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  Beijing Scene


Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 28, October 1 - 14

Club Vogue

Club Vogue has no sign, no advertising, and no street address.

Club Vogue That's because it doesn't need any of these superficial trappings that clutter scores of lesser bars. Instead, it possesses the one essential ingredient absolutely vital to the success of any club, restaurant or entertainment venue in mainland China: a barbershop Buddha.

"Originally, this place was a barbershop," explains Henry Li, Club Vogue's proprietor who, with his wife and co-creator, Sally Shia, also owns Sanlitun's landmark Public Space.

"When I offered to take the building, one of my conditions was I wanted the Buddha as well. If the Buddha didn't stay, I wasn't interested. The owner relented and now the second-hand Buddha inhabits a small room just behind the second-floor DJ booth.

This spacious, well-designed club is Soho-meets-Shanghai-somewhere-off-the-coast-of-California. It is the rediscovered Atlantis of land-locked hipsters, mandospotters, and style-punks, starving for a place to see and be seen or just—pardon my Shakespeare—to be. It is hipoisie central, the umbilicus of Beijing's "in" crowd, and so unlike the rest of Beijing you're very likely to experience cultural whiplash as you leave.

Using one of his favorite metaphors, Henry compares the restaurant and club business to parenthood. "The restaurant is the baby. The owner is the father. And the customers are the mother—they bring the milk."

And Club Vogue's customers are, indeed, bringing the milk.

Already well-known among Chinese hipsters as "the cool new club without a name," Vogue suggests that "no advertising is good advertising" in our media-cluttered world.

Inside Vogue, Sally Shia's impeccable design instincts have created the optimal space for any of the seven days of the week (and any mood or crowd therein). Unexpected nooks and crannies and alcoves, Chinese-style sofas and furniture mixed with western decor, a smartly-designed lighting scheme, and a multiplicity of carved-out spaces all combine to produce a club vibe that achieves the improbable: allowing more than one tribe of Beijing socialites to co-exist in the same building without getting bored of each other.

There are two things you need to know about Club Vogue's cuisine: First, it is surprisingly good and features simple, elegant presentations of light nouvelle cuisine with some flashes of genius here and there, at very reasonable prices. Second, between every course, someone famous walks through Vogue's foyer and along the mosaic-tiled bar searching out their rightful place in Vogue's ecosystem of chic (aka chicosystem). Which is convenient since it allows time for proper digestion and small talk while keeping you updated on the who's who of the Beijing cultural elite.

On Sunday night, just after we tasted Vogue's crispy Vietnamese-style samosa salad (rmb 38) and grilled garden vegetables (rmb 38), Chinese actor/director Chen Daming swaggered through the foyer curtains, and took a spot at the long Spanish-tiled bar, quickly attracting all the available women in the club to his shoulder-length locks, chiselled physique and witty repartée.

Then we tasted a bit of alimentary nostalgia from Henry's childhood?0's Shanghai-style sticky rice omelet (rmb 38), as well as chicken liver with fruit salad (rmb 38), and duck breast with fruit chutney (rmb 48). Although I'm not a particularly avid chicken liver fan—nor a breast man, for that matter—both dishes were quite tasty, and segued nicely into a slickly understated entrance by mainland songstress Chen Ming and hunky crooner Ling Yilun.
For our main course, we ventured into a vegetable risotto (rmb 58), followed quickly by Zhang Yimou's literary consultant Wang Bin, who shuffled into the cigar room upstairs, perhaps hunting for the next European award-winning screenplay idea. Then came a delicious pan-fried salmon steak with lychee and ginger sauce (rmb 118), along with Channel [V]'s mainland China music guru, Shao Yide.

For dessert, we nationalized a few of Henry's Cuban Cohiba cigarillos, sipped espresso (rmb 20), and munched on balls of deep-fried ice cream (rmb 40)—at which point, sure enough, the second runner-up for Miss Asia sauntered in wearing a funny orange felt hat, appearing a bit lost.

Which is all to say, Club Vogue is not just a club. Sure, if you're going to drink, dance, and flirt with controlled substances of varying shades of legality, a club would be the logical place to start.

Vogue, however, is something else as well. Henry's philosophy is that a club is not just a place to party, but a place, as he puts it, "To dream, to get different angles on things, to learn from others." A club should be a public space, he insists, from which one can come home and "feel good about yourself, because you've benefited from the experience."

And let's face it: Life itself is a controlled substance. But if life were more like a good club once in awhile—no sign, no advertising, no address—maybe we'd all be more like a happy barbershop Buddha in the best of places: behind a stack of vinyl records and turntable overlooking a dance floor.

Club Vogue
150 meters north of City Hotel on Worker's Stadium East Road (west side), Chaoyang District
Tel: 6416-5316
Hours: 6 pm-3 am (or thereabouts)
Food: **** Ambience: **** Service: **** Cost: rmb rmb rmb


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