You could easily miss Pi Bar, tucked away next to an old neighborhood barbershop down winding Xingfusancun Wuxiang in Sanlitun. On the Thursday night we arrive its flowery patio curtains billow in the summer breeze, and there are no customers. It’s their loss.
For a bar full of bric-a-brac — ostrich feathers, old teapots, various lamps, potpourri, plush couches, wooden benches and mismatched chandeliers — it feels cozy but not cluttered. Maybe it’s the economy of the layout, or the breathing room from a high gable roof with exposed beams.
The young barkeep, who hails from Hebei and goes by the Japanese name Momiji, offers to make a cocktail he says he invented the day before. It’s a sweet and pungent gin-based drink colored purple by tea brewed from the flower of the butterfly pea, served with a sprig of rosemary. The Inner Poison (RMB75), as he will later name it, is refreshing without being overpowering or perfume-like.
The kid’s a natural. The way he tells it, this is his first job mixing drinks. He started his relationship with the place as a customer when it opened a month ago. And he’s alone tonight because sisters Vico and Young, who own the bar, had to take their dog Daodan to the vet after a bone got stuck in his throat.
“The dog used to like girls, but then it came to the city and now it’s gay,” Momiji says matter-of-factly as a toddler wanders onto the tiled patio bouncing a soft yellow ball. Her parents run a nearby vegetable store which regularly feeds the staff, Momiji explains, and he often keeps an eye on her. Pi Bar may seem an oddity among hutong clothes racks and elderly, singlet-clad locals chatting on nearby stools, but it’s already part of the neighborhood.
Cocktails are priced from RMB60 with a standard gin and tonic at RMB50. The Jungle Bird (RMB70), rum and Campari with pineapple and lime, is very good. Coronas are available for RMB30. There’s also a selection of baijius flavored with waxberry, plum and osmanthus (RMB15-45).
Pi Bar is a charming amalgam of quirks – but it just works.
And don’t worry, Daodan is expected to make a full recovery.
[Images via Flynn Murphy/That’s Beijing]