Johnnie Walker House

  • Bars
  • Whiskey Bars
23 Qian Men Dong Da Jie
Johnnie Walker House was never going to be a grungy dive bar. As a neighbour to Maison Boulud, as a so-called ‘experiment in marketing and commercial innovation’, as a private club-turned-open bar, and as an embassy for whisky in general, it had to be opulent. And it is. Top hats off to them for having pockets so deep they could be an extra pant leg. But given the fact that only in some bizarre alternate reality could it have been any other way, is a towering stack of money in the form of a luxurious whisky bar, retail space and museum worthy of praise?

We arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour with squelching shoes and ragged umbrellas structurally compromised by violent gusts. We had dressed for the occasion (sans monocles), but spattered as we were by the lashing, sideways rain, we wondered whether they would let us in. To our great relief, they did and were quite hospitable in the process. Our hosts held the door open as we dashed the final couple yards, and, once inside, they procured a bucket for our dripping umbrellas, as well as thick, comfy scarves emblazoned with intertwining JWs.

On our way downstairs to the Distillery Bar, a ghostly apparition of Johnnie Walker appeared overhead on the lofty, corrugated rock wall, striding along the water that ripples gently down its surface. It’s fitting, given Johnnie Walker’s motto: ‘Keep walking’. Not even death impairs his affinity for putting one foot in front of another, it seems.

Inside the bar, we immediately encountered an affront to the senses: mainstream electronic dance music. We’d rather not be transported, as we were, to a muddy field full of sweaty, sexed-up twentysomethings; we came to Johnnie Walker House to be fully grounded in the high-class ambiance it is supposed to afford. Turns out, as we were the bar’s only patrons at the time, they’d sized us up, pegged us as partiers and made a music selection accordingly. We are, in fact, partiers, but our inner jazz cats would have preferred something with more swing.

Blaring beats aside, we were spectacularly well treated; bartenders and servers culled from Financial Street institutions and The Opposite House saw to that. The cocktail menu chronicles the Johnnie Walker timeline with specially created concoctions highlighting landmark moments and individuals. The Sir Alexander Walker (100RMB), with Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, erguotou (you read that right) and coconut milk is exceptional; the baijiu truly finds its place within the drink’s harmony of flavours, rather than disrupting it. One of the better hot alcoholic drinks we’ve ever had, the John Walker (100RMB) is soothing and the slightest bit spicy, with Johnnie Walker Black Label, Earl Grey tea syrup and Darjeeling tea. The bartender also does bespoke cocktails upon request.

The subsequent mini-museum tour is interesting, if a bit too self-promotional. Nevertheless, the elegance, prime treatment and VIP options (that you’ll be able to afford in the off-chance you strike oil in your flat’s living room) make Johnnie Walker House a stroke of genius for the upscale Chinese market and a treat for whisky connoisseurs willing to splurge.
Venue name: Johnnie Walker House
English address: Building F 23 Qian Men Dong Da Jie Dongcheng district
Chinese address: 前门东大街23号F座