Bernays sauce | Press Release bar pitches quirkiness in Sanlitun

By Jim Boyce | Word of yet another new Sanlitun speakeasy raised the specter of same old, same old cocktails served by bow-tied bartenders under Edison lights in soberly furnished confines accompanied by jazz playlists fresh from Download Central. Additional word this place was on the B1 level of Topwin Center—a mall basement—didn’t sound any better.

But Press Release is different. It’s a modestly sized space—a boilerplate of a bar—in the midst of creating a unique first draft. And it skips the usual default drinking establishment settings for a literary theme and creative concoctions.

Manager, bartender and Beijing native Issey Lin studied PR in Chicago, worked in New York and Beijing, and squeezed in plenty of worldwide travel, including a long stint in Milan. The career explains the name of both the bar and the drinks, with tributes to public relations / propaganda legend Edward Bernays and literary icons such as Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzergarld.

And that Milan experience explains a wine list—20 reds, six whites, five bubblies—that is 75 percent Italian, covering grapes like Aglianico, Barbera and Sangiovese. (With Italian wines bars Vesuvio and Buona Bocca nearby, it feels like the tens of millions of euros spent on marketing by the mother country might be yielding fruit here in central Beijing.) This place won’t break the budget, either: there are a half-dozen options at rmb260 and at rmb320 per bottle. By the glass, Italian Primitivo and French Sauvignon Blanc is rmb60.

As for cocktails, the Press Release currently has seven signature options. The Gin Gatsby is a step up on the Gin Rickey of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. Gin and nuts prepared sous vide-style are used alongside melon, thyme, Campari and soda. It’s a nice pick for those who don’t like their tipples too dry, with fragrance aplenty from the herbs.

The “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is a tribute to Hemingway. Lin wanted to go beyond the namesake daiquiri and thus we have rum, hawthorn, grapefruit, pepper and soda. I’ll just call it “good” as this was my final cocktail and preceded by mezcal, Merlot and Prosecco.

My favorite drink was Beat Generation, with tequila blanco, tomato, tonic water, soda water and a few dashes of soy. It came with a green pepper garnish—I’ve only seen that done well at Q Bar—and refreshing aroma and flavor. That zingy / umami tomato / pepper smell woke me up while the drink’s crispness made it seem a perfect match for something a bit greasy, like a cheeseburger or, maybe, two cheeseburgers.

Cocktails are rmb65 each.

You get to Press Release by entering L’Epasar on the B1 level of Topwin, at the opposite end from CHEERS and April Gourmet. Enter, hang a left past the buffet, press the blue button on the wall, push open the door, and walk through a narrow wine cellar—apparently used as the landlord’s drinking den—to the bar proper.

You’ll find a half dozen stools at the bar plus space for about a dozen more patrons, including on a long bench. The walls are a work in progress, with one collage up and more artwork to follow.

Lin has also displayed ten typewriters she collected from around the globe. (It reminded me of Tryst, the former Nali Studio bar where patrons pecked out love letters, poems, insults and more on a manual unit. These drunk ramblings, filed each night in a binder, made for fun reading.)

And yes, you will find Edison lights, though they are balanced by soft neon illumination from tube fixtures. Head-bopping music comes courtesy of a Marshall unit behind the bar.

You might consider Press Release as a laid-back, half-sized, less swish (and less expensive) version of Vesuvio, with more cocktail options and the same lack of windows, although it’s justified here due to the B1 location.

Anyway, it’s early days as the enthusiastic Lin, who serves as menu designer, DJ, ingredient maker and bartender, gets everything up to speed. The decor will fill out, hopefully the wine list will diversify to match the creativity of the cocktails, and new concoctions will no doubt appear. Perhaps a Boilerplate or a B-Roll or even Bernays Sauce: the theme lends itself to much creativity. So, while Press Release isn’t exactly hot off the presses just yet, it is off to a nice start simply by deviating from a typical Sanlitun story and giving us a quirky new lead.

Check out sibling blogs Grape Wall and World Baijiu Day.

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