Category Archives: Bars

Some of the Best Draft Beer Downtown

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Here is something you will likely never hear an expat say: “Oh my god, do you know where I can find Tsingtao on draft? What about Tiger?” That’s because both are cheap and extremely common. Finding those beers is not a challenge. Let’s put it this way: No foreigner squeals for joy when they find cans of Harbin at a supermarket. Quality craft beer is another story, and downtown Changzhou recently gained a new bar that sells unique and quality draft beer.

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Bubble Lab is a well known, famous microbrewery in Wuhan. About two months ago, they opened a new bar near the Zhonglou Injoy Mall. This is in the Future City shopping complex next door. The chief difference between this bar and it’s parent location is that the beers are not brewed in Changzhou. They are made in Wuhan and shipped here. They have multiple taps and serve a wide variety. They have, for example, two stouts at the moment; one has a slight vanilla flavor, and the other has hints of coffee. There are many different types of IPAs to be had, as well as typically less bitter fare like pilsner and lager. The food is also enjoyable.

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Their cheeseburger is fairly simple, and that is not a bad thing. Yet, there are a few things that can even wreck a simple burger: bad quality beef, dry textures, and over or under cooking it. Bubble Lab’s burger avoids all of this. The meat patty is very juicy — definitely not overcooked and chewy. Truth be told, it was so juicy that it was a bit of a mess to eat. That is also not a criticism; messy burgers are delicious if done right, and this is one I would order again.

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Bubble Lab also offers fish and chips. You don’t see the fries in the above picture because they are under the fillets. Now, this should be said: this is not the type of fish and chips an Aussie or a Brit may be used to. That’s usually batter dipped and deep fried. Bubble Lab’s fish actually tastes a bit German. By that, I mean it tastes like somebody took fish and prepared it the same way you would with a schnitzel cutlet, and that involves bread crumbs and parsley. Again, this is not criticism. Not all fried fish and potato meals needs to be proper British fish and chips. I found this enjoyable, but then again, I am not somebody who is homesick and from the United Kingdom or Australia. It should also be noted that right now, their menu is fairly simple and small. Yet, new things will likely be added in the months to come.

All in all, I am very happy to see Bubble Lab in Changzhou. The city center needed another western style bar and restaurant.  Ever since Bellahaus went out of business, eating and drinking options seemed confined to Summer and a few other places. Plus, with so many Wuhan craft beers on tap, you can easily say Bubble Lab offers something you can’t find elsewhere in Changzhou.

Monday Night Salsa Dancing at OK Koala

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One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become fearless and do things that make me feel uncomfortable. So, if I am afraid to walk into a bar alone that I have never been to, than I will do that. One of those things is dancing. I am terrible at doing that, and I easily get flustered and embarrassed whenever I try. Up until now, I have been avoiding Salsa Night at Koala. I had a very easy excuse. “But, I don’t know how to dance!” It was quite convenient.

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Only, as excuses go, that one is pretty lame. If a person shows up at 9 pm, there are simple and free lessons where two people teach the moves and count out the steps and each of the movements. So far, I have been twice, and I have made myself at least try. Sometimes, I got a little flustered, and gave up. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t try again next week and build on what I learned the week before. The beauty of Salsa Night at OK Koala is that nobody really judges you on if you are a good dancer or not. It seems how much fun you are having is more important.

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For those who may not know, OK Koala is located near the BRT station where Tongjiang and Hehai Roads intersect in Xinbei. There is no cover charge.

A Newb’s Introduction to Dining in Jiangyin

img_20161211_193844While visiting Jiangyin either on business or as a tourist, there are a few western restaurants to consider eating at. While the city is smaller than Changzhou and belongs to Wuxi, Jiangyin is highly developed and quite modernized. There is one spot in the downtown area that seems to be central to dining and nightlife. Yijian Road has a lot of bars and restaurants.

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The biggest draw in the area seems to be a German establishment, Hofbrauhaus and a few others.

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While Yijian Road seems to be a culinary hub, these are not the only places to eat when visiting Jiangyin. Take, for example, St. Marco. This European eatery is just down Chaoyang Road from Huangshanhu Park. That park, and the others near in close proximity, are the more well known Jiangyin attractions. People on a day trip from Changzhou could pair visiting those parks with eating at St. Marco. As stated earlier, these are likely not the only decent places to eat in this city, but this was only my third visit, and I’m still figuring out where things are there.

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The Not-Quite Belgian Beer Bar

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When I was 13 years old, I walked into a bar and was served my first beer. This was in Mons, Belgium — where drinking laws regarding age practically do not exist. Attitudes regarding alcohol, in general, are different than in the US. This was in the late 1980’s, and the bar stood right outside of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe’s (SHAPE) rear gate. SHAPE is the military headquarters of NATO, and my high school was on that base. And with that first sip of Stella Artois, a life-long love-hate relationship with beer began. Specifically, the love was with Belgian and Dutch brews. I can’t take a sip of Chimay or Duvel without feeling nostalgia for my teenage years.

One can easily imagine how excited I would get upon hearing about a new Belgian beer bar in Changzhou and Xinbei in particular. Now, imagine that I can walk to it from my home, and you can understand how even more excited I would be. You mean I can have Chimay on tap? Hoegaarden on tap? So, one night, I went there with two friends. And it is hard to say I walked away from the bar happy. I wasn’t.

It wasn’t the decor. The inside of the place looks great and spacious. It wasn’t the location, either. Being next to Monkey King Pizza and Candles Steakhouse makes it really easy to find, even if you are taking the bus. My problem is from their main selling point: the beer itself. Now, keep in mind I walked in wanting to like this place very much. I love Belgian beer, and they serve it. It’s not hard. It’s not rocket science.

So, I ordered a Chimay, a Hoegaarden, and a very “not Belgian” Guinness on tap. All of them tasted slightly off. My two friends were drinking Becks — also as drafts. They complained about the same thing. The beer tasted slightly off and mostly flat. Take Guinness, for example. The whole selling point of having it as a draft comes down to carbonation, bubbles, and a thick head. These drafts had none of that.

In the end, I think something is wrong with this bar’s system of taps. I doubt the beer was flat when the kegs were delivered. The problem was just consistent with too many beers that they offered. In the end, that may be a good thing. Draft systems can be fixed, and when this bar fixes their taps, I will go back, drink Belgian beer, and be very happy. But only then. Paying lots of money for a flat Chimay is just a non starter.

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One badly carbonated Irish Guinness … at a Belgian beer bar

Blue Marlin’s Steak Toast

IMG_20160503_023212Even when Jack’s Home was spiraling out of business, they did one thing consistently well: steak toast. When their hamburgers and their attempts at German food got weird, the steak toast remained consistent and reliable. It got to the point where ate only that and ignored the rest of the menu.

So, what was this dish?  Imagine two small pieces of sirloin on two toast slices. One had Hollandaise sauce on it, the other had Bernaise. A side of french fries came with that. Whenever I ate this, I used to love to mop up the remaining sauce with my leftover fries. And then, Jack’s went out of business, and I lost access to one of my favorites go-to dinners. I grew to miss it. Chocolate’s didn’t have it, Monkey King didn’t have it, and Jagerwirt didn’t have it either. That pretty much meant no steak toast in Wujin.

Now, I’m in Xinbei, and recently rediscovered it again.  It’s actually better than what Jack’s Home could ever do, and keep in mind that I really liked eating it there. The recently relocated Blue Marlin offers this dish. They used to be near Candle’s and a bunch of other bars. Now, they can be found at the Rise Sun Manhattan Plaza.

As for the food, I had it steak cooked medium. Both the sauces and the sirloin’s juices didn’t make the toast soggy. At first, I wished there was a bit more of the two sauces, but I realized that anymore would have been too rich and stomach upsetting.

There is another reason why I love this particular menu item. It’s affordable, and I am a notorious cheapskate. Lets say you are a steak lover, but you don’t want to dish out 150 to 300 RMB and upwards on a slab of beef. Let’s also say you really don’t care whether something is “Angus” or “grass fed” or not. Then, this is something for you. You don’t need to celebrate or have a special occasion to eat it.

Burgers and Guinness at Daniel’s

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On Hehai Road 河海路

For the longest time in Changzhou, KFC was the only place to really offer something like a pulled-pork sandwich. It gave me heartburn, but I happily suffered through it from time to time. After all, it was the only southern-style American BBQ sandwich in the city.  Gourmet, not-fast-food cheeseburgers are easier to find, but they can be hit or miss. It comes down to the quality of the ground beef. You can easily find dry, sandy-textured patty. But who wants to find that?

After listening to me whine and pine for cheeseburgers a great deal, a good friend lent a helping hand. He took me to a place that, currently, makes one of the best cheeseburgers in Changzhou. It’s Daniel’s on Hehai Road 河海路 in Xinbei. Inside, the decor reminds one of a pub might find in the UK or Ireland. It’s dimly lit at night, but it has the sort of homey atmosphere one might find in an Irish or British pub.

After all, you can get Guinness stout here. And by that, I don’t mean a tallboy can poured into a pint glass. Those cans have this plastic carbonation ball in them, and it screams export. Once the can is empty, it rattles if you shake it. I mean Guinness on draft, and the difference between that an export can is enormous. It involves carbonation and how thick of a foamy head develops.

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Yum!

As for the food, the burgers and the pulled pork are both great. However, Daniels recently did a soft opening. Their menu right now are handwritten pages in a notebook. This is because they are still sorting out what dishes to offer based supply and ordering issues. The actual menu should be set and printed in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the burger and the pork are well worth the visit.