A short walk from Sanlitun’s well-worn bar street, on a small, quiet side street, there is a dimly lit room decked out in knickknacks from the early 20th century and portraits of Charlie Chaplin. Oh, and they also serve cocktails – good ones.
Charlie Chaplin Bar both dives headfirst into the speakeasy-era aesthetic that dominates the cocktail scene in the capital and maintains a healthy awareness of just how ridiculous it truly is. When asked ‘So, why Charlie Chaplin?’ owner and chief bar man Nick Hsie responds, ‘Charlie Chaplin is old. We wanted this to be an old-styled bar.’ Well, there you have it.
With four booths for groups of three, a parlour with seating for five in the back and a bar that could squeeze another five thirsty flappers, space is tight. The walls are covered in dark Victorian wallpaper and portraits of the eponymous actor taking in a scene of couples whispering quietly into their drinks and scrolling their WeChat Moments feeds. Where the atmosphere is quiet and reserved, the drinks are less so.
Behind the bar, despite the ultraretro décor and his pressed white jacket, Hsie has an unexpected flair for the unconventional with botanicals from ingredients like bitter melon, Taiwanese sugar cane and winter melon working their way into mixtures of crushed ice and top-shelf booze. Charlie Chaplin Bar shuns menus in place of the bespoke cocktail approach – with prices to match (from 60RMB) – so hit the ATM, grab that bowler hat you’ve been dying to wear and head over for a well-mixed taste of a bygone era.
By Nick Gollner