff from the mall were also exceptionally friendly and efficient - another major plus.
Other aspects of the event were less successful, though. The ticketing was even more chaotic than usual. The PA wasn't loud enough to hear the presenters very clearly. The food options were few in number (THREE?) and very, very limited in quantity - ran out in no time. The venue was a bit small (just right, as it happened, for the numbers who showed up; but the turnout was quite a bit smaller than in the last two or three years). The stage show wasn't up to much (I had thought the flair bartending and exotic dancers from Chocolate had become a fixture for this event?!): a bunch of Jamaican rappers whose songs/sets seemed to go on interminably, and engendered boredom/irritation in just about everyone (not just rap-averse old fuddy-duddies like me). And the choice of a Saturday seemed extraordinarily inconsiderate towards the F&B professionals for whom the event was principally staged: most of them had to moderate their drinking and/or scoot off early. (City Weekend is arguably even more cock-eyed this year; they're holding their Bar Awards this Wednesday!) I hope the organisers will see sense and hold this awards show on a Monday or a Tuesday next year.
[I'm still in a grump about the ticketing cock-up. I heard a lot of people only got their tickets at the last minute, or didn't get them at all, or didn't get the number they'd requested. As a 'nominator', I believe I was supposed to be entitled to a ticket of my own (but the folks at The Beijinger always FORGET to do anything about this; last year I was only offered a ticket a matter of hours before the event, when there was obviously no time to arrange collection of it, nor even to confirm my desire to attend). I'd also been invited along by some bar owner friends, but they didn't receive the extra tickets they'd been promised. So, I had not one but TWO legitimate grounds for requesting a ticket on the door. Unfortunately, there was no "door list" - neither of individuals entitled to attend, nor of participating bars (and the number of tickets allocated to each). Thus, there was no straightforward procedure for claiming a ticket. I suppose I could have blagged or bullied my way past the girls at the check-in, but I didn't want to be so forceful about it (I hear a lot of other people later weren't so restrained). Luckily, a pal who works for one of the other True Run Media titles offered me a spare ticket.
It shouldn't be like this, people. It's not that hard to arrange to distribute tickets well in advance. It's not that hard to keep a comprehensive list of who's supposed to be coming. It's not that hard to set up contingency arrangements for allowing admission to people who show up without their tickets. Please try to get on top of this next year.]