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  Beijing Scene

Woo Me Cafe

Serving Innuendo by the Glass

You name it, I'll make it," is the proud boast of owner-manager Patrick Liu, 29, when asked about the cocktail selection at Woo Me Caf, the latest addition to the northwest university district neighborhood bar and restaurant scene. A quick glance at the menu reveals there is already a good selection of classics: Martini, Long Island Ice Tea, Pia Colada, as well as plenty of naughty specialities such as Slippery Nipple, Sex On the Beach and Blow Job. The daily specials board includes a few non-alcoholic options, and if you're still not satisfied with the choices you can always challenge the bartender to live up to his word.

What really commands attention, though, is how much bang you get for your renminbi. Most cocktails cost around RMB20, while large draught Yanjing is only RMB5 per mug and Qingdao is only RMB10 a bottle. I must admit I am a little skeptical, but Liu, a professional barman with 10 years' experience in China and abroad, takes all of five minutes to mix our orders - a potent Kamikaze and a perfectly smooth Banana Mudslide - and then reappears periodically with a kaleidoscopic array of long and short drinks. Liu says his goal is to provide quality and choice at rock-bottom prices.

"When I order a classic cocktail in Sanlitun, they never know how to make it," he says. "Bloody Marys come with no celery, or Worcestershire sauce."

I have to agree - I remember on one occasion seeing soy sauce used as a substitute, with predictably dire results.

The setting for all this is a small bar-cum-restaurant not far from the Beijing Language and Culture University. The decor is reminiscent of a cheap Western coffee shop, clean but nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing, that is, apart from the cocktail bar at one end, complete with rows of spirit bottles under subdued blue lights. A hodge-podge of modern and French impressionist prints line the walls, and jazz plays softly in the background. We arrive in the early afternoon, a large group of Chinese are finishing lunch, while students from nearby campuses sit alone or in groups, reading and sipping flavored coffee (RMB3 per cup). In the evenings the lights dim and the beer flows until daylight rolls around again.

After sampling a few of the cocktails we decide it's time to tackle the food menu, which consists mainly of typical Chinese jiachangcai (home-style food), as well as a selection of Xinjiang specialties (Muslim-influenced cuisine from northwestern China). Prices are on a par with budget Chinese restaurants: cold snacks and fried noodles are around RMB5, while most hot dishes vary from RMB10 to RMB20. We choose a Xinjiang pork dish, xiaoshaozhurou' succulent strips of meat in a crisp batter coating, garnished with fresh coriander. A sprinkling of fennel seeds supplies a subtle, savory aftertaste.

Next comes a whole fish stewed with peppers and vinegar, cujiaoyu, that peers reproachfully from one end of the soup while we eat its tail from the other. Most popular among our party is another Xinjiang dish, intriguingly named yaqianrou (Toothpick Mutton). This turns out to be a large plate piled high with mini lamb kebabs, roasted to perfection and coated in a spicy herb mixture. This is great as part of the meal, but I suspect might be even better as finger food to munch on with a round of cold beers.

Maybe Woo Me has something of an identity crisis as it tries to choose between cocktail bar, beer hall, coffee shop and restaurant. But it does offer great choice and value. If you're already living in the neighborhood, or just visiting, and can't decide where to go, this might be just the place. You can even claim a free Mao badge if you spend over RMB50.



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