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