Beijing New Year fireworks. From a plane. At midnight.

For the better part of a decade, I have been taking photos of the Chinese New Year’s Eve fireworks in Beijing, from positions ranging from ground-level to the twentieth floor of an apartment building. As this video shows, it’s a completely different experience taping them while in an airplane approaching Beijing Capital Airport at midnight. I wonder how things would look if the plane, or a drone, passed over central Beijing. In any case, here are two minutes that help show the scope of the fireworks:

And if you want the opposite effect, that of an extreme closeup, here are fireworks exploding at midnight a few meters from my window a couple of years ago:

Happy Chinese New Year! Plus, free fireworks!

Our ride with the Year of the Horse is almost over and we will soon butt heads with the Year of the Goat. That transition will offer the most impressive displays of a night full of fireworks in Beijing. If you aren’t able to witness them firsthand, check out this video I took from apartment at midnight in 2007, an especially intense year. (That dark area in the middle is Workers Stadium.)

All the best to my friends in the Year of the Yang.

Bai Jiuve! Chinese New Year in London features Baijiu Cocktail Week

baijiu cocktail week london bo drake casino empire gong hakkasan hutong opium ping pong salvatore's bar spice market

While many of my friends in Beijing cringe at the thought of drinking baijiu, nine places* in London are embracing the fiery spirit as part of a ten-day promotion. That event is called Baijiu Cocktail Week and, runs from February 13 to February 22, and is sponsored by the Diageo brand Shui Jing Fang.

The cocktails include China-evoking names like Dragon Claw, Longan Baijiu Firecracker and Lucky Goat and include an intriguing range of ingredients, from agave nectar to plum wine to rosemary to ginger bitters to egg white to green Chartreause,

Get the recipes here and maps for all nine bars here. You can also check out this Highball Hoodoo review of six of the cocktails:

…the various bars did show how different aspects of the complex spirit can be highlighted with the right ingredients. Bo Drake showed us a palatable way for newbies to enjoy the entire spectrum of the spirit’s complexity. Ping Pong presented a soft, silky cocktail emphasising Baijiu’s sweeter flavours; whereas the Spice Market had the burnt-bitter flavour balanced and softened with its citrus and herbal cousins.

 See the full review here. (h/t Paul Mathew)

By the way, for those staying in Beijing for the holidays, a heads up that Capital Spirits a.k.a. The Baijiu Bar will be closed February 19 to February 25.

* The nine places are Bo Drank, Casino, Gong, Hakkasan, Hutong, Opium, Ping Pong, Salvatore’s and Spice Market.

Sips & bites: BBC, La Cava, Fubar, XL, Awfully Chocolate, Apothecary, Lafite

awfully chocolate sanlitun swire village south beijing china.jpg

I mentioned that craft beer fans can enjoy themselves throughout the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays as all three Great Leaps will be open for business as usual.

Cocktail fans can also get their fill as BBC will open nightly from 6 PM until at least 2 AM over the holidays. Co-owner Doug Williams says BBC will have special CNY cocktails as well as new products in stock.

And wine fans can check out La Cava de Laoma in Sanlitun Soho. Owner Mariano Larrain says he’ll open throughout the holidays. If you’re on a tight budget, I suggest the Expedicion Carmenere. At 50 kuai per bottle, it’s a good deal.

While Fubar has transformed from speakeasy to speakeasy / live music house, Stadium Dog, which fronts the place, has added chili and baked potatoes to a menu headlined by hot dogs and Two Guys pies. Of interest to Beijing bar history buffs: word is a reunion gig for late nineties Durty Nellie’s regulars Big Airplane, whose name in Chinese elicits giggles, is being planned for mid-May at Fubar. That band is before my time but I hear they had a good beat.

A sign is up for Awfully Chocolate in the basement of Swire Sanlitun Village South. You can find it just across from BHG.

Restaurant and bar XL has received kudos for its half-price Monday night food deal and is planning more specials after Chinese New Year. Word is there will be a lineup of at least a half-dozen wines at rmb100 per bottle.

Nali Patio is home to some of the city’s best spots, including Migas, Mosto, Agua and Niajo, but it has also seen a string of success stories — from Saddle Cantina to Let’s Burger and Let’s Seafood to, most recently, Apothecary – leave over the years. That makes Nali less attractive at a time when the nearby food and beverage scene is increasingly competitive, particularly with the rise of Sanlitun South and Xingfucun Middle Road. Nali is still a good place but it has long had the potential to be a great one. Losing quality tenants, which in turn could easily scare off others, suggests it is getting further from fulfilling that potential and instead closer to increasing irrelevance. Here’s hoping management figures it out because this complex has some creative and hardworking tenants.

Finally, new signage at the former Lafite British Exotic Bar has seen the name shortened simply to Lafite Bar. Makes sense, given British exotic bars are so 2014.

lafite bar beijing china.jpg

Migastronomy: Meat and greet with bagels al pastor, Wagyu vs Angus & more

migastronomy migas beef class beijing china.jpg

Migas will beef up its food portfolio by using non-frozen meat from Argentina and Chile* both in its restaurant and its upcoming deli that will see it partner with Max Levy of Traitor Zhou’s. The first deli will be in the glass-walled room that is just inside Migas’ main entrance and serves as the food lab. Look for it to open in late April, about the same time as Migas’ rooftop.

Chef Aitor Olabegoya led a two-hour beef seminar and tasting yesterday, which included contrasting the cattle farms in Chile and Argentina, the grains and grading standards used for beef from different places, and the special treatment Kobe cows receive, including beer to induce appetite, massages to boost circulation, and sake wipe-downs to control sweating and prevent colds.

It also included plenty of eats. First up, bagels al pastor, with sliced meat straight from a rotisserie. This was placed on a Traitor Zhou’s bagel with mustard cream cheese and jalapenos for an incredibly tasty combo.

Then we tucked into samples of beef, all Australian, including some aged cuts. I found the side-by-side sampling of Wagyu and Angus beef most interesting, with the former tasting strikingly rich.

The Migas event was held with food supplier Jiarui, which imports products like Spanish ham, French oysters and Scottish and Norwegian salmon.

And along with Chilean beef, you might find milk from Chilean cows in your supermarket given that 7,000 heifers just arrived in China.

Shangrila Farms: I just bought a ton of half-price Yunnan coffee

shangrila farms yunnan coffee beijing china.jpg

Actually, I bought three kilograms of coffee, but that’s close enough.

Every quarter of so, Shangrila Farms has a half-price sale on its Yunnan coffee — and often on other local products, such as honey, soaps and bath salts. That means you can buy a 250-gram bag starting from a mere 21 kuai — or about what you would normally pay for one cup at many restaurants or coffee shops.

The coffee is available in bean or ground form and I picked up a dozen bags today, including three each of Yunnan Blue Supreme (regular price: rmb68, sale price: rmb34), Caravan Breakfast (regular rmb62, sale rmb31), Meili Mountain (regular rm52, sale rmb26) and Shangrila (regular rmb42, sale rmb21). That’s a lot of coffee for just over rmb300 and I’ll use some of it myself and given some of it to a few hardcore coffee-loving acquaintances to try.

Why is it so cheap? These particular bags either have imperfect packaging or are within six months of expiry. But, says the team at Shangri-La, “We guarantee that these products are still good and tasty”. That’s always been the case with the products I have bought.

I’ve also bought Shangrila coffee at April Gourmet, and at some local fairs, such as the annual Jue Market. And the staff says their products are also at Nick’s Mart and the Wow New chain of stores.

To get more details about Shangrila Farms, including on the range of products, the Taobao store, and more, check the company website here. You can also reach the office directly via 8451-0613 / sales (at)

To get info about upcoming deals, I suggest sending a message to admin (at) and ask to get on their e-newsletter mailing list.


Holy sheep! One-kuai CNY beer happy hour at Irish Volunteer

Cleaning house usually results in two piles: one of dust bunnies and one of small change. But while I can’t convert a pile of dirt into delicious mid-afternoon liquid refreshment, I can perform that trick with a handful or two of those fen, jiao and one-kuai notes given that The Irish Volunteer and The Hockey Bar — side by side, like Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull, in Lido — plan to hold a “CNY Power Hour” from 3 PM to 4 PM from February 17 to February 24.

During that hour, you can get a crisp clean ice-cold draft Tsingtao for one kuai. The Irish Volunteer uses small kegs of Tsingtao, which apparently results in tastier beer. I believe I heard, during my last visit, one person describe it as “the flavor of freedom”.

In any case, if you have a few extra kuai and a need to satiate a mid-afternoon thirst, give this place a try.

Update: The Irish Volunteer will also team with Comedy Club China on February 20 for some funny business. The stand up lineup will feature seven comedians, including Toby Jarman, well-known among The Irish Volunteer for his charity corn-holing skills. Doors open at 8 PM, show starts at 9 PM, the 50 kuai entry fee includes a draft beer or a “penalty shot” (trust me, take the draft beer).

irish volunteer one kuai draft tsingtao beijing china

Beersiness as usual: All three Great Leaps open for Chinese New Year

If you plan to stay in Beijing for the Chinese New Year holidays and want some brews and burgers, pints and pizzas, barley pops and Buffalo wings, pijou and pork belly sandwiches, and possibly two others items that start with the same letter, it’s good news all three Great Leap brewpubs will be open for business as usual.

You know what might be fun? Getting your peeps to all three Great Leaps. (Yes, I’m able to rhyme, use alliteration and throw down slang all in one post. Mad skillz.)

I suggest making your first stop the original #6 Doujiao Hutong location: if you are directionally challenged, go with a friend who knows the way or you might spend a good chunk of your holiday looking for this place. On the way, you can grab some snacks on the nearby Nanluoguxiang drag to give you a foundation for the ample amounts of beer that will be flowing into your stomach.

Next, head for the second Great Leap, at #12 Xinzhong Street, north of Workers Gymnasium. Knock back a few more pints here: might I suggest the oolong tea-infused Iron Buddha? If you’re feeling peckish, order the delicious sweet potato fries. And if you’re feeling more than peckish, get the cheeseburger.

Next, head — and I think you can predict what’s coming — back to the #6 hutong location. At this point, you’ll probably be inebriated enough to get hopelessly lost and possibly end up wandering all the way to Houhai and falling into the water and nearly freezing to death and thus inspire the guys at Great Leap to create a new beer called Drunk & Nearly Drowned Chinese New Year Holiday Guy Houhai Lake Bed Mud-Infused IPA. Help a brewer out.

Otherwise, go to the newest Great Leap, at #45 Xinyuan Street, to wrap up your tour. If you haven’t been, this is your chance to try Great Leap’s newest food offering, pizza, which is offered by the pie or slice. Even better, every beer on the menu is 30 kuai throughout February.

Get the locations and hours of operation for each of the three Great Leap locations here (roll over the photos to make the info appear).

Finally, here’s a 2014 holiday photo from Great Leap Brewery (sorry, I don’t have any Chinese New Year ones).

maovember 2014 donation carl setzer great leap.jpg

Irish Times: Paddy O’Shea’s in newspaper’s ‘world’s best Irish pub’ contest

Beijing bar scene veteran Paddy O’Shea’s has been nominated as “best Irish pub in the world” — division: pubs outside Ireland — in a contest organized by newspaper The Irish Times.

More on the contest:

“The Irish Times’ Generation Emigration project is on the hunt for the best Irish pub in the world outside Ireland. Why? Because the best Irish pubs abroad are not simply boozers. They’re also unofficial community centres for our emigrant population, social outlets for Irish people far from home, and the focus of sporting and cultural activities for the diaspora.”

Readers can nominate a pub by submitting a “love letter” of up to 500 words.

Here is the Paddy O’Shea’s entry, by Irish Times writer Clifford Coonan:

“When Declan Kelleher, the ambassador at the time, climbed on to the pool table (since disappeared) to launch Beijing’s only Irish-owned Irish pub, in 2007, something changed in the Chinese capital.

“There had been Irish pubs before, generally Chinese-owned and Irish in name only, or pubs that became Irish, such as the Hidden Tree, owned by Belgians. But Paddy’s brought it all together.

“A year after the pub opened the Olympics came to town, and it became a social gathering point for Olympians and people looking for tickets – everyone who watched the Irish boxers win got their passes to the stadium at Paddy O’Shea’s, I’m sure of it. And the whole Irish community celebrated the medals there afterwards.

“The Chinese bar staff have tolerated, even enjoyed, having my children there to watch soccer or Gaelic matches. One day we managed to watch hurling, rugby and soccer all at the same time. Paddy’s is also a great place to meet people passing through. Over the past eight years I’ve met oil engineers en route to Xinjiang province, luxury-car salesmen, Riverdancers, English teachers, Nigerian diplomats, Welsh musicians, US investment bankers (a lot of them) and a man who claimed to be on the run from international law-enforcement agencies but wouldn’t tell me why.

“In 2007 Paddy’s was an expat scene, but now there are tables full of Beijingers there to watch the football – even rugby on occasion – ordering curry from the Indian restaurant upstairs to go with their Irish stout and cider.”

Get the full story, including other nominated pubs, here.  Get more details on the contest rules here.

Paddy O’Shea’s is run by Paul Rochon, one of the best bar managers in town. The pub sponsors a half-dozen sports teams, regularly books live music, including Irish folk group Blackwater, screens up to six sports at a time, and engages its customers via everything from impromptu drinking games to get-togethers for community groups, including Irish Network China, to an amusing WeChat group. It’s an Irish bar but it draws an international crowd.

Paddy O’Shea’s was also a supporter of last year’s charity initiative Maovember. The pub hosted three events, including this one with plenty of shots, whether they be Jameson imbibed by rugby players or those taken by patrons on a hockey goalie out front:


This one that included a charity quiz and a mystery draw:

2014 November5

And this one with an open mic night, another draw and even better shots:

maovember paddy o'shea's mustache bash collage