Taste and live a bit of European life through its lively pub culture
Just as KTV is typically associated with the cultures of Asia, Europe is known for its diverse pubs and bars that make up an important part of European lifestyle. With the influx of foreigners, China is also getting to experience a taste of Europe’s pub culture, with each country bringing its own flair to the capital’s nightlife scene.
Culture dictates the atmosphere in the pub itself, so visitors would find that a Belgium pub might not be anything like a pub or bar in the UK or in France. In Beijing, for example, each of these is recreated in its own fashion both to make expats feel at home and to share European culture with local Chinese so they can feel what it’s like to relax a bit, have a drink and savor some tasty dishes, European style.
“Most important is the atmosphere, it needs to be relaxed and professional, Irish bar decor should be simple yet classy” explains Paddy O’shea’s Irish Pub owner, Karl Long from Wickow, Ireland. He suggests that in Ireland, they are perhaps more dependent on pubs than in other European cultures, since it’s the final stop after most other events like work or mass, especially now that the economic situation in Ireland is more dire.
“In Beijing, I have marketed Paddy’s as a sports bar, so I have a lot of sports memorabilia around the bar, either donated by customers or brought back from abroad; food is standard pub food –we are not a Michelin star restaurant, so the food is kept simple and consistent.” And of course, every year on St. Paddy’s Day in Beijing’s Embassy area, the bar is packed with those seeking a bit of Irish tradition.
Those searching for variety with their European suds have Beer Mania Belgium Pub in Sanlitun, in which the aim, Belgium owner Thierry De Dobbeleer explains, is to help guests discover the huge variety of their ‘Belgian Beer Paradise,’ while ensuring friendly interaction between people.
“A pub in Belgium is a place where you meet people and become part of a community. This community is made by regulars but also by the staff working at the pub. Everybody knows each other by their first names and enjoys sharing stories about their life and debating on topics about politics, economy, culture, etc. When you go to "your pub", you always meet people you know,” he says.
De Dobbeleer notes that Beijing’s bar culture has changed a great deal since he first arrived ten years ago. The biggest cultural difference he has noticed between a pub in Europe and bars in China is that back home, they tend to mingle a bit more with new people. In China, groups of friends tend to stick together more.
European pub culture is not solely about drinking and bars are not only places to frequent at night; they represent a form of daily leisure, and the ambiance, food and drinks also varies by country. Tristan Macquet, a French co-owner of the neighborhood establishment that has brought French flavor to Beijing’s historic Lama Temple area since 2006 with Café de la Poste, tries to combine a bit of Europe and China.
“Café de la Poste recreates the atmosphere of a typical French bistrot here in the middle of the old Chinese hutongs: chalk written menu, old wooden bar carved by hundreds of drinkers' elbows and half empty glasses of the cheapest pastis in the world” Macquet says.
They also hold celebrations such as French National Day on July 14 and "Soirée des 100 culottes.” For those scratching their heads, “Sans-culottes” does not only refer to the name given to the French revolutionaries who could not afford and thus went without, or “sans” the puffy decorative silk trousers, called ‘culottes,’ worn by the bourgeoisie. “100 culottes” is also a play on words, since ‘sans’ sounds like ‘cent,’ meaning a hundred.
“Thus, it is now the party of 100 pants,” explains Macquet. The bloomers are hung on the wall of the bar, and the person to pin the hundredth pair on the wall wins a bottle of champagne,
In a German pub like Der Landgraff, hearty food and specialty German beer is undoubtedly the emphasis and expectation, says German owner, Fritz Jaeckel. They take great pride in the conservation of their chilly German draught beer, and it is served with the perfect white crown of foam.
“The main themes include refined gastronomy in a cozy and inviting atmosphere similar to the prestigious Brauhäuser in Köln, Germany, where all classes of society can come,” Jaeckel says.
Their menu includes traditional German favorites like curry wurst sausage, pork knuckle, and and breaded veal cutlets, or ‘wiener schnitzel’. It’s a place to have a brew and perhaps some food, and spend a few hours socializing. They annually hold events such as Kostumeball-Karneval, or a kind of German Mardi Gras, typical of the Rhineland.
One may ask how these bars differ from a typical bar in China, but Nuria Cimini from Spain, co-owner of Modernista Old Cafe and Tapas Bar suggests that the bar and pub culture here was imported, much like it was to the Mediterranean, where bodegas and cafes tended to be more the norm in the past. Modernista tries to recreate a sleek, old style European feel with its checkered floor and wooden walls, the marble tables and real 1920s Art Decó lamps hanging around.
“Modernism was the name it took in Catalan culture what in French was called Art Decó, in German ‘Jugendstil,’ ‘Floreale’ in Italian,” Cimini says. “It was a movement that spread through Europe and America since the last decade of the 19th Century and transformed philosophy, literature, art and architecture. But mostly, I would say, a different way of thinking that characterized the beginning of the 20th Century in the West.”
The result is a unique, very different feel from other bars in Beijing with art, live music, dance and cultural events.
Europe may indeed be thousands of kilometers away from China’s capital, but expats can still easily find a place for a Guinness or a pastis, and a place to celebrate their traditional holidays. Likewise, curious Chinese in Beijing can get a little taste for European food, sample a cold ale or weissbeer, and experience a bit of pub and bar culture from a country far away.
© 2012 Delegation of the European Union to China