Though it's hardly been a year since Hoper opened its doors, much has changed for the cozy Beiluogu Xiang whiskey bar. For one, it's gone from a promising, slowly burgeoning newbie in a quiet alley to one of the highest quality hutong whiskey bars standing. Part of that is merely a numbers game, thanks to the decimation of the red-hot Fangjia Hutong earlier this year, leaving Beiluogu Xiang as an alluring alternative simply by default (after all, 8-Bit, Mai Bar and Mai Fresh, Voyage Cafe, and a few other joints give it a Fangjia-esque, pub crawl-worthy quality).
Rather than rest on any such laurels, however, Hoper's staff has decided to try and seize the moment. That means readying a set cocktail menu with more than a dozen new options (though off-menu options are still available) and penciling regular events in the hopes of making Hoper a home away from home for regulars.
In terms of cocktails, we recommend the RMB 80 Winter. Made with Japanese whisky, lemon, ginger, and Beijing pear cream, the drink is tart yet soothing. Owner James Hao says the addition of pear is inspired by an old Chinese remedy for colds and other winter ailments, in which pears are diced up and boiled in hot water. It's one of the many ways that his new cocktail menu draws on traditional Chinese culture, with the blackberry-infused baijiu-laden New Tradition (also RMB 80) sitting securely in the same flu-beating vein.
Thankfully such local twists to the cocktails sidestep becoming gimmicks, instead giving the cocktails an exotic flair for foreigners that remains flavorful and palate satiating. All that places Hoper in the esteemed company of hutong cocktails bars like Capital Spirits Bar and Distillery, Fang, and the sadly defunct Bar 4 Nine, both of which quickly became renowned for weaving Chinese ingredients and culture into their cocktail recipes and overall motif.
During our recent visit, we found that new menu, along with two recently trained bartenders readying those drinks, all gave Hoper more of a professional vibe compared to when we dropped by last summer, when Hao manned the bar on his own and the place felt more like you're friend's den than a proper bar. Though the nookish, woodgrain decor still helps Hoper retain its home away from home charm, the menu and staff upgrades, along with Wednesday night events like acoustic jams, cocktail making classes, film screenings, and more all make the venue feel like it's striving for more than its humble beginnings as yet another hole in the wall hutong bar suggested.
We'd like to see the bar continue on its pedagogic run, perhaps holding seminars about Chinese ingredients and how it draws inspiration from old Chinese recipes, which would be a compelling draw nearby Sinophiles. Either way, we hope that this small bar can maintain its momentum and standing in an increasingly thinning (i.e. chai-ed) field.
Daily 7pm-2am. 6 Huafeng Hutong, Dongcheng District (186 1843 8838)
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Photos courtesy of Hoper