The team behind Nali Patio mainstay Mosto have turned a disused storeroom behind the restaurant into one of this summer's hottest new openings: La Social, a concept bar with personality to spare.
The arrival of La Social came as a bit of a surprise to Beijing's beleaguered bar-goers, who have come to read 'new bar' and 'speakeasy' interchangeably. Rather than follow trends, La Social offers a change of pace. The bar is a break from the city's stuffy cocktail bars, and we admit it feels pretty good to loosen the tie, ditch the black waistcoat and enjoy a space that has a sense of humour.
The lofty digs, decked out in brightly coloured murals, antiques lifted from the street markets of Bogotá and original pieces of art, combines a low, seated bar for about 15 with additional seating for 25.
The design is eclectic to say the least, with a spectrum of pastel colours and retro accents such as velvet tasseled lamp shades, real bus stop signs from '70s Colombia, neon-coloured Mao busts and even a shrine behind the bar, complete with a resplendent Jesus framed with yellow bulbs like a some bizarre Christian vanity mirror, reflecting salvation out onto a bar full of glowing, drunk sinners.
The signature cocktails are fruity, friendly, easy-drinking takes on classics that deliver a characteristic punch on a budget – something regulars of the bar at neighbouring Mosto have been used to for a while now. One must exercise caution: even the innocent-sounding Juanderful Gin and Tonic (50RMB) masks a mighty pour of Bombay gin with pineapple reduction and lemon soda perhaps a bit too well. The Totuma Mojito (88RMB), a Havana rum, passion fruit, mint and lime number, doesn't even try to hide it, arriving in an actual dried melon half. One could start a healthy aquarium of alcoholic fish within its depths.
Try the Ginger Blasphemy (50RMB), a rum, Campari, fresh ginger and cardamom tipple, or the Colombian Mule (50RMB), with basil, lime, vodka, ginger beer and aguardiente (an Andean anise-flavoured liquor) for something less sweet but no less refreshing. Mercifully, La Social serves up hefty bar fare to soak up all that hooch. From the Mosto kitchen, expect Colombian arepas, cornflour flatbreads stuffed with all manner of fillings, that are more than a snack if not quite a meal. We love the classic Domino (42RMB) with seasoned black beans and soft 'white cheese', or La Paisa (48RMB), with its layers of crisp pork, red beans and avocado.
Affordable, big on personality and with a style all of its own, La Social is making up its own rules. In an area dominated by either cheap and seedy or pricey and exclusive, La Social is successfully hitting the middle ground.
By Nick Gollner