New Wangjing jazz bar B.B. Queen is a study in how lighting can make or break a mood.
They've got plenty of old jazz LPs — crucified records and covers of the likes of Chaka Khan, James Brown, Ray Charles and more are scattered around the livehouse, noble sacrifices in pursuit of a feature wall. There are black-and-white posters of jazz legends and even a Game of Thrones-esque shrine to the eponymous Mississippi bluesman B.B. King behind the bar, where the swords are swapped for the necks of six mutilated guitars.
But on the Thursday night we attend, overly bright downlights create the sense it's perpetually closing time. Rinky-dink colored mover lights don’t improve the mood, and while one of the large plasma TVs plays a loop of old B.B. King concerts (it sits under a large framed poster of Mao Zedong), the other is tuned to CCTV-5 – the sports channel – screening reruns of Olympic luge.
The result is more Planet Hollywood than Hollywood Bowl, sitting somewhere between jazz club and sports bar and doing neither justice. The food is solid though. We start with a serving of B-52 chicken (RMB65) — a plate of crispy fried chicken which the waiter pours a shot of Bacardi 151 on and sets aflame. It's unclear whether this dish is named after the 70s new wave band or the feared long-range US bomber plane, but the plate of charcoal-black tenders are surprisingly tender inside and very tasty.
The beef fajitas deserve a mention as well. The beef, peppers and onions come in a skillet with warm fajitas and all the traditional condiments, including an excellent chunky pepper paste. The menu includes seafood, Australian steak and New Zealand lamb chops, share plates, pasta — the typical sports bar fare. The drinks menu covers all bases too (Asahi draft and Scotch).
The night we go, an energetic live band covers a grab-bag of artists from Justin Bieber and Tracy Chapman to Wanting Qu. They seem wasted on a crowd that peaks at seven people. But summer is nearing, and the adjacent beer garden is a well-used space peppered with sweating patrons drinking beer from mini-kegs.
In its current incarnation, B.B. Queen lacks soul, though with a few tweaks, it could really cook. And still, it's reliable place to take a group of friends for dinner and a show.
[Images via Flynn Murphy/That's]