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Funky breath of fresh air in Houhai

http://www.chinese.cn 10:12, November 26, 2010 en.ce.cn

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Tao Yao bar
Tao Yao bar

With their gaudy music, ramshackle interiors, sometimes rip-off prices and generally touristy feel, Houhai's bars are not always the ideal location for a memorable night out. However, Tao Yao bar is a little different and offers a genuinely nice experience.

Tao Yao isn't trying to compete with the stylish and expensive bars of Sanlitun, so if you are expecting swish decor, sanitized spaces and European prices, you will be disappointed.

The whole charm of a place like Tao Yao is that it is unpretentious. If you are in the area, it makes a pleasant change to the neon-clad, music-pumping bars near Yinding Bridge.

Located on the south shore of Houhai, it has calming lake views that are not ruined by the usual set of inept in-bar crooners. The bar is decked out in a Tibetan style, with folk art paintings and sculptures, plus lots of plants and comfy sofas.

Atmosphere can only take you so far though and what really gives Tao Yao some extra credit is the drinks menu.

It is quite simple, but the drinks are well made. One nice touch is a range of specialty teas from around China, sourced by a local tea expert.

In the afternoons you can get an all-you-can-drink deal on freshly-made Masala Chai, Tibetan-style milk tea or coffee for 50 yuan, which is a good deal if you want to sit with your laptop and take advantage of the Wi-Fi connection.

The bar snacks, although limited, are of good quality. Tasty hand-cut, seasoned french fries are sold in big sharing baskets for just 20 yuan.

Tao Yao may have a quiet, lazy atmosphere most of the week, but on Fridays it comes alive for a weekly Yak-tipping party, which constitutes one of the best drinks deals in town.

The deal is 50 yuan for an open bar from 9 pm to 2 am. This includes chilled Harbin beers and unlimited pours of five cocktails: gin and tonic, rum and coke, Mojito, Grapefruit Martini and the signature Yak-Tipper; a blend of gin, homemade cardamom syrup and tonic water, over ice.

There is a really friendly party atmosphere on Friday nights with drinkers having a good time and listening to an eclectic, yet knowledgeable range of music from London's DJ OWALLY.

Speaking to Tao Yao manager and local Beijinger Youngcall, not her real name, who runs the place for her brother, you get the sense that there is a real commitment to creating a sociable atmosphere at the bar.

"We have a strict, 'no hard faces' policy at Tao Yao! That means people have to speak to strangers, be friendly, get drunk and dance," she said.

Youngcall has plenty of experience in the hospitality industry and when she isn't managing the bar, she's busy opening The Orchid, a new boutique hotel in Gulou with 10 rooms, a bar and a Fujian-style restaurant, slated to open in December.

She is also keen to point out that Tao Yao is known for its private parties and it has been adopted by Volkswagen China as their party venue of choice for their huge army of interns.

Such parties can be booked for any night of the week apart from Friday and for a minimum of 30 people. The best deal is the 100-yuan-per-person offer, which includes open bar and all-you-can-eat food, courtesy of Joel Shuchat, head chef of The Hutong cooking school.

Houhai may not always seem like the most convenient location, but for those who want something different, Tao Yao is as fun and charming as any bar on Nanluoguxiang.

 

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