Maltail tucks itself in so well on Sanlitun’s grimy backstreet that it almost blends in with the gregarious surroundings. But once you do find it, you’ll see that it’s worlds apart. Smart, spacious and stylish, the comfortable cocktail lounge is sure to bring in a considerably more sophisticated audience than the rambunctious neighbours. The jazz age-inspired design doesn’t get any points for originality, but its sense of class – all bow ties, high ceilings and dark wood – is a welcome tonic to Sanlitun fever.
The menu runs through a well-trodden list of classics, all mixed well and reasonably priced (40-70RMB). The bartenders, led by a former manager of Jane’s and Hooch, are slick yet endearingly warm and approachable. Which is just as well as we needed some help choosing between the bizarrely named house drinks. We didn’t much fancy a glass of ‘Strange Smell’ at first, but we’re mighty glad it was recommended. It’s a slightly sweet goblet of raspberry puree, gin and a hint of Scandinavian spirit aquavit (50RMB). In case you were wondering, it smelled of refreshing cucumber. The only strange smell around these parts is hot vomit on the street. ‘The Kid’ (50RMB) is less refreshing – a viscous, spicy mixture of Ketel One vodka and ginger syrup with an uncomfortably cloying aftertaste.
There’s also a separate tome listing whiskeys for connoisseurs to leaf through. In short, it all feels very mature for the area. Over the last couple of years, there have been a few new openings that supposedly heralded bar street ‘growing up’, only to amount to nothing. Is this opening the start of a changing tide in the notoriously sleazy street? Probably not. But for now, it’s a great alternative to the s**t-faced shambles that is Sanlitun Houjie; a place to get a few good drinks in before heading up to Migas on a Saturday night. And for that, Maltail, we thank you.