The Top Five Cocktail Bars in Beijing
In a fast paced city that easily beats New York with its nocturnal tendencies, nightlife is booming and competition among bars is steep. MIXOLOGY ONLINE’s Author Callia Amer asks experts for their favorite Beijing bars.
China is the third most visited country in the world, its capital Beijing is a city with one of the highest populations in the world. With a booming economy, a growing middle class, and a ton of tourists to satisfy, it is obvious that Beijing has a thriving nightlife.
MIXOLOGY ONLINE asked Chinese bartenders and international experts to share with us their favorite venues for getting a stiff one.
Janes and Hooch: The Roots mixed with Dean Martin
This large two-level Sanlitun self-proclaimed “urban saloon” is a favorite of mixologists such as Stephanie Rocard of Mao Mao Chong and Blood and Sand’s Paul Mathew who calls it “one of the best drinking venues in Beijing.” Owner Warren Pang describes the venue as “simply a Melbourne inspired urban twist on a vintage bar.
“His Australian background can be detected through the bars subtle combination of western and eastern charm, the bartenders’ dapper uniforms were designed by Sydney fashion label Whillas and Gunn while Chinese ingredients are featured heavily in drinks.
The menu offers variations on classics including the “50 shades of oolong,” a smokey oolong infused Tanqueray with lemon, and egg white, or the “blood and spice,” a spice tree scotch, apricot brandy, vermouth, and blood orange drink. For those arriving with appetite, a selection of mouth-watering eats are also available.
Stephanie Rocard tells MIXOLOGY she loves J&H for its “night club speed and cocktail quality.” She adds that it is the only bar she goes to in the Sanlitun neighborhood and recommends going during the week. “Focused on straight forward seasonal drinks without the whistles,” according to Pang, Janes and Hooch is the place to come for no-frill liquid masterpieces.
Ala House: Japanese speakeasy
Speakeasy to the core, this Japanese style whiskey bar has won the affection of many mixologists, including Paul Mathew, for its expert concoctions. While its mysterious owner prefers to remain anonymous, head bartender Jerry tells us that “In Shanghai dialect ‘ala’ means “our,” which further indicates the core concept of Ala House: this fancy cozy cocktail bar is our home.”
Its impeccably intimate décor matches a sunken bar with uniquely low barstools, cabaret inspired fringed curtains, and a well designed lighting scheme.
Bow tie clad bartenders mix creations in metal beakers and chip ice by hand. They are incredibly knowledgeable and happy to go off of the menu whose “Mixologist recommendations” section includes the “New York sour” with whiskey, lemon juice, and red wine, as well as the “kiwi mojito” made with fresh kiwi juice, gin, mint, and homemade fruit syrup.
The detail oriented drink list includes small icons of the glass and garnish so patrons know what to expect. The sometimes cigar smoking clientele is a mix of business-men, fashionable tourist, and trendy Beijingers, all present for the unbeatably sexy and cozy atmosphere, and delicious creations.
Mao Mao Chong: Spicy satisfaction
Owned by Stephen Rocard of Melbourne and his Chinese born, star mixologist wife Stephanie, Mao Mao Chong is a quaint, casual, pizza-serving, Hutong bar with surprisingly distinctive cocktails. The bar is a favorite of the likes of Paul Mathew and Simon Dang of Capital Spirits for its “style and selection.”
Dang as well as others feel that MMC “pushes the boundaries with their infusions and mixes” and recommends trying the “Earl grey martini,” made with earl grey gin, grapefruit bitters, lemon, sugar, and topped with egg white and lemon zest. Another incredible creation is the “Sichuan Highway” made with chili and Sichuan pepper infused Tequila, Chili infused mango syrup, Thai lime, and ginger beer, which will invigorate your tongue with its tingly numbing effect.
Stephanie tells us,“we want people to feel at home, and we want to be creative.” With this in mind she offers a wide-selection of mocktails put together with as much thought as the rest of the drink menu, making this the best bar in Beijing to attend with non-alcohol-inclined friends. MMC’s quality, consistency, and service win it its understated with just enough spice status.
Capital Spirits: Baijiu mixed with the west
The Chinese wooden benches and tables of this snug Hutong bar and distillery are the setting for its novel, yet traditional concept. It is a watering hole for the “lesser known fine spirits from around the world.” Its goal is to introduce patrons to Baijiu, the Chinese sorghum, rice, wheat, or barley distilled liquor.
Co-owner Bill Isler’s personal history with Baijiu shaped the bar’s manifest of easing newbies into familiarity with the liquor. The other three owners include its distiller, Matthias Heger, creator of German Westkorn vodka, as well as Simon Dang and mixologist Johannes Braun.
Capital Spirit’s extensive menu is comprised of nine different sections of flights including a sampling from each category of Baijiu (the perfect introduction for beginners) as well as Baijiu cocktails, classic long-drinks, wine and beer. Some of the baijiu creations are the “Anaconda Tequila” made with cold brewed coffee, and snake infused Baijiu.
They also offer drinks like the “Baijiu sour,” a classic sour from the perspective of the rice-based liquor. Patrons are encouraged to bring in exotic liquors which are featured behind the bar in exchange for bar credit upon the owners’ approval. This bar is one of a kind and a must for those who have never tried Baijiu.
Xian: Something for everyone
This leathery three floor labyrinth of a hotel bar boasts an outdoor terrace, a basement game room, and a whiskey bar. Located in the lobby of the East Beijing hotel, near the 798 art galleries, Xian also has live music throughout most of the week.
Favored by Paul Mathew who notes its international team and Stephanie Rocard who tells MIXOLOGY “it is not a typical hotel bar” and that “a lot of the locals go there, because of the ambiance, and because of the quality of the drinks.” Patrons also love it for its “modern and funky” vibe.
Xian gets its name from Jiuxianqiao, which means the wine immortal bridge. According to Chinese tradition, this is the bridge which a Chinese wine deity was walking across when he dropped his wine into the river below, making it taste of wine. But despite its wine rooted name the bars obvious poison of choice is whiskey.
Xian praises whiskey for its common ground between five different countries, Scotland, Ireland, The US, Canada, and Japan and offers over 130 variations. Also on hand are long drinks, a generous selection of ten types of martinis, draft beers, and delicious food options. Xian’s jungly array of settings are well suited for the exploring imbibers among us, especially those who prefer whiskey.
As capital of a country who has eight culinary cuisines, Beijing has a goldmine of herbs, spices, and teas not commonly used in western mixology at its disposal. These five bars all mix the cocktail history of the west with the aroma and history of the east in order to devise flawless fusions of excellence.
Foto: Beijing via Shutterstock