This venue has closed.
‘Why are we here?’ It’s a question that has confounded philosophers for millennia, yet seems to have entirely escaped the founders of Cicada Ultralounge, the conjoined sister of excellent Sichuanese restaurant Transit.
Cicada looks like a place for Beijing’s wealthy to flaunt their money. But it’s tucked away from Sanlitun’s nightlife in the dreary yellow corridors of Taikoo Li North, hidden behind thick curtains and an imposing metal door. Who in the moneyed set wants to step out into that awful jaundiced passage to go to the toilet? And why splash your cash at the bar when the few gawking peasants that might stumble up there are shielded from your glamour by those damned curtains?
Why is Cicada here? And why would anyone go to it?
Perhaps the drinks menu will help. It offers four champagnes (from 180RMB for a glass, capping at 6,000RMB for a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé), two wines (both 80RMB per glass, 380RMB per bottle), five spirits (glasses from 80RMB, bottles from 1,080RMB) and Heineken (60RMB). But the backbone of the menu is a collection of 11 cocktails, competently shaken, stirred and swizzled by a besuited team.
The PS I Love You (82RMB) is a simple rum-and-lemon-juice mix given a smooth – almost creamy – finish through the use of gomme, an olde-worlde sugar syrup. Here, the gomme is made from pandan leaves rather than the more typical acacia gum, and gives a thick, frothy and sweet head that truly satisfies.
Sweetness is the overriding note in almost all the drinks here – even in the whiskey sour and Boston sour (both 82RMB), thanks to the addition of sugar-cane gomme. The Boston sour gets a bonus of egg whites with its dash of bitters, but both drinks lack the bite we’d like, and seem rather weak compared to one of Beijing’s other high-class cocktail dens.
Things continue in a similar, though slightly more potent, vein with the Elyx perfection (88RMB), a floral mix of sweet and dry vermouth, aromatic bitters and Absolut’s premium vodka, Elyx. The swirl of flavours is intriguing,but not more than a novelty – unlike the Heineken mojito (60RMB). The cane gomme makes a return, but the lager adds a welcome sharpness to the mix, and with two available for 100RMB it was the stand-out of the evening. Colour us surprised.
The cocktails are good, but they’re not perfect, and while the bar staff can whip up off-menu items, they alone won’t be enough to bring people into Cicada Ultralounge. Neither will the décor; individually, the vaguely art-deco bar, the plush lounge area, the eerily sinister framed art and the weirdly archaic wall lamps are fine, but together they neither form a cohesive style, nor give the impression of a crazy, anything goes atmosphere. They’re just…there. The sound-system is excellent– the Funktion-One speakers have presence without having to be absurdly loud – and the acoustics are ideal, but on the Saturday night we were there, the music was generic loungey house stuff.
It’s a shame because most of what Cicada does is good, but it’s not enough to really go out of your way for. There is hope, though: this month it will host a DJ set by beloved music-geek-cum-DJ Gilles Peterson (see Nightlife). Perhaps repositioning the bar as a hotspot for discerning music fans will put it on the map– and answer a major philosophical question, too.