Fire is cool, but drinking fire is even cooler. There’s something tribal in that frat-pack ritual of staring into a glass of blazing booze and swallowing it. So why, then, do most of us outgrow flaming cocktails? Ruminating on this mystery, my drinking buddy Sergei Rodeo and I decided we should find the answer by gulping down every flaming cocktail we could find in Beijing.
In true frat-pack fashion, Sergei and I launched the night at Pure Girl, where we knew B-52s (RMB35) were a hot item. Sitting next to a 15-year-old sipping a Tsingtao through the visor of his motorcycle helmet, we watched our bartender light a syrupy mix of Kahlua, triple sec and Baileys. The waiter handed us two straws and we plunged them into the flames.
The B-52s’ flavor hit my tongue sweet as frappucino ice cream, but quickly became a pungent miasma of burning plastic. I looked down and saw both my and Sergei’s straws were on fire.
We left Pure Girl with coughs, unsettled stomachs and our first answer to why people outgrow flaming cocktails. “Pure Girl sent us a warning,” said Sergei. “What we’re doing will have consequences.”
Concerned about our health, we classed up to better booze at Second Floor. The barkeep arranged a pyramid of “flaming Dr. Peppers” (RMB35), a row of four shots full of amaretto and everclear resting on five beers. He lit the shots and told me to tap the far shot. I did, and all four fell like dominos into their respective beers. There were flashes of flame. A waitress yelled, “Down it fast!” We did. It was awesome.
Our faith in fire renewed, we headed to Mai for absinthe (RMB50). After pouring the green elixir into a large glass, the bartender pressed the lighter to the 70-proof absinthe with an eruption of fire. He put a second glass atop the first, letting it fill with burning absinthe gas. He placed two fume-filled glasses atop straws. “Suck!” he said, and we put our lips to our straws. “No” he said, “use your nose!” When it was over, there was a piercing pain that stretched from my nose to the depths of my soul.
Brains dissolved into green Jell-O, we journeyed onwards to Chocolate. When we learned they had pulled their flaming absinthe cocktail from the menu, we decided to end the night as we began it: with a set of B-52s (RMB38).
As the waiter set the flaming concoction before us, the DJ dropped “Oops I Did It Again” and an obese Russian in a nurse’s uniform began stripping, revealing spiderwebs of lingerie and cellulite. We brought the B-52s to our lips, letting the flames obscure all that lay beyond.
We stumbled out muttering to ourselves, cursing mankind and its obsession with fire.
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