This artistically minded Sanlitun cocktail lounge is raising the bar on high-end hooch. Years from now we will probably look back on Beijing’s speakeasy craze and wonder how we ever got so obsessed with things so dark and dull: the hushed tones and hidden doors long since passed from fashion, all but a hangover-induced fever dream. Why Beijing lost its sense of humour where the cocktail bar is concerned is yet unknown, but the forces that will usher in the next age of Beijing cocktail bars are already at work. Enter The Black Moth, a cocktail bar that bills itself as a museum of liquid art – and boy does it deliver.
The fourth floor Nali Patio space looks out over the chaos of Bar Street below, but you’ll be hard-pressed to take your eyes off the walls at The Black Moth. The owners spent over two years putting this project together, and from the collection of prints, photography and mixed media pieces – including a mural running the entire rear wall courtesy of Beijing-based designers Plastered 8 – the museum party vibe rings through loud and clear.
The collection is dominated by pieces broadly characterised as pop; irreverent and iconoclastic, at times even to the point of crassness, but overall the framed pieces lend the space a sense of style and identity that goes well beyond the usual set dressing required of bars, even at the highest levels. The energy, and not to mention hard cash, devoted to curating a space that is both artistically and visually stimulating is acutely evident, adding a lived-in sense of authenticity usually earned over years, not weeks.
Walking down the entrance hall, studded with colourful prints and the ever-present moth motif, the first thing that strikes you is the pleasant beech-wood scent, with herbal undertones pumping through the atomiser. The lofty space, populated with low-set chairs, brass-accented side tables and a leather banquet running the length of the rear wall, is bigger than it feels, with seating for about 40 and a private room suitable for another ten or so. Apron-clad servers and the affable, extremely well-quaffed host whisk us to a table before we have a moment to linger in front of the automated sliding doors.
The liquid art is no less impressive. The menu focuses on refined simplicity, ignoring gimmicks and focusing on top-shelf spirits paired with distinctive and innovative flavour profiles. A Cumin Gin Sour (85RMB) pairs caramel, fresh lime and fresh pineapple juice with cumin-spiced gin. The strong flavours culminate in a shockingly subtle drink, with toasted nut notes fading into sweet tropical fruits and back towards soft toffee.
A saffron barrel-aged gin martini (120RMB) gets a lift from a dash of Lillet Blanc and a beautiful golden- amber colour, not to mention flavour, from its time in the barrel with the pricey threads. It’s one of the more expensive martinis in town, but the unmistakable intense oral aroma and herbaceous finish of the saffron transforms the din of an already botanical-heavy drink into a symphony.
The classics are done with aplomb but could easily go overlooked as the seasonal menu promises a constant supply of timely tipples. The Black Moth may have opened quietly, but these guys are sure to make some big waves in Beijing’s cocktail scene.