High jinx | The Roof needs to raise its game

the roof topwin center beijing china

By Jim Boyce | Just a short post about a short visit to an awful* bar called The Roof in Sanlitun’s TopWin Center. The good news: the view is nice. Also, if you find Xiu charming, are a fan of buying bubbly as six-packs and have too much money on your hands, this place might be for you. (* Based on one visit.)

This isn’t a comprehensive review. I didn’t bring a team of trade people to help analyze the menu, I didn’t go over the place with architects and a fine-tooth comb to make sure quality building materials were used, I didn’t… you get the idea. This is simply the view of a guy who worked all day and then went for a drink.

You get to The Roof from the elevator via a series of walkways that have all the charm of a car park and that, at least when we arrived, included numerous model-esque staff members that looked rather stressed out. Some people were registering at a check-in desk. I’m not sure if that was mandatory, I just kept walking and no one bothered me. You can get away with a lot when you have a fancy dress shirt, a Napa Valley cap and a Super Mario-ish mustache.

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Anyway, this sprawling venue has multiple levels and each one has seating options that range from private areas to communal bars. We parked at a large round bar on the east side.

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The cocktail menu is modest to say the least, with only six options and a carefree attitude to editing and formatting. I ordered the “Japanese Fashioned” (rmb70), which lists Yamazaki 1923, ginger-infused syrup and Peychaud bitters as ingredients.

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Let’s call that presentation minimalist. The drink itself was too simple, too sweet and, well, bad. My companion, a bar owner, concurred and suggested it might be rescued by more bitters. I mentioned the cloying nature of the drink to the bartender. “It includes homemade honey water,” said he. Really? Was that listed in the ingredients? And what does that mean anyway? They mixed honey and water together? They have their own bees?

Anyway, if you like Wild Turkey American Honey, or anything jacked with sugar, you might enjoy this cocktail. I didn’t and found it disappointing since Sanlitun has a reputation for quality joints like Q Bar, Janes & Hooch, D Lounge, Infusion Room, Miles and Glen, among many others.

Then again, the main focus here does not seem to be cocktails but packages. A six-pack of Champagne, a liter of Absolut Elyx vodka and six oysters will run you rmb6,880. For the bar, that’s far easier than dealing with a bunch of time-consuming individual drink orders. Just herd the customers into a private area, dump the bottles, oysters et al in a trough and let them feel like they’re sophisticated. Or even ultra-sophisticated.

In the case of Roof Bar, the bubbly choice is Perrier-Jouët: the last time I saw that brand featured so heavily in these parts was at Club Zazou six or seven years ago in Sanlitun Village South. In fact, this place reminded me a lot of clubs that opened just ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and leveraged massive marketing campaigns to drive a moneyed clientele to unremarkable venues. I’m not saying that is happening here, just that it was my gut reaction.

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The sad part is that the bar’s shrine to Perrier-Jouet is the only thing that kept that space from looking depressingly austere. I can imagine someone saying at the last minute, “Woah, we better do something here. Order a million roses.”

That’s a different feel from a rooftop bar with character, like Migas, or one that is a bit beat up but retains some rustic charm, like Q Bar. It felt like an “any bar in any city”, one with a sprawling space, fake greenery, a few splashy centerpieces, mediocre music and brainless six-bottle booze options.

These are early days and hopefully The Roof will raise its game with intriguing cocktail recipes,  spirit selections and design plans, because there are lots of superb bars and restaurants just a stone’s throw away.

Check out sibling sites Grape Wall of China and World Baijiu Day.

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