Jeff Ji of Mai Bar and Malty Dog has been known to turn out a boss cocktail, so when we heard he was opening a Shanghai 1930s-style speakeasy, we expected, at the very least, a boss cocktail. Never mind those inapt faux deer heads mounted behind the bar, or the mural-sized print of a woman in last season’s prom dress taking a call on a rotary phone, or even the fact that Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” clangs through the speakers, Parlor does indeed deliver the drink.
Ji’s menu was in its development phase when we visited, but still offered many of the classics from his hutong hideout alongside a few surprises. The traffic cone orange Maiden Blush (RMB 70), while an unlikely fit for a demure den, is illicit in the way a dieter would feel guilty about sneaking cake from the fridge – its fresh, healthy juices and carrot stir are punctuated with a potent serving of Ketel One. This same vodka permeates through an unusual pairing of Kahlua and fresh durian, which is hand blended into ice cream and served in a delicate porcelain dish. Lost in Thailand (RMB 70) seduces with its blend of coconut, lemongrass, ginger, and lime-infused Havana rum. But it’s the inclusion of chilli that delivers an unexpectedly pleasant bite.
Ji’s joint has no shortage of bourbon and whiskey cocktails laced with wintery flavors like fig and hawthorne. He also aspires to having perhaps the most expensive drink in all of China. Priced at a whopping RMB 5,888 and made with a whiskey of almost 40 years, maybe it’s a good fit for patrons who would be prepared to shell out at least RMB 50,000 to gain access to the glittering peacock-lined members-only walls of the second floor. Up there, one might imagine wading through the heavy stench of swollen cigars and the ear-grinding clank of Mahjong tiles while a player piano bangs out jazz standards. Except instead of ivory keys, Parlor’s VIP level has a glitzy KTV room.
You might ask of Ji’s Gatsby-inspired bar: where is the absinthe, the cognac, and the art deco? It’s certainly no Astor House Hotel, and yet, it just might be enough to dress the part at one of Parlor’s themed parties in order to feel that twinge of authenticity.
Daily 6pm-2am. 39-9 Xingfuercun, Xindonglu, Chaoyang District
Read this and other bar reviews in the February issue of the Beijinger magazine: