Restaurants & Nightlife: March 2008 Archives

It appears - and I stress the term appears -- today that Beijing municipal authorities have confirmed a rumor that has been circulating around the capital's pubs and restaurants the past couple of weeks; smoking restrictions are going to be implemented in advance of the Olympics.

No Smoking.jpg

Beijing to ban smoking in public places from May
Updated: 2008-03-31 11:57

BEIJING -- The Chinese capital will ban smoking in most public places starting from May 1 -- a big step toward tobacco control in a nation of 350 million smokers. The move will also meet China's pledge of a smoke-free Olympics. More than 150 Chinese cities already have limited restrictions in place, but the capital will be the first to ban smoking in all restaurants, offices and schools, English-language China Daily reported Monday. Beijing has had some smoking restrictions since 1996, when the municipal government prohibited lighting up in large public venues such as schools, sports arenas and movie theaters. The new rules, which were announced on Saturday, expand the scope to include restaurants, bars, Internet cafes, hotels, offices, holiday resorts and all indoor areas of medical facilities. Hotels must also have rooms for non-smokers, but the ratio is still being discussed, said Cui Xiaobo, a renowned tobacco control expert who helped draft the new rule. Institutions that fail to comply face immediate fines of up to 5,000 yuan (713 U.S. dollars), while it has not yet been decided how to deal with smokers breaking the new rule.

Speaking to a manager last week at one of my favorite haunts here in Beijing, The Purple Haze, I was told that while there had been quite a bit of discussion within bar and restaurant circles, no official rules have been brought forth.

I'm of two minds on this subject. Having lived previously in Vancouver, which had a city-wide smoking ban in place in bars and restaurants, I found that it was somewhat nice not having to get strong whiffs of smoke up my nose while I was trying to eat. That said, I am a smoker myself. And I enjoy nothing more than being able to relax with a beer at a pub or restaurant and have a cigarette. And I really wasn't a fan of having to trudge outside during a rainy Vancouver winter to hack a butt. But, much like a lot of things in life, you get used to it. Before the smoking ban was implemented in Vancouver, the bar and restaurant owners association was screaming bloody blue murder, saying a complete ban would cause incalculable financial losses. That never happened. However, Beijing may be a bit different. This is a smoking society. Anyone who has ever been to an official function is likely aware that its almost protocol to offer guests cigarettes as a gesture of respect. Handing out cigarettes has also become a tradition at weddings. Smoking is almost a way of life here in China.

With that in mind, I have my doubts about whether this smoking ban will be put in place. Reading through the Xinhua report, one can't help but recognize the vagueness of the language, which leads me to believe that the government is simply planning on saying one thing, and doing another. As well, one has to wonder how Beijing is going to enforce any type of smoking ban. In this new era of bureaucratic reduction here in China, I highly doubt were going to be seeing roving bands of Taliban-like beard inspectors cruising around Beijing looking for bars and restaurants breaking a smoking ban. So, unless a snitch line is set up, there is going to be little incentive for bar and restaurant owners to enforce the rules.

I am not a supporter of smoking. I know it sounds hypocritical, but it's true. I have warned off numerous young people who have considered lighting up, because I know what a pain in the arse it is to try to quit. That said, come May 1st, I highly doubt I'm going to be forced outdoors to get my fix.

There was a day, in the not-too-distant past, when Shanghai was viewed by those in the capital as a glitzy but ultimately shallow city. Nothing but fashion, high-priced drinks, and pretension.

Here in Beijing, we had art galleries, culture, and history. Also some cheap bars and restaurants with real character. This is, in my opinion, what lead many people to call Beijing home despite frigid winters and steamy summers.

But oh, how things have changed.

For those who haven't been paying attention, Beijing's Olympic preparations have included far more than just the construction of venues. The capital is going upscale, is getting expensive, and is becoming increasingly like its southern counterpart.

As a fan and former resident of Shanghai, I don't mind a more glamorous city. I enjoyed Shanghai and everything that came with it; it's a beautiful place, it's livable, and comfortable. But what's sad is seeing Beijing transform in such a way that it's becoming no longer recognizable - a Shanghai knock-off, if you will.

In May of this year, the new Sanlitun Mall will open. A high-end facility featuring food and beverage options will replace what used to sit on that land: a bunch of run-down apartments. Photos I've seen of the project slightly resemble Xintiandi in Shanghai, which is a drastic change from the current Sanlitun.

Beijing Boyce has been doing a good job covering the food and beverage venues that are opening this year. The Legation Quarter is set to open in Qianmen beginning in May, with other restaurants to open in June. The Quarter will include the following high-end eating and drinking options:

  • Maison Boulud, "a French concept restaurant by award-winning chef Daniel Boulud from New York," according to the brochure. The ground floor includes a bar, lounge and main dining room; the second floor, accessible by two staircases, holds smaller dining rooms.
  • Mission, the 1400-square-meter nightclub portion of Legation Quarter, which will include a lounge, VIP rooms and deck space. Lee says that a New York-London outfit is handling the project. The brochure says Mission "is sure to blaze a trail across the sky of Beijing's nightlife".
  • Teatro, an Italian restaurant; this building will include a wine cellar and a shop that sells bread, cheese, olive oil, and other goods.
  • Shiro Matsu, a Japanese restaurant.
  • Tian Di Yi Jian, a Chinese restaurant "embedded" in a furniture showroom.

The Legation Quarter will also have a theatre and other cultural faciltities. Count me as one who's looking forward to checking it out once it opens.

If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, there are other options, such as Face bar, Lan, and of course, Block 8. All of these bars would be at home in Shanghai, or even London or Paris.

It is with bated breath, however, that I await some arrivals from Shanghai, places I have missed since I left. Beijing has amazing options for Chinese cuisine from all over the country, but when it came to authentic western food, Shanghai is tops in China (in my humble opinion). This blog was born while sitting on a bar stool inside Malone's, which makes fantastic burgers. Another place I regularly went to for lunch was Element Fresh, which offers healthy and tasty sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and more. It will open in May in the new Sanlitun Mall.

Boyce also reports that KABB (also great sandwiches) and Blue Frog will migrate from Shanghai to Beijing this year. I never made it to Blue Frog for a meal, but the reviews are it's decent western food in a western environment. I did pop into the first Blue Frog to open outside of Shanghai, down at the Venetian in Macao, and was suitably impressed. Now if only New York City Deli would migrate here, too. They made some of the tastiest sandwiches I've ever eaten - anywhere (or perhaps I've just been in China too long).

So what does all of this mean for Beijing? Well, these newcomers to the restaurant scene aren't exactly cheap, and it wasn't until I spent last week in Dalian that I fully realized how expensive the capital has become. Rents are stratospheric (I'm quickly trying to convince my landlord to extend my lease at the current rate, even though it doesn't expire until July, lest he realize how much they've increased) and bars and restaurants are going upscale. Personally, I don't think this is a bad thing (well, expensive rents are a bad thing). Beijing was ready for a change, and as a capital and major international city, it only makes sense that it offers high-end services to meet the needs of increasingly discerning residents and visitors.

But it also means, in my humble opinion, that slamming Shanghai for being pretentious is like the pot calling the kettle, well, you know....

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This page is a archive of entries in the Restaurants & Nightlife category from March 2008.

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