Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chinese hotel bars

I stayed in five different hotels during my recent three-week jaunt around China, and hung out in the lobbies of a couple more. I thought this experience might furnish a post or two about the experience of getting a drink - or trying to - in a Chinese hotel.

But, um, not really, no. Most Chinese hotels don't have a bar at all - or nothing that really passes muster as one. In the lower-tier cities, at any rate, even Western hotel chains are geared pretty much exclusively towards the Chinese business traveller. Thus, the facilities they provide will almost always include a karaoke lounge (often a synonym for 'brothel'), often a teahouse (ditto), and occasionally a spa (ditto). But no bar, as such. Western drinking culture still hasn't really caught on that much here, certainly not out in the sticks.

The Ramada Plaza in Guiyang, for example, has only a coffee shop (and a spectacularly awful one, at that); no bar.

The Crown Plaza in Kaili, however, does have what purports to be a bar. I didn't see anyone using it in the three days I was there - apart from a couple of Chinese guests who favoured it as a smoking lounge, but didn't appear to make any purchases. When I asked the two staff behind the counter for a menu, they gawped at me in amazement. As well they might - there weren't enough options to warrant having a menu. A few soft drinks, and a solitary beer (Pearl River from Guangzhou - fairly tasteless, and absurdly overpriced). No spirits - not even Chinese baijiu. I don't think this counts as a bar; more like a convenience store with a handful of armchairs.

In only one of the hotels I visited on this trip was I actually able to get a beer. It was a huge and severely underused place out in the wilds of Guizhou. I suspect it aims for the conference and wedding banquet trade, but doesn't market itself very effectively and is completely deserted most of the time. Its karaoke facilities took up most of the second floor, but they were - mercifully - not in use; and the reception area for this, apart from a vague musty smell, was a not unpromising bar. Well, it had a bar, for one thing, a wood-topped counter at a nice height for leaning; that's a good start! And it was dimly lit, quite cosy. There was even a member of staff on duty who was aware that it was his job to sell drinks to people - although he might not often have been called upon to do so. Once again, there were no spirits. But there were two types of beer on offer, and they weren't outrageously expensive. Unfortunately, there were none in the fridge, so the barman had to take one from a pyramid display on the glass shelving behind him. He hadn't served a drink in so long that he had forgotten where the bottle-opener was kept; so - after a long, futile search - I persuaded him to accept a loan of mine. And when I finally tasted the beer, I discovered - of course! - that it must have been some years past its sell-by date and was absolutely vile.

But at least I had managed to buy a beer in a Chinese hotel. That is quite a challenge.

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