Over the last decade, one trend has dominated Beijing cocktail bars: the speakeasy. It’s a term that’s lost most, if not all, of its meaning at this point. We’ve forced ourselves to broadly characterise the Beijing 'speakeasy' as a cocktail bar
that’s not necessarily even hidden, just inspired by a different time and place – but always in the past – with an emphasis on formality and ceremony.
Thankfully, the city’s obsession seems to have reached breaking point. Recent openings like the South American-themed La Social
, the pop art-bedecked Black Moth
and Tiki Bungalow
have breathed new life and colour into a scene once feared lost in dark tones, secret passwords and brown spirits.
Red Dog is the latest opening to buck the speakeasy trend. It’s vibrant, colourful and poised to take on the mother of all nightlife black holes: Sanlitun Soho.
Soho has never been the buzzing focal point of Sanlitun its developers surely intended it to be; rather, it’s an empty, soulless spot now surrounded on all sides by much more appealing options. With its kaleidoscopic colour scheme, upbeat soundtrack and funky décor, could it be that Red Dog is set to counter the Sanlitun Soho curse?
Tucked underneath the stairs on the quieter side of the sprawling complex, Red Dog is easy to miss from the outside. Inside is a different story: a spacious bar and lounge with tiled floors, salacious portraits, floral prints and a tropical colour palette. It’s a fun, informal environment that’s easily the best use of a Sanlitun
Soho space we’ve encountered. What’s more, the bar has its own bathroom, meaning you don’t have to leave its comfy environs and head back out to the world of strip lighting and 7-Eleven when nature calls.
We take a seat in one of the plushly upholstered booths and crack a menu as the dashing, positively bubbly manager explains that Red Dog is all about being happy, having fun and not taking things too seriously. We couldn’t agree more about the interior, but the drinks programme, thankfully, is no laughing matter. The eponymous tipple, The Red Dog (80RMB), takes its colour from a base of ruby port, Armagnac and cherry brandy. The strong drink is tempered with sweet Cointreau, lemon and a dash of Tabasco. The subtle heat from the sauce does a nice job, adding depth to an otherwise smooth sipper.
The Saint-Tropez (80RMB), on the other hand, is a stiff drink on a mission, with rye whisky and herbal French liqueur Benedictine blending smoothly but still packing a herbaceous punch. The Cucumber Cooler (75RMB) is a taste of summer and decidedly refreshing, if a bit weak on the hooch. We could use a bit more gin (when couldn’t we?). Meanwhile, the Pacific Conference (75RMB) is refreshing but also packs enough punch for an aperitif, blending sake, rye whisky Benedictine, lavender and egg white. The creamy egg white topping cushions a sprig of mint and sprinkling of fresh lavender, giving it a pleasing bouquet as well as luscious texture. The rest of the offerings are mixed up expertly, if lacking a distinct personality.
Plenty of thought has gone into these cocktails, and the space itself makes an evening at Red Dog a memorable one, but the drinks are somewhat one-note. Still, for fun tipples in a less-trafficked part of Sanlitun, Red Dog can’t be beat.
By Nick Gollner