Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Five Beijing bars I miss

I'm surprised I haven't got around to doing this list before. I really must do it now, since I'm shuttering the blog, and planning to move on from Beijing. In ten years of drinking here, there have only been a handful of bars that I developed a real fondness for; and - such is the way of this crazy city - most of them only lasted a year or so.

Froog's Top Five Defunct Beijing Bars

5)  Handsome Café
In around about 2004, this was the only bar I'd go into around Sanlitun. An awful name, but it had a good vibe: cheap'n'cheerful, with friendly owners. It lasted barely a year, I think. There's something jinxed about that space (the semi-basement below what is now Luga's Villa); despite its very central location, nothing in that building ever seems to prosper.

4)  Yugong Yishan (the original one)
I had a lot more work over on the east side of town in those days ('04-'07, I suppose), so I was quite often passing through the Sanlitun/Gongti area in the evenings mid-week, and whenever I was, I would invariably look in on the cosy YGYS to see if anything was going on. Even if there wasn't (Tuesdays were almost always dead), I'd stop to play a few games of pool with the barman.

3)  Room 101
Some readers might have expected this one to rank higher, since it was my principal resort through much of 2008. However, it was always struggling for direction (haphazard in its food offerings, its 'happy hour' promotions, its staging of live music, and other intermittent special events), and never looked likely to endure for long - particularly after Olly came on board in the early summer and convinced the other partners to try to make it more of a restaurant. The tiny stage in the corner was kind of fun. It had a beautiful little island bar - the only one I can remember in Beijing. It had a great music selection (much of it dictated by - and, indeed, donated by - me and my main drinking buddy of that year, Crazy Chris). And, for a while, it had the cheapest draught Stella in the city. But I really only dug the place during the few months when my old pal Jackson Bai was running the bar.

2)  B2M (aka 'The Moatside')
The first - and best - of many out-of-the-way hobby bars I've happened upon over the years, and subject of one of my earliest posts on here. It was tiny, difficult to find, far off the beaten track - and only survived on the custom of friends of the owners. But it was a homely little space, and a regular hangout during the '03-'04 winter. The Chairman and I gave some very serious consideration to taking it over when its original begetters, an Australian girl and her Chinese fiancé, departed on their epic bike ride from Beijing to Melbourne (the source of the bar's cryptic name).

But in the top spot we have...

1)  Huxley's
Its second incarnation on Yandai Xiejie, that is. Yes, of course, it's still there. But, really, it's NOT. Nowadays, the booze is mostly fake, the staff are charmless and often downright surly, and the clientele is mostly tourists or American high schoolers (it seems to have become the Houhai counterpart of the horrendous Pure Girl). It has lost the unique ambience that made it the best bar in the city during its first couple of years ('05-'07), when Jackson Bai was running it. Ah, I miss those days. I miss being serenaded by that Norwegian girl who was an operatically-trained semi-professional singer. I miss discussing the future of the planet with a young German climate change scientist. I miss wooing The Poet there (and then losing her again!). I miss staying up all night in there with Nick O'Pix and Tennessee Tom. I miss the free shooters that Jackson would dispense whenever it appeared that we weren't getting drunk fast enough. If they'd had draught beer, and if Jackson had stayed there a bit longer, that place would have been my favourite Beijing bar of all time; as it is, it's only just behind 12 Square Metres and the Pool Bar (which, mercifully, are still with us... though perhaps not for very much longer).

1 comment:

Froog said...

I really should have mentioned The Old Beer House on Jiugulou Dajie (in the good old days, before it was widened into a 5-lane highway) as well. Even though its heyday really only lasted 6 months or so, I do have some very fond memories of it.