For somewhere clearly out to make a big impression, Atmosphere practically skulked onto Beijing’s bar scene. When it opened in the summer of 2010, there was no massive launch party, no big-name guest DJs, no firebreathing contortionists (mercifully); there were just 80 floors, an ear-popping lift ride and an open door. ‘Build it and they shall come’ appeared to be the marketing motto – certainly a bold approach. But, in many ways, Atmosphere has pulled it off.
On a clear night, the view is hair-raising: a vertical drop-off to loosen either the jaw or the bowels, depending on your disposition. It also manages to sidestep the ‘curse of the hotel bar’, with comfy sofas for lounging on, a checkered bar and some showboat design. Although the wood, leather and candle motif had us scanning the exits for the nearest fire extinguisher. This is a bar for grown-ups. Those looking to move to the beats that replace the lift music and mediocre live band late at night must do so between the myriad tables and chairs.
The main impression you get is that this is somewhere to be seen – and preferably be seen doing nothing. But to condemn Atmosphere for a lack of a proper dance space is missing the point. The 4am opening hours on Friday and Saturday make this an excellent chill-out spot for those who can afford the prices.
This is essentially a glorified hotel lounge bar, just a very good one. The main pull here is the drinks. Yes, they’re at hotel prices (most start at 65RMB), but only Apothecary and George’s can rival its cocktails for sheer quality and choice. And any drinks menu that requires a contents page, and which features the sort of Japanese whiskies you’re unlikely to find outside of the city’s specialist Japanese bars, is doing well.
Turkish bartender Charly is also among the finest in Beijing. The man rules his area with a charm, knowledge and skill rare in this city. Although the same cannot be said for the rest of the staff, and flagging down a drink (let alone waiting for it to arrive) is currently a long drawn-out experience. Window dressing aside, you will go here for the cocktails and the view – both are rare in Beijing.
While the eponymous mood can be muted, this may be put down to the bar having not settled on its crowd or properly drilled its staff yet. When it does, it should rise above the competition.
By Gareth Clark