travels with my barang-barang

After dark 04

Posted in After dark, Beijing, Chopsticks by ejl on 24 March 2009

Belated updates because I’d been having off-site meetings till stupid o’clock almost everyday last week. But fear not, the gruelling work schedule has not reduced by much my eating, drinking and the carrying on of other debauched activities in bonny Beijing.

The more interesting picks of last week:

St. Patrick’s Day
It was Paddy’s Day and I was stuck in a conference room till 9.30pm trying so hard not to poke that American lawyer’s eye out with a pencil stamped with the name of a state-owned enterprise. The moment I could leave, I was in a cab directing the driver home while negotiating three different phone calls to pinpoint a location for good ol’ fashioned Paddy’s Day drinking. The original plan was, of course, Paddy O’Sheas but reports came through of it being ‘heaving’ and ‘too crowded’ and ‘too much effort’. And so it was that I stopped at Luga’s Villa to meet up with a bunch of folks who’d had two hours of drinking on me, and did my best to catch up.

Somehow, at some point, we ended up at Chocolate and there for the first time I witnessed the dancing girls. DANCING GIRLS. Whee! And there was champagne. And silly drunken dancing! And tumbling into a cab at god-knows-what-time in the morning.

Suffice to say, the hangover was pretty bad the next day and I suffered greatly sitting back in that same conference room I’d left only 12 hours before trying to make sense of the negotiations around me. Thank god for painkillers and coffee. And Touche Eclat.

Thursday is not lao-wai-day
Having spent Wednesday evening still hungover and feeling sorry for myself, we decided to explore somewhere completely out of our drinking zone. We went to WuDaoKou (五道口). Which we now conclude is (1) way out in the sticks, (2) a very long and expensive taxi ride home and (3) not somewhere I’d want to be drunk on a weekday night.

We’d heard about Propaganda, and so we went in search of it. Found it, hung out in it, left shortly after. Strike 1 – overwhelming smell of salty popcorn. Strike 2 – strange dance floor layout. Strike 3 – patrons weren’t good looking enough to compensate for their lack of enthusiasm on the dance floor. We also stuck out as obviously being the only non-PRCs in the place who weren’t students.

So we headed to Bling in the Solana complex, although we didn’t really know where it was and had to be (mis)led there by a 老外who also didn’t really seem to know where he was going. We ended up there, in the end, after having to stop and ask some movers and then a security guard. The 老外 we’d followed was heading to Bling because his PRC girlfriend was performing a nunchuck dance – we watched in awe, it was extremely impressive. I also saw the tallest broadest Chinese guy in my life, with impeccable tailoring (he might have been the 老板 or the 经理?) – more impressive than the nunchuck-dance, I tell ya.

Other than that, the drinks were good but expensive. The crowd was pretty good-looking but also verging on the obnoxious. There were some other 老外around, but they were the sorts that I’d try to avoid at all costs and who were just behaving like sleazebags. The dancefloor was empty and the place was just seemed rather soulless, although the soullessness might just be a result of it being a pretty quiet night.

Q Bar on Saturday evening. We stopped by after a hotpot dinner at Haidilao (海底捞) for a quick one-two, and seriously if you want a good caipirinha go to Q Bar. It’s even better than the one I had Lan Bar, with the right graininess of sugar and tartness of lime and actual cachaca instead of Bacardi. I’m sure the crowd was getting better too, but my friends were being lame and all crying off on account of ‘tiredness’ *rolls eyes* and so we left and went our separate ways. I managed to squeeze in two episodes of The Soprano’s before heading out again (to the raised eyebrows of my security guard) to SLT for more drinking.

Champagne brunch at the Westin Chaoyang on Sunday, again. They’ve upped their prices, so now it’s about RMB450 a head, which may or may not include whatever surcharges they decide to slap onto the bill. The level of service also seemed to have fallen off slightly, although no major complaints and still great food and lots of champagne. I might hold off on the Westin Chaoyang for a couple of weeks and try somewhere else just to get a broad overview of the brunch action in the Jing.

After dark 03

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 9 March 2009

Chocolate Redux

I’ve written about Chocolate on Ritan North Road before, and it was a less than celebratory review. However, I’ve now visited it twice more – once on a Saturday night and another on a Tuesday night – and my view of the place has changed.

Unlike my first trip there, these times I arrived relatively early and stayed pretty late. My companions and I were drinking at the same pace, so there wasn’t a passed out hippo or a completely wankered crazycat to deal with when I was stone cold sober in comparison. There was also a variety show with dancers in big costumes, a fat lady that sings, pole acrobats/dancers and the live band. There were also quite a lot of people around, which made voyeuring that much more exciting (which one’s the russian mafia kingpin? which ones are the ladies of the night? check out those trousers! etc).

So, it’s a fun place when all that’s happening. I should perhaps just stop turning up at 5 in the morning and expect it to be a hive of debauched activity. The party seems to get hot sometime between 11 and 3, and peters out slowly but surely after. But, for the lingerers, it stays open till 7am and tumbling out of the place at that time, taking the escalator into the morning light, is probably one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in a long time.

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After dark 02

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 20 February 2009

Right-o. So there’s been quite a lot of going out and not so much staying in, as usual. Here’s the run-down of where I’ve been in the last week:

Tun (屯)
Very popular and pretty crowded with a mixed bag of music played by the DJ in his ‘castle’. The bar gets crazy busy, and the place is filled with expats of all nationalities. Not a bad place to people watch, and on the weekends you’re more than likely to bump into friends or friends of friends here than anywhere else. Trying to find it, though, is a tricky thing. It’s located within a warren of backstreets off Sanlitun Street (south) (三里屯南街), and depending on which alley you walk down, it takes a bit of re-orientation to locate it. But not to worry, you’ll probably find someone along the way who is on his or her way there and knows exactly where it is – it might be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Russian club in the Ritan Park (日坛公园) area. I’d heard so much about it that expectations were riding high. Unfortunately we turned up at about 4am, there was barely anyone around, there weren’t any Russian dancers and some Kazakhs were trying to persuade J that swallowing a pebble was a good idea. I might head back again just to see what it’s like packed, but it wouldn’t be my first port of call. Or last.

Located in the Houhai (后海)/Qianhai (前海) district. It might be because we were there on valentine’s day, but there were tables of people with different coloured ribbons tied round their wrist, playing dice and making a ruckus – we might have stumbled onto some form of Chinese traffic light party. Our group was pretty big, so we sat at the table by the door which proved to be a disastrous choice because the door didn’t close properly and it opened directly onto the street. Every time someone walked in or out, we got blasted by freezing cold winds and one of us had to walk over to shove the door closed. We didn’t stay there long, you understand.

Huxleys is a tiny bar down one of the back streets in Houhai. Our large group was barely contained by it, and when we finally got a table that accommodated all of us, found that the heater was stifling and the beers were warm. I’m sure it’s a great place to have a drink otherwise, but we were just slightly too many people for its diminutive size.

Saddleback Cantina
Located in one of the courtyards off the back of 3.3 in Sanlitun, this place has amazing frozen margaritas. They’re not cheap, but they’re pretty strong. Plus, sometimes you get to take home sombreros! The food menu was pretty appealing as well, and I’m sure I’ll be back there again soon to eat as well as drink.

Vics Ladies Night
I think Vics will be my choice du jour for Wednesday nights from now on. Luxe interiors, bar stools with back rests (!), toilet doors with peacock feathers… and free drinks for ladies between 9.30pm and midnight, and two for one on all drinks at all other times. Plus it’s at the north entrance of the Worker’s Stadium (工人体育场北门), which is two minutes from my apartment in a cab. The crowd had a mostly (attractive) Chinese clientele, but more middle-to-upper class types than the uber-rich like at Tang Club. The DJ played a great mix of electro, r’n’b and hip-hop, and the joint was hopping and heaving. Definitely worth checking out when looking for some mid-week clubbing kicks, although if like me you have to work the next day, beware the Thursday hangover hell and avoid the tequila shots at all cost.

Lan Bar (阑)
“It’s designed by Philippe Starck, you know” goes everyone who mentions this place. You wouldn’t know it if you walked into it, though. It’s all glitz and glamour, velvet and chintz, gilt and crystal – very unlike everything you’d imagine a Philippe Starcke bar to be like. But it works. The place has an amazing feel, and the toilets (one must always check the toilets in Beijing) are out of this world with an armchair and a dresser and enough space to hold an orgy in. Tres impressive. The drinks were expensively average – not enough lime juice in the caipirinhas, no orange juice in the Singapore sling, mojitos just lacking that something-something. The gin and tonics were very good apparently, but I’d committed myself to the caipirinhas which were at least made with cachacas and not Bacardi like I’ve seen it done at other places. It’s a perfect place to bring a date or just chill out with friends, but don’t forget to bring your credit card.

After dark 01

Posted in After dark, Beijing by ejl on 11 February 2009

Mid-week, and it all started off with a very serious pub quiz. At an unimpressive bar, with an even less impressive menu and incredibly slow service.

Next up, Mesh Bar in the Opposite House on Sanlitun Bei Lu which always delivers on the strength of their drinks and the quality of the eye candy. If you’re looking for the Beautiful People, grab a drink (or several) at Mesh Bar, and you will not leave disappointed. The seating isn’t the best, the distance between the fixed padded benches and the sofas is just that bit too much, making conversation a strain and requiring everyone to lean forward while balancing on the edge. But the lights are low, and the music is eclectic jazz/down-tempo electro, and it’s got a great chill-out atmosphere.

But of course, being a Tuesday night and with an out-of-town guest, we went to the western gate of Chaoyang Park to Suzie Wong’s, then to Block 8 and the last stop of the night, Tang Club.

It was Latin dance night at Suzie’s, and I took umbrage at having to leave my bag at the bag check. I was also slightly disturbed at the amount of (Chinese?) champagne flowing. So we had a drink, and then swiftly moved on to Block 8.

Taking the lift up the third floor, we should’ve been put on notice when the first person we saw as the lift doors opened was a cleaner with a vacuum cleaner in the tunnel leading to the bar. But we persevered, and asked her if the bar was closed, she said it was open, we went ahead. To our dismay, the place was as dead as dodo. Deader than a dodo, in fact.

We made an about-turn quickly enough, and between telephone conversations trying to get directions to a club in the Russian quarter, we somehow walked through the doors of Tang Club.

It was the space invaders meets underwater world. Everything was shiny chrome or white, but there were lanterns in the shape of octopus and squid suspended from the ceiling. There was also a preponderance of really young, probably filthy rich, Chinese kids. Most of them couldn’t have been more than 17. And everyone was drinking whisky green tea served with a platter of artfully arranged sliced fruit. Love it. The service, however, was slow. The staff don’t really speak very much English, so it was difficult ordering a gin&tonic and a vodka martini, and it all took aaaaaaaaages to come.

The music wasn’t too bad – a mash-up of house, techno and cheesy beats, which is a pretty good mix considering the so much bad music I’ve heard (and shamefully danced to) so far. The crowd was rich and young, and made for okay-only viewing. What it was good for, though, was seeing what the fashion zeitgeist of these kids was. Not that many of them were very stylish (and we’ll get on to that topic another day), but those that were, were split between the London-types and what I call the HK/Taiwan-types and I enjoyed watching everyone standing around and throwing shapes. Chinese boys seem to have a great skinny-hip-action thing going on.

But it was a school night, and we were older than those bright young things, with jobs to go to in the morning where we had to earn our own money to afford those whisky green teas and so we split shortly after 1am.

So, conclusions from this excursion: strike Suzie’s and strike Block 8. Definitely go to Mesh Bar, and try and visit Tang Club – it wasn’t the best club I’d been to, but I’d go back again out of pure sociological/anthropological curiosity.