Ladies, where can you go drinking with your girlfriends and not be hit on? With the exception of a small handful of cocktail bars, most of Beijing's alcohol dispensaries are heavy on the testosterone. Your choices run the gamut between the “darts, beer farts and broken hearts” dive bars and live music houses, or the douchebaggery of the polo shirted mercenaries of Gongti.
Well, how about a pleasant, airy, gorgeous rice wine bar staffed almost exclusively by women and a rabbit named Nuonuo? Turn up the Helen Reddy.
Nuoyan is housed in a decades old wooden teahouse with high, vaulted cathedral ceilings, lots of natural light and bamboo fixtures. Framed calligraphy and dried flowers along with floral patterned lounge chairs are scattered throughout. Muted design. However, there is some of that Gulou style “chabuduo-ness” with random books, furniture and mops cluttering part of the space, much like a living room.
But hutongs, right? So it's fine.
I imagine they don't get a lot of foreigners, because right as I entered a staff member whisked me over to a seat and gave me Chinese only brochures illustrating the different varieties on hand, all made on site. Extremely friendly. A free flight was provided for me, and is available upon request.
The flight included the original, and four flavored wines: rose, vanilla, osmanthus and bayberry. “Flavored” is misleading, because the ingredients have actually fermented with the wine, so it feels more integral to the taste rather than if a few flowers were just tossed willy nilly in for an infusion. So because of this, all four offered a subtle hint of the floral/fruit element rather than assaulting you with it. I enjoyed the vanilla, which had a not unpleasant, pound cake-like finish. Another notable one was the bayberry, which is a bit drier with a faintly aged characteristic. But honestly, the original rice wine was the most appealing. Share a pot (109RMB) with your girlfriends.
All five varieties were identically rich, almost like a cream sherry or a white port, but with even more viscosity and a citric acid tang. The ABV is similar to white wine, but the sweetness limits the amount you can drink. It works well if you drink it like tea, leisurely with dry snacks and in small sips. All were served ice cold.
There is a food menu, but here Nuoyan is indecisive about it's identity. Food is “Western,” but worryingly the food menus contain no English and French fries are in nearly everything. I was assured their Chinese food, which is culled from around the country, is also excellent, but all customers present were fashionable Chinese girls drinking rice wine from tiny glasses with no plates in front of them.
Take away also seems like a nice option, since the packaging is attractive and gift ready. Prices for the original are 99RMB for a small bottle or 199RMB for the larger one. It's a class act gesture. Bring a bottle or two to a house party and stare down the bearded boys pulling dusty bottles of piss warm Yanjing out of their counterfeit Fjällräven bags.
Your judgmental glare will proclaim: “I am woman, and tonight is ladies' night.”
Nuoyan Rice Wine Bar, Banqiao Nanxiang #7, in the People's Art Printing House complex.