The Pass By Bar, a Home away from Home

“Xiaobianr has a wild imagination and bursts of artistic energy. New ideas pop out of his head all the time, but I’m the one who turns them into reality,” Haiyan said, adding that when their bar opened in 1999, the alley was home to barbers’ shops and public toilets, and blocked with dustbins. In summer, men in their rolled-up T-shirts (dubbed “Beijing bikinis” by foreigners living in Beijing) or even bare-backed would loiter there drinking beer and eating lamb chuanr, barbecued shish kebabs usually flavored with cumin. At that time, a glass of draft beer cost less than RMB 2. “We were just friends back then. We shared a love of traveling and one day we came up with the idea to open our own bar. We contacted beer suppliers and bought three boxes of Lipton Black Tea and some popcorn, and the bar was opened.”

On the opening day of the Pass By, they employed their first cook, an Italian chef. The bar retains its Mediterranean menu today. Coincidentally, the bar’s first customer was also Italian. Haiyan still vividly remembers how she felt that day, uneasy and flustered, although the customer had only ordered a cup of coffee and the complimentary popcorn. But the lady stayed for hours. The couple decided from the very beginning that no matter how much a customer spent – in time and money – all staff should warmly welcome them. This relaxed, welcoming attitude has won the Pass By the reputation as a home away from home for foreigners in Beijing.

As business boomed, Xiaobianr and Haiyan decided to move premises to accommodate the bar’s growing patronage. This gave Xiaobianr another artistic outlet, and he set to work on decorating the new bar, combining traditional hutong elements with modern architecture.


Lamb Kebab Pizza and Craft Beer

The Pass By Bar succeeds in being innovative and creative. Ever since the bar’s establishment, Xiaobianr has constantly tried new things and his love of outdoor pursuits has become a source of inspiration. Haiyan, on the other hand, is more practical and is totally tuned into her husband’s ideas, which enables her to bring them to life. This “dream team” is constantly creating new surprises for its customers.

However, there is one sticky point that the couple have not always been able to agree on – the bar’s menu.

As soon as the Pass By Bar had settled into the groove of daily business, thinking of his clientele’s palates – both Eastern and Western tastes – Xiaobianr had a “eureka!” moment: What if he fused some popular Eastern and Western dishes? The Pass By Bar’s specialty, lamb kebab pizza, was born. This revolutionary idea was totally out of Haiyan’s imagination. She worried that if it failed, it could be the ruin of their newly acknowledged brand. However, being open-minded, she decided it was worth a gamble. The pizza’s popularity exceeded both Xiaobianr and Haiyan’s expectations and even made Time Out Beijing’s Top 10 Beijing Delicacies.

Haiyan admires her husband’s artistic talent and accurate judgment of the market. Crazy about beer, Xiaobianr’s collection now includes more than 180 kinds of beer from all over the world. He also brews various craft beers flavored with a range of tastes, such as ginger, blueberry, honey, coffee and highland barley, each with a distinctive name and its own character. “Honey Lunatic Woman,” a honey-flavored beer with an intoxicatingly high alcohol content, was the couple’s joint effort.

It is unusual to come across a beer lover who does not speak English, French or German, the languages of great beer-loving nations. Yet, Xiao-bianr has collected more than 3,000 bottles of international beers. “I am starting a beer revolution throughout China in order to create our own distinguished beer culture.”

Bob Dale from California is now working at the Slow Boat Brewery on Qianmen Street, Beijing, which offers typical American-style craft beer. Having lived in Beijing for eight years, he has become one of Xiaobianr’s age-old friends and often hangs out at the Pass By Bar. Xiaobianr’s Chinese craft beer gets his seal of approval.

Xiaobianr said that a grass-roots campaign is being raised by a group of Chinese craft beer fans who are trying to create more home-grown beer options, with a view to broadening people’s horizons. “In China, we are used to drinking one kind of beer, living the same lifestyles and having the same survival instincts. But I don’t think the same voice of a large group of people necessarily denotes a harmony; instead I think only diversity creates and perpetuates harmony.”

Today, Xiaobianr and Haiyan have branched out and own another bar, Nbeer Pub on Huguosi Street in central Beijing, where they brew their own craft beer. In Haiyan’s words, happiness exists when different cultures coexist harmoniously. Guided by such an idea, Xiaobianr and Haiyan’s businesses offer the ideal spot for Eastern and Western cultures to intermingle and create new inspirations for life.


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