The drinking scene in Beijing has long been divided into beer versus cocktail camps, and perhaps rightly so, as the disappointing new Gulou bar, Wonderwall, illustrates.
Walking into the small bar on a quiet corner of Jiaodaokou, you’re first greeted by a menagerie of quirky sports memorabilia to make you feel like a Proper Bloke as you sip on one of decent selection of craft IPAs that are available on tap. The vibe is crowded and eccentric, but not without charm or purpose as a quiet spot to grab a beer away from the hutong fray. Head upstairs for the Venus to downstairs’ Mars, though, for 180 degrees swing into an arbitrarily feminised cocktail bar. A neon sign reads, inexplicably, ‘The Stranger’, to match the first floor’s ‘The Passenger’, one of the few stylistic links between needlessly divided Planet Beer and Planet Cocktail.
The confused vibes would be forgivable in the presence of outstanding drinks, but sadly, none were found. The cocktail menu sounds promising, with plenty of creative concoctions based around flavoured spirits, all a ghastly 100RMB. We opt for the L’Arnacœur, which is a mix of vodka with cherry blossom liqueur and lemon juice. It’s prettily presented with a dried rosebud floating on top, but unfortunately it doesn’t taste of anything. Next up we honour the Oscars and the greatest actress of our time with a Fargo, which, like the North Dakotan town, is covered in ice, although in the drink it’s a rum-based ice cream. However everyone knows Fargo is really about pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson, and so we’d expect the drink to be punchy, prickly and heroic, not weak, sweet and bland, which is unfortunately what we get.
Criticisms aside, we’re buoyed to see a new bar opening in the beleaguered area, and a multi-purpose one at that. There’s clearly some heart in the overdone aesthetic. If you literally just want a beer, then yes, Wonderwall will serve you one and it will be fine, but if you’re looking for an evening of interesting drinks then go elsewhere.