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  All materials © 1999 
  Beijing Scene


Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 1, October 15 - 21


Old Zhang: The Blue Lotus? That's the name of an opium den in Shanghai!

Tintin: An opium den? Right! I'll be there tonight!

- from "The Blue Lotus" (Adventures of Tintin)

Tintin 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.


The 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.




The courtyard house now occupied by the Blue Lotus is not quite as grand as

Prince Gong's, but it once belonged to a Nationalist general. Seized by the

government after Liberation, it was used as a communal residence for a time

before being assigned to an organization under the Ministry of Culture.

According 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.

Bad 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.


Opened 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 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.



Until Blue Lotus begins serving food, a recommended pre-coffee dinner venue

is Beijing's oldest Muslim restaurant, Kaorouji, an enjoyable five-minute walk from the cafe on the far side of the lake.


Finally, 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 Shitiao, Zhangzizhong 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.


The Blue Lotus Cafe

11 Shisha Qianhai North Bank, Xicheng District

Tel: 6618-2542

Hours: 10 am-2 am

Food: none yet; great coffee Ambience: **** Service: ** Cost: $

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