It's all change in Zhengzhou for bar-hoppers

Updated: 2011-11-24 10:56

By Karl Arney (China Daily)

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It's all change in Zhengzhou for bar-hoppers

One of my favorite things about Henan's provincial capital Zhengzhou is observing the frequency with which everything changes.

I'm mainly referring to businesses and landscapes. I learned early here that you should never get attached to the status quo. Just as people come and go, you never know when the corner store you've shopped at the past six months will be gone and replaced by something completely different.

When I went home to the United States this past summer, rapid change had actually become part of my Chinese status quo - watching liquor stores become pottery shops, restaurants become pharmacies and so forth. It was fitting that when I returned, enough large changes had occurred while I was gone to jar my jaded perspective.

The entire series of small businesses that once lined the sidewalk next to my apartment the previous two years have ceased to exist. They weren't turned into new stores, they were demolished, leaving half of the block a collection of cordoned-off rubble.

It's all change in Zhengzhou for bar-hoppers

A similar fate was met by two former hot spots within the foreign community. V8 dance club was the first club I visited in Zhengzhou and the default dance spot for my first year in town. While we had drifted to new venues in 2011, it remains strange to see an old favorite represented by nothing but debris.

An even more shocking demolition occurred recently in the form of 7 Live House, the live music venue my friends and I frequented. Aside from being a bar and occasional rock club, 7 Live was the location of our monthly theme parties to benefit local orphanages. We held art shows, fiestas and our last Halloween party there, yet it's gone the way of V8 and my old street front.

Of course, destruction is only half of Zhengzhou's constant shifting. As some places have been left to memory, a flood of others has appeared to take their places. Nowhere is this more evident than in the blossoming of the bar scene.

For years, foreign drinking in Zhengzhou was relegated to two bars on the same street and clubs like V8. Yet the number of new expats has exploded, and many newcomers lack loyalty to established venues. Local proprietors have taken notice, and the number of options has multiplied.

Last spring, my Chinese friend Amy and her American husband Brian opened Tao. It's the first bar that gets foreign sports via satellite, bringing baseball, American football and Sports Center, among others. Their imported beer selection is the best around, and they serve classic bar food like hamburgers and chicken wings. A year ago, nothing like it existed here.

Yet it's not the only recent entry to the scene. There's also Guo Ke, a two-story bar with an elegant game/party room on the second floor and a French manager. It's poised to take up 7 Live House's mantle as host of our monthly theme parties, though nothing has risen to fill in the live music void.

Up the street from Tao is the reggae bar Bird Bar, which has benefited from the expanded foreign numbers. Song&Song dance club showed this year and received a level of dedication that even V8 never had, with its superior music variety and absurd drink specials.

While much ebbs and flows in both bars and other areas, some things manage to remain constant. Literally nothing in the foreign community represents this more than Target Pub, the expat bar that has been going almost before there were expats. Owner Lao Wang is a friend to many longtime residents and the bar is simple and unpretentious enough to summon the perfect hometown dive bar feel.

Zhengzhou can feel like it's changing just for the sake of having something to do sometimes, but it's fun to watch. And it's good to know that where some things are concerned, it has hit a balance between new variety and reliable homeliness.