Closing nights for bars are like church at Easter or Christmas: The once-a-year and twice-a-year types appear, crowd out the regulars, and turn the place into a caricature of what you love about it. Such is life. That’s one reason I headed to Ichikura last night, to visit before tonight’s closing party, to hopefully catch the original spirit of this haven one last time.
If Beijing is a massive cruise liner, Ichikura is the tiny bar hidden down a secret passageway at the stern, away from the raucous pool parties, crowded all-you-can-eat buffet lines and caterwauling KTV singers. You slip into its cozy confines, decked out in dark woods and pool table felt green, settle into a comfortable cushioned chair at the bar or one of the handful of tables, and mosey through a few cocktails or spirits. The hundreds of bottles glowing from soft lighting provide a pleasant bar background; the staff is polite and efficient and assumes you are there to drink rather than, as seems increasingly common in Beijing, to hear them pontificate on this or that hand-crafted cocktail or artisanal spirit; the customers generally keep their voices low and provide a soothing murmur against the snappy jazz.
I went last night at 7 PM, the first arrival, and it appeared seating might be an issue. The bar had reservation signs, it was unclear if tables were up for grabs, and a staff discussion ensued. I’m not sure what happened, perhaps some reservations were moved upstairs to sibling establishment Lagoon, slated to close on Wednesday, but I and others eventually got seats. I settled at the end of the bar and enjoyed a few cocktails as people came and went all night.
I started with the usual martini, then diverted from normal course and ordered a Singapore Sling (fresh and well-balanced), Long Island (it snapped me awake with its zippy lime and slight effervescence) and El Diablo (a sweet way to finish the night). The drinks were rmb70 and well worth it as I spent several hours either lost in my own thoughts or watching people enjoy this bar before it sails into the sunset. I then said goodbye to a few customers I knew, bid farewell to the staff and manager Kuroki Koji, and headed back to the lido deck of Beijing.
(Koji says Ichikura roughly translates to First Warehouse, hence the title of this post.)
Note: Word is tonight is Ichikura’s last and Lagoon will close Wednesday. Sibling bar Kura Kura will remain open on Sanlitun South, in the strip book-ended by Pinotage and CHEERS.