won't be there tonight because he has become an old
bore and retired to a small Belgian town, and there
won't be any opium because this is New China. But Beijing's
own Blue Lotus-a newly opened cafe borrowing its moniker
from the Tintin comic book-indeed shares much of the
exotic allure of a 1920s den of iniquity, minus the
opium, indolent addicts, prowling colonialists and other
distracting counterrevolutionary activities.
Blue Lotus is located in a restored courtyard, along
the tree-lined shore of Shishahai, the small comma-shaped
lake connected to Houhai, just north of the newly widened
and refurbished Ping'An Avenue. Ping'An Avenue itself
is, by municipal decree, lined with faux-Qing dynasty
storefronts, but the lake district to its north is still
authentic Old Peking, complete with quiet hutongs, courtyard
houses, street vendors, and quaint rows of large old
sycamore trees. A few hundred meters north of the Blue
Lotus is perhaps Beijing's most picturesque street scene-an
old stone bridge that crosses the narrow channel connecting
the Houhai and Qianhai lakes. The immediate area contains
a superb example of a privileged pre-Revolutionary residence-the
palace of Prince Gong. Prince Gong never ruled China
himself, but his son Puyi ascended to the Imperial Throne
as a child, becoming the Middle Kingdom's last emperor.
Prince Gong's palace comprises nine spacious courtyards
and elaborate gardens enclosed behind massive brick
and mortar walls.
courtyard house now occupied by the Blue Lotus is not
quite as grand as
Gong's, but it once belonged to a Nationalist general.
Seized by the
after Liberation, it was used as a communal residence
for a time
being assigned to an organization under the Ministry
to neighbors, one of the general's sons returned to
Beijing from Taiwan a few years ago hoping to reclaim
the house, but the authorities failed to see things
from this running dog's, uh, compatriot's point of view.
luck for the general's son is good luck for us, the
People, who can now go to the Blue Lotus and sip coffee
inside the house or, before it gets too cold, on the
veranda facing the lake.
by local Beijing artists Qing Qing and Huizi, the cafe
is as relaxing as a walk around the nearby lakes. Mellow
jazz on the hi-fi, hemp and rattan curtains, and subdued
light give the cafe a comfortable ambience that is a
world away from the sweat, noise, and overindulgence
that characterizes many of Beijing's trendy hotspots.
The walls are hung with photographs, a large Buddhist
thangka painting, and a carved wooden window shutter
lighted from behind.
Qing and Huizi plan to hold small photography exhibits
at the cafe and to continuously rotate the artwork hanging
on the walls. The emphasis is on pictures of Beijing,
new and old, which fits in very well with the atmosphere
of the cafe as a whole, which is after all a new venue
in a very old neighborhood.
The Blue Lotus offers a small
selection of alcoholic beverages, as well as coffee
and a wide selection of Chinese and foreign tea. The
coffee is prepared on a small stove-top espresso boiler,
producing a clean jolt of flavorsome brew. An Asian-based
international menu is in the works, but in the meantime
the Blue Lotus is an excellent place for late-night
coffee, afternoon tea, or a tranquil break from the
hurly-burly of urban life in the Northern Capital.
Blue Lotus begins serving food, a recommended pre-coffee
Beijing's oldest Muslim restaurant, Kaorouji, an enjoyable
five-minute walk from the cafe on the far side of the
like any good opium den, the Blue Lotus is a little
tricky to find if you don't know your way around. The
easiest way to get there is via the aforementioned street
which all taxi drivers know as Ping An Dadao, but which
is called at various points Workers' Stadium Road, Dongsi
Road, Di An Men Street and Chegongzhuang Street. Just
west of the intersection
of Ping An Dadao and Gulou Street (which leads to the
Bell and Drum towers) is a little road heading north.
Small red signs point to Prince Gong's Palace and the
Sichuan Restaurant. Turning north up that street leads
to the north bank of Shisha Qianhai, and thence to the
comforting intimacy of the Blue Lotus Cafe.
Blue Lotus Cafe
Shisha Qianhai North Bank, Xicheng District
10 am-2 am
none yet; great coffee Ambience: **** Service: ** Cost: