Travelmag Banner

Sacked – and slighly drunk – in downtown Beijing

I am unemployed once more, as a result I went out last night to a bar in Beijing recommended to me by a friend in an attempt to drown my sorrows. The bar was located in the allotment of Beijing’s drive-in cinemas.

I was dropped off by the taxi driver in front of the gates of what can only be described as the entrance to every horror film, haunted mansion you’ve ever seen. A dark, windy forest path with a bright moon shining through seemed to be where I was supposed to go. I could just see neon lights faintly in the distance but still wasnft sure, so I decided to ask the young security guard if this was indeed the place. He was evidently absoloutely freezing, standing on a box in the middle of a bitter Beijing winter, he wore the common, comically oversized uniform that attempted to convey authority and command respect but in actual fact just looked funny on his boyish frame. He helpfully confirmed that this was indeed where the bar I was looking for was by grunting and pointing vaguely in the direction of the almost hidden neon lights.

I set off along the dark road whilst trying not to get run over by the cars coming out of the drive-in cinema and wondered what I was doing, going to a bar in the middle of the week, on a freezing night by myself, outside a drive-in cinema?

After a few minutes I passed the first building, a restaurant thankfully there were actually quite a few, which was comforting after my initial apprehension and visions of axe-murderers and werewolves. I walked past what looked like a brothel, a slightly classy one, but a brothel nonetheless and reached the entrance to the drive in cinema without finding the bar so I turned around and spotted it tucked into the corner.

My first feeling was amusement, it was exactly the dank hole I’d imagined it would be. This was because it was an alternative underground rock bar, apparently at the cutting edge of Beijing’s fledgling live music scene. It looked like a porta cabin and there was a wrecked car outside. It reminded me of a house where the owners let the garden overgrow, and rubbish accumulate in the yard and it seemed like it was put on the end of the complex as an afterthought as if the other bars had pushed it to the edge because they were embarrassed by it. It seemed to be very quiet with no people or sounds coming from it.

I entered the ‘portacabin’s’ door to see a small narrow bar split into two levels. There were a few girls and surly looking guys with long hair sitting at the bar or lounging on sofas in the corner, it felt like a teenagers bedroom. Down on the lower level there was a stage with instruments at one end, and two western girls DJing though there was currently no audience apart from two sound engineers at the other end of the room who seemed to be playing a computer game.

I was recommended this place by my friend who is bar manager here in Beijing and who is knowledgeable about the underground music scene. Each time I met her she would wax lyrical about this establishment as if it were the next studio 54. Furthermore, I had read in a local listings magazine that it was the favourite haunt of Beijings rock musicians, so there was also the chance to hang out, or at least brush against someone famous. So I was quite excited to be there.

I headed to the bar and looked at the prices of the beer and vowed never to listen to listings magazines again, the beer was not cheaper than anywhere else. Though they did have Tiger which was a nice change from Tsingtao and Nanjing. Plus Tsingtao doesn’t get you drunk – which is quite a failing for a beer, in my opinion.

I ordered a Tiger and headed to the lower area to sit down. I then realised that it was just me and the DJs and suddenly felt uncomfortable. I tried to look busy and therefore took out my phone to text someone and the DJ’fs tried not to notice me, hiding their shame at playing to only one person, which strangely seemed worse than playing to nobody, now there was a witness. I felt sad and lonely and friendless coming to a bar on my own and thus the phone also acted as a sign, ‘I am not sad and lonely’ as well as something for me to do.

I texted my girlfriend and told her that I’d lost my job that morning and then felt that it was a mistake, I would soon lose my girlfriend too I thought. I thought that so far the evening wasn’t exactly going marvelously so I took the rational decision there and then to get drunk as quickly as possible. I downed my beer and headed to the bar to read a magazine and get away from the awkwardness between me and the DJs. I ordered another Tiger and picked up a copy of That’s Beijing. I had managed to skillfully position myself between the bar latchway and ladies toilet, thus blocking two entrance ways in one fell swoop, part of an ongoing life skill I have honed to perfection, that of finding the most awkward places to stand/sit in public areas.

That’s Beijing contained the usual massage parlour adverts at the back and adverts for pretty Chinese girls desiring a ‘cultural exchange’. I began to relax after the couple of beers I’d had and decided to strike up a conversation with the barman. He was a fairly young guy, and slightly chubby, with thick glasses and a beatles moptop, who turned out to be the owner. He apologised for the lack of atmosphere and people and said it was busier on Friday and Saturday.

Just then two girls walked in, one western and one Chinese. I couldn’t quite see what the western girl looked like as she was side on to me but the Chinese girl was fairly attractive. The western girl grabbed a copy of That’s Beijing and started flicking. This was one of those situations where you have to talk, it’s an empty bar, she’s copying what you’re doing, evidently keen to speak to you, at least I should comment on the cover design or shiny pages. But no, I couldn’t find the confidence and just sat there staring at my bottle. There followed two minutes of awkward silence where I was dying to say something and she was obviously dying for me to say something too. In the end, they took me for a loser and went to play table football instead. My mind had just gone blank, and all I could think of saying was ‘Is this your first time here?’ possibly the least inventive chat up line ever, the chat up line equivalent of a beige Volvo. I just hadn’t had enough beer to relax yet.

I then turned round to watch the DJs who looked like they were enjoying themselves more now, despite the fact that there were still no people watching them, I realised that it was probably due to the free wine that the bar had given them. The music was ok, but their mixing skills were abysmal, each song jarred into the next like a scratched CD. I reflected on the fact that us foreigners are given much more credit than we’re due in China sometimes.

After my less than successful attempt to strike up a conversation with another human being, I decided to go home. I reflected on the way home that you have to make up your own mind about places and not just follow other people’s opinions or maybe that you shouldn’t go to bars on your own in the middle of the week.

I headed home after unsuccessfully trying to locate a bar in Sanlitun and eating some kebabs. Quite frankly, I’d be the only person in that place too and anyway, it was cold and bed suddenly seemed like a fantastic idea.

I reflected that the night, to be fair, hadn’t been a resounding success, but at least consoled myself with the fact that now, I knew what one particular bar looked like. One up for me I thought as I climbed into bed feeling quite merry, in spite of the fact that I’d lost my job and had what, charitably, most people would describe as one of the worst nights of their lives. Because I was cheered by the fantastic thought ” I don’t have to get up for work in the tomorrow!’

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Central Asia