Sanlitun drinkers have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for cocktails,and as rent in the area continues to skyrocket, its quieter corners have started to attract the attention of veteran bar owners. Spaces are bigger, comparably cheaper and the sharp drop-off in foot traffic puts less pressure on the bar. In most cities this would be a recipe for disaster; in Beijing we love an offbeat enclave.
Rong Bar – a new project from the same team behind Revolution,Hidden House, Miles and Ming Bar – is an expansion of the group’s successful formula of small, vaguely speakeasy-themed cocktail bars. Anyone familiar with the family of bars by the eponymous Mr Ming will recognise the hallmarks: grey brick, cast iron fixtures, dark hardwood and leather upholstery.
What sets Rong apart from the rank and file – and believe us it does stand out – is the scale.The split-level interior bar is flanked by French doors that open out onto a large rooftop terrace, with a long high-topped bar running the length of the opposing wall. Booths and tables are in ample supply;illuminated glass bottles of spirits emit a soft welcoming shade of brownish green from behind the bar.
The wait staff are dressed in neatly pressed waistcoats,white-collared shirts and skinny ties, the formality of which confers a stiff air to their service standards. But however stiff the service, the drinks are stiffer, and as our evening visit wears on, the effects of a few hours out on the terrace soften even the most staid of the skinny ties.
The signature cocktails present a wide spectrum, from a fruity strawberry-topped number to the more demure and very drinkable Za Franca (65RMB): a base of Fernet Branca amaro and Jameson is topped with vanilla bitters and torched orange rind. It goes down with the same sweetness as a well mixed old fashioned,but with an extra rich herbal finish thanks to the amaro. Classics are served up well, including the Manhattan (60RMB) and martini (65RMB).The undeniable benefit of enjoying cocktails at Rong is the expansive terrace. Sanlitun’s rooftop space is limited, but here the removed locale gives it the feel of a less hectic neighbourhood – insulated by embassies and the Sanlitun DRC – with plenty of space to lounge in a booth. Rong may lack an original drinks programme, but it’s a place to enjoy quality drinks in a seldom-enjoyed area.
By Nick Gollner