Drinking in Nanjing

By Bryan • china, nanjing • 7 Jan 2006

Picked up the latest copy of Map Magazine at Skyways today. I had the pleasure of reading an absolute gem of an interview with one of Nanjing’s apparent foremost ‘foreign bar manager’.

It wasn’t so much the writing, nor was it the interviewer that bothered me enough to cut short and afternoon of errands and head home with only one mission.

He is an excerpt:

The biggest thing is, the foreigners need to branch out. Not all foreigners here are students on tight budgets. Most of us have good jobs and money to spend. So why do week keep going to the same places, many of which are not even classy and buying single bottles of 15 kuai Qingdao? It’s because that’s just become our habit. Those places and routines are familiar to us.

Upon reading this I almost spat the half-chewed bite of my sandwich across the room.

I feel like I need to add another viewpoint into this Nanjing sociology lesson. The problem is…where do I begin?

Well, I’ll begin with the customers. You and me. The hard-working (or hardly working) foreigner dwellers of Nanjing. Our esteemed interviewee correctly ascertains that not all of Nanjing laowai are budget minded students, yet fails to mention that by far the largest component of foreigners in Nanjing is the piss-poor humble English teacher. Furthermore, the vast majority of English teachers are young individuals (like myself and my friends) who are far more interested in banking cash for excursions into the hinterlands of Asia, than dropping coin at so-called ‘classy’ joints.

Folks with real jobs on western salaries (ie. EXPATS) constitute a growing, yet relatively small demographic. This is your market baby-doll. Too bad most of them would choose a pub any day of the week over a techno blaring disco. The teacher population? None of us have any class (which is why we are teaching English) and if it wasn’t for my Chinese buddies floating the bill at Red, I would never even consider stepping inside.

We’re after the cheap beer my friend. Cheaper the better.

I think it is now prudent for a lesson in beer economics. The street/store price of a bottle of locally brewed beer (640ml) is between 1 – 3 RMB. Foreign brands rate a bit higher at around 5-8, depending on the brand (even though they are all brewed in China. The price of a bottle of beer at Red Club (and yes, I’ve been there many, many times) is about 25RMB (355ml). Since one needs to drink two small bottles to get the desired alcohol impact of a classic da ping, one must purchase 50RMB worth of beer. The inflation is considerable. Let’s look at this price relative to the income of a foreign English teacher. 4000RMB average monthly income. If I buy 4 bottles of beer, as the interviewee would like, it would cost me 100RMB. This has the same impact on our salaries as spending 100 dollars on beer at a bar in Canada would on a Canadian salary. When was the last time you dropped 100 dollars at the bar?

Oh, but you pay for the atmosphere! Ah, the common excuse for insanely high beer prices. Red Club is nice, as are all the establishments in 1912. Yet, aside from the different names, one would have a difficult time figuring out just exactly what bar they are visiting. Cloning is a Chinese business practice and the night business has not been spared. At one point, Red Club did have some cool bartender fire acrobatics. Now, so does everyone.

Alright, back to the monstrosity.

So, you have a grunge against the Qingdao routine? If I come to your bar, you will cure me of this nasty habit right? Oh wait! You offer me *gasp* four alternatives…one of which is Qingdao! Let’s see what we got here…Bud, Carlsberg, and Heineken. Hmm…25RMB you say, for that tiny thing? What? Shenme? No, I don’t think she looks tiny in that thing. I can’t hear you because I can’t hear myself think…it’s too damn loud in here.

Ok…I bought my beer. But I can’t find anywhere to sit. What? I have to pay for that booth? 500RMB? Oh, but only if I buy a 500RMB bottle of Chivas? Oh.

Ah, but I can sit with my friends at that toothpick table which doubles as a dance floor for everyone. I still can’t hear you!

Whatever. Let’s go dance. Too bad the music is awful and the dance floor is the size of a hotel hot tub.

Oh well, at least there’s no cover.

Hey, do want to go to Cheese Pub? They’ve got 5 kuai Qingdao. Tastes like beer. If we’re really lucky, we might even be able to formulate a conversation. After we get loaded for 25 kuai we can walk to Scarlet and dance to the same music they played 5 years ago…hey…but we can get beer for 10RMB.

The current doldrums of nightlife in Nanjing isn’t about routine, nor is it about familiarity. It is about lack of affordable options. There are pubs here in Nanjing, and I imagine that lounging around over pitchers of beer is something most of us prefer over meat market madness…at least when we are sober. The problems arise when I decide I want to stay for more than 30 minutes and want to drink more than one bottle of beer. Then I’m getting into 50kuai prices. That is getting pricey. This aren’t places you can hang out in on a regular basis.

Red Bar and its equivalents are Chinese establishments, built and designed for the Chinese population. Music caters to local tastes. As does the eastern need for ‘class’. They are fun from time to time. They are not worth 25kuai beers, not matter how many ‘foreign managers’ one hires to make the place international. Drop the beer price to 10RMB, and I might consider (I know you can!). The owner of Cheese bar can operate two locations (one of which has a a HUGE patio, a rarity in Nanjing) with a decent pub style atmosphere on 5 kuai beers and 25 kuai pizzas.

I swear this ‘foreign manager’ isn’t even a foreigner. If you live in Nanjing, pick up the article, read it…you’ll know what I mean.

The best quote from the interview:

“We can go to these nicer places too and spend just a bit more money”

640ml Qingdao at Cheese for 5RMB.
355ml Carlsberg (tastes about the same) for 25RMB at Red Club

Price for something ‘nicer’? I’d rather pay for more Cheese.

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3 Responses

  1. Bryan

    While I’m very curious, I think it is best that I didn’t know his salary.

    My eyes roll everytime someone says English teachers recieve high pay.

  2. Bryan

    I’m sure your buddy has his hands tied with spinning material…but seriously…the stuff that come out the speakers in that club…I swear it is just one 25 hour track of consistent thump-thump-thump.

    heh heh…next time someone comments on ease of your ‘oral english’ class, you can respond by saying you know someone who earns three times as much moving discs from one player to another. Because as well all know, this a job only a foreigner can perform.

    Well, I guess it’s good to know where a good chunk of my 25RMB bottle of beer is going.

  3. Bryan

    I’m in a commenting mood tonight.

    Last year a friend of mine took me to the Irish Pub in Sheraton for the opportunity to sample the most expensive Guiness in the world. Well, can’t confirm that, but at 88RMB/pint…That’s about $13 CAD!!!!!!!!!!!! For a fairly common brew.

    Danny’s is a nice bar though. Totally Irish, but they had some sort of psuedo-Caribbean band their last year. It’s always deserted (I wonder why…)

    Any other Nanjingren tried the Blue Marlin? Or that German Brew House? I’m scared to walk into either for fear of bankruptcy.

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