Mojito Man: How One Bar Represents Everything That's Changed in Beijing

By Noelle Mateer, September 17, 2018

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I go to Mojito Man with a simple question: “Which one of you guys is the Mojito Man?”

 Two bartenders shrug off the question before the youngest one finally admits the truth: the Man himself lives in Shanghai now, where he opened a branch earlier this year. 

I hoped to do a dramatic unveiling of the Man behind the Mojito, but here, at his first-ever brick-and-mortar shop in Beijing, he lives on only in cartoon form on plastic cups. A projector plays the music videos for 2011’s top hits, while speakers play the music of another year’s. According to a chalkboard hanging from the liquor shelves, ‘bar special’ mojitos are only RMB20 – a shockingly low price in Sanlitun. (We ask what the difference is between the cheapest mojito on the menu and the bar special – turns out, the bar special features a silver rum of nebulous origin called ‘Black Roberts.’) 

The convergence of humorous misspellings, fluorescent-blue cocktails and brash music makes me giddy with joy. “You just don’t see this anymore,” my friend says, pointing to the terrible font on the menu. We giggle as we flip through the pages. Though if you arrived in Beijing in 2017 or later, I’m not sure you’d get it. 

That’s because Mojito Man makes us nostalgic for a Beijing past. If you’re new here, let me fill you in: Until last year,laowai descended upon Sanlitun’s ‘Dirty Bar Street,’ where bars with head-scratcher names like ‘Youth Club’ and ‘Pure Girl’ served wildly cheap drinks amidst tacky interior design choices. And this dude, nay, this legend, sold massive, potent mojitos for 15 kuai. Just right there, on the freaking street. 

Image via Noelle Mateer/That's Beijing

That Beijing no longer exists. Dirty Bar Street died last April, when local authorities commanded the dismantling of half the strip’s bars in one fell swoop. More broadly, the capital kicked off a citywide bricking campaign that terrifies restaurant and bar owners to this day. Entire blocks of shops were bricked over, often with mere days’ notice.New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos wrote that Beijing was “more convenient than it was not long ago, but less thrilling […] It has lost some of its improvisational energy.” Mojito Man himself fled to Shanghai. 

READ MORE: WATCH: Sanlitun's 'Dirty Bar Street' Gets Ripped Up (Again)

And yet, citywide brickings are positive in a few crucial aspects. The neon-lit obviousness of Dirty Bar Street drew in China newbies. Their cultural sensitivity unrefined, they made life hell for neighborhood residents. “Some foreigner probably just called him ‘Mojito Man’ years ago because he couldn’t be bothered to learn his actual name,” said my friend on the cab ride to the bar. “And then the Mojito Man ran with it.” 

It’s good that today’s equivalents of the younger, dumber me would have to work harder to find somewhere to binge drink. Not to mention, the Western fetishization of ‘wacky China’ – my insensitive delight in a Chinese owner’s shoddy reproduction of an American-style bar – is problematic anyway. When expats miss an older Beijing, is it simply because they can no longer patronize it? 

Beijing and I have aged together out of our cheap mojito-drinking years. I order the ‘Top Grade Mojito,’ which is denoted on the menu as using 7-year Havana Club rum. I go ‘Top Grade’ because I’m older now, and I don’t have time for the sort of hangovers Mojito Man gave me in 2014. Also, I can afford a 60-kuai cocktail. These are good things. 

Not to mention, Mojito Man is probably happy to have upgraded to a permanent location. In the same way that everyone grows up, any city’s history will be peppered by different eras. 

The difference, however, is that I matured gradually. I wonder how much notice Mojito Man was given to find somewhere new to work. I wonder if he resents the way bulldozers plowed through his old base on Dirty Bar Street. We all grow up – it’s just that, sometimes, I worry Beijing is growing up too fast. 

But hey, look at the time! I’ve digressed, huh? Here’s your review: Mojito Man has four different mojitos, priced according to quality of rum used (RMB35-60). You can add flavors like passionfruit and mango. There are some bar snacks. There’s a lot of customer spillover from Heaven Supermarket, and the tables out front are pretty dirty. The whole set-up is Dirty Bar Street levels of dirty. Treat it with care nonetheless.

[Cover image via Noelle Mateer/That's Beijing]

See a listing for Mojito Man and read more Beijing Bar & Restaurant Reviews 

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