Went on another mini adventure to Sanlitun yesterday, where I visited the English-language bookshop the Bookworm, a couple of cocktail bars in the Gongti (Worker’s Gymnasium) area, and the Opposite House, a hotel in Sanlitun. The Bookworm was okay, your standard expat-central type bookstore with a fairly good selection, attached cafe and varied clientele. I’ve heard that they run a pub quiz on Wednesday nights, so hopefully I’ll be back there in a couple of days. The Gongti area is interesting — I don’t know if there is an American equivalent of an old worker’s stadium where the side entrances have been hollowed out and turned into bars, lounges, and stores. Imagine if you walked into Michigan Stadium and instead of concession stands at every entrance, you had furniture stores, gourmet hot dog stands, or trendy lounges. I went there because I am looking for a place to go to on my birthday this Tuesday. The two places I was interested in are called Fubar and George’s. I had high hopes for both but if you read on, you’ll find out why I can’t make a decision on either yet.
Gongti is about a ten minute walk from the Bookworm, so I ambled over at around 3:45 to check out the ambience, drink selection, and prices of the two bars, one of which purportedly opened at 2 that afternoon and the other at 3. Fubar is a pseudo-speakeasy engineered in the vein of PDT in New York. For those of you who don’t know, PDT stands for Please Don’t Tell and it is located behind an indoor phone booth inside the East Village hot dog stand Crif Dogs. You go into the phone booth, pick up the phone and talk to the hostess of PDT on the other end of the line. Fubar has almost the exact same concept, down to it being located behind a hot dog stand, this one named Stadium Dog. There’s no booth, but a faux grey-brick wall separates the two establishments. It supposed opened at 2 that afternoon. When I arrived, admittedly sweaty and a bit disheveled, there were no patrons in Stadium Dog and two women sitting at one of the tables. I barely paid them any notice and walked back towards the entrance of Fubar, which was unobscured. Only when one of the women followed me in did I realize that they were two employees and that there simply weren’t any patrons at the bar itself. They had been counting up the week’s receipts at that table. The place itself was nice — dim red lighting, black wood, and fairly spacious. The utter lack of customers was slightly unnerving though, even for me, and so I chose to forgo the second half of this research mission, which was to be a sample drink at each location. I thanked the two women and walked two my second candidate, George’s.
I had high expectations for George’s. According to the Beijinger, it had only recently opened and its owner was an alumnus of another pedigreed Beijing bar, Q Bar. The review promised both creative and classic cocktails and new drinks debuting every couple of weeks. It was supposed to be open at 3. The storefront looked promising — dark slate grey with big doors and an understated “George’s” sign. But when I went to pull open the door — nothing. No give, no lights on inside. The same thing happened with the other door. Nerd resourceful traveler that I am, I had written down the addresses, phone numbers, and opening hours of both places. A phone call to George’s yielded nothing as well. At this point, it was at least 4 in the afternoon. Alas, I was foiled completely at George’s.
At this point, I also wanted a drink as well. I knew that in Nali Patio, a small shopping centre nearby, there was what some say is Beijing’s premier cocktail establishment, Apothecary. I wanted to walk back that way to go to the Opposite House anyways, so I set off for what I thought would be the perfect afternoon refresher.
Apothecary opens at 6 pm. At least that’s what they say.
Now quite a bit more sweaty and disheveled, I really wanted something cool and somewhere to cool off. The Opposite House Hotel is located in between the north and south Villages (giant shopping malls) in Sanlitun, and it is a masterpiece of contemporary hotel design. I’m kicking myself because I didn’t bring my camera along with me yesterday, but that just means I’ll have to go back. It’s a cool, hip oasis of driftwood and thick glass, with a soaring lobby filled with contemporary art pieces (including what I’d wager a considerable amount on to be a Damian Hirst) from the F2 Gallery in Caochangdi, a (closed, obviously) cocktail lounge, and, where I finally had my refreshment, an effortless lobby bar/restaurant called the Village Cafe. The hotel is all open spaces and sight lines, and that included the Village Cafe, where the bar where I sat faced the open kitchen. Hungry and thirsty, I ordered some vegetarian Vietnamese spring rolls and an Apple-Ginger Aviation, translated (quite well in my opinion) as “苹果生姜飞行家.” My waiter was a young-looking guy, and we chatted for a bit since the cafe was almost empty at the time. Apparently, he had just recently returned to China from several years abroad in Dubai! He studied hotel management in college (I guess? Who knows) or “酒店管理,” and took that precious knowledge with him to the UAE. I think it’s pretty cool. But, after a refreshing drink and small snack, I was ready to move on. Now I know that the concept of day drinking, even on the weekends, is still foreign to the Chinese market, even in places that ostensibly cater to a largely foreign clientele. I’m almost positive the reason why I could get something to eat and drink at the Opposite House was because I was in their hotel restaurant. Nevertheless, I will, and must, soldier on, not in the least reason because I still don’t have a venue for Tuesday night.