50/50 isn’t a bar that does things by halves. Despite its no-frills interior and laidback atmosphere, the casual cocktail den takes a serious approach to booze, striking a balance between boundary-pushing mixology and neighbourhood hangout.
Slotted within Xingfucun’s well-populated stretch of boozy hideouts, the second-floor nook distances itself from the get-go, purely by virtue of not being a speakeasy. In fact, with its simple white bar, minimalist furnishings and DIY blacked-out windows, 50/50 couldn’t be any less like the sleek cocktail temples currently ruling Beijing’s bar scene, in both looks and ethos.
50/50 takes inspiration from the concept of yin and yang, we’re told, and there’s certainly a noticeable duality between its sparse décor and punchy menu. You won’t find Old Fashioneds or martinis gracing the lips of anyone here, but you will find plenty of other well-travelled modern classics, such as the Hanky Panky, Penicillin and Tom Collins. Unfamiliar with these less conventional counterparts? That’s no problem – 50/50’s menu is laid out by type, angling itself towards both casual cocktail sippers and connoisseurs. Partial to tart, citrusy tipples? Try something from Sweet & Sour. Prefer something with a bit more heft? Check out the options in Strong & Dry.
A low-energy start to our night sees us opting for the Corpse Reviver No.2 (70RMB), that potent combo of dry gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon and absinthe spray, as well as the equally reviving Zombie (120RMB), with its deceptively strong blend of Jamaican rum, lime, cinnamon, falernum and Pernod. 50/50’s doesn’t stray far from the originals, but these unfraught classics are made and served with aplomb, which should satisfy cocktail purists.
For those who prefer less tradition-led tipples, 50/50’s seasonal menu is where the mercurial bar truly shows off its split personality. With names such as Basic Bish, Twerk and Unusual Pig, there’s a joy that runs through the curated, yet almost cavalier, list of seasonal cocktails. Basic Bish (90RMB), a concoction of rum, pumpkin purée, maple syrup, lemon and seltzer, is about as far removed from its buttoned-up counterparts as possible, yet demonstrates a similar understanding of workable flavours and balance. Likewise, the Twerk (80RMB), made from mezcal, house-made yellow bell pepper juice, Thai chilli tincture, yellow chartreuse and lime, is about as subtle as a punch to the face, yet remains dangerously drinkable.
If 50/50’s regular line-up is accused of being overly guided by tasteful traditions, then its seasonal menu is its convincing rebuttal. A raft of DIY flourishes, such as Laphroaig sprays and offbeat infusions (try the banana-infused rum), demonstrate a passion and flair for experimenting with unusual flavours – you won’t find flavour combinations like these anywhere else in Beijing, for better or worse. And if there’s a session cocktail (always a dangerous idea) to be had, it can even be found in 50/50’s outrageous punch bowls – crystal kegs of cocktails (680RMB) to be shared amongst serious swiggers.
With a clear desire to not be boxed into any one category, 50/50’s love of contrasts creates a bit of something for everyone. Hang out in its moody main space or lounge in a brightly illuminated private back room. Quaff a bacon hot toddy or sip on a Penicillin. Savour a snifter of Château du Breuil calvados or down a keg of cocktails. There’s no right or wrong here, and we couldn’t be more on board with that.
By Leanne Wong