Monday, December 19, 2011

CD Cafe, Beijing

The year was 1996. It was my first trip to China - to Asia, actually. I just flew in to Beijing from Detroit on Northwest Airlines (when they were independent - remember?), hadn't slept a wink and was exhausted. Nevermind. A gaggle of Chinese artists and fellow U.S. journos wanted to go out that night for reveling purposes.

We motored from the highrise China World Hotel ( to an unprepossessing joint on the eastern Third Ring Road and tumbled out of the car. It was the CD Jazz Cafe, a local hotspot, a place, we were told, to hear live jazz. It looked from the outside like a cluster of cabins stapled together. Inside, it was cozy, soft-lit and - true to the name - a jazz band - a good one, composed of talented Beijing players - was holding forth on the small stage.

We settled-in with some surprisingly good local red wine - Dragon Seal. It was a good evening, if foreshortened by fatigue. When we later indicated with drooping eyelids that it was time to go to our pillows at the China World, an energized Beijinger exclaimed in astonishment "Americans!'' Yeah. Party-poopers.

Exactly a year ago, I was back in Beijing, staying this time in a smartly designed hotel called the Opposite House (, a stylish outpost of the Hong Kong-British outfit Swire Hotels (, where roaming staffers check you in on their iPads. Located on Santilun, the erstwhile Bar Street - largely transformed from an strip where visitors bought DVDs for one dollar U.S. into a high-end retail center where visitors and locals throng a big, glassy Apple Store - the Opposite House is just a short walk to the Third Ring Road. Pulling a wool cap down on my head, tugging on my gloves, I strolled through the neighborhood, past foreign embassys with their alert Chinese guards and over a highway overpass and there found, to my astonishment ... the CD Cafe, looking as tumbledown as ever. It's still here, I marveled. I was so wiped out on my first visit, I had no real idea where it was and I hadn't returned since '96.

I am pleased to report that this old favorite is indeed still there and evidently going strong. Called the CD Jazz Cafe for a long time, it served as a venue for touring jazz musicians such as Wynton Marsalis. Recently, it has been rechristened the CD Blues Cafe and Bar, because the place is now featuring - yes- blues bands. Small but mighty, the CD Blues Cafe and Bar is listed on cool Web sites such as Local Noodles ( and in Beijing publications for foreigners such as The Beijinger ( It also crops up in some guidebooks. Should you find yourself in Beijing, it is very much worth a visit.

Hope they're still pouring Dragon Seal.

The CD Blues Cafe and Bar ( is located in the Chaoyang embassy, fashion, shopping and drinking district near the east Third Ring Road. It's on the east side of the busy road, just south of the sprawling Agricultural Exhibition Center. It opens late and closes late. Local phone number is 6506 8288.

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