Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Return of Opium Dens as Takeaways and Bars for Wannabes - With Everything Except the Good Stuff

Tis the season to be silly I suppose and to make some admissions - give me a time machine, let me set the time and destination and it'd be an opium den, probably somewhere in Shanghai, probably around 1906. You can keep your Yates's Wine Lodges, All Bar Ones and other endless corporatised pubs selling me only the drugs the government says I'm allowed - give me a good old-school opium den every time!

As you may have noticed I've been researching old London opium dens for something and longing for their return. These days we are so tame accepting that a few drinks and some tobacco (just about all any of us are allowed to enjoy now) is somehow a civilized way to behave. Sadly we c
an no longer meet friends and courtesans, enjoy some good food, rice wine and then relax with a few pipes, some good dreams and a long sleep. About the closest we get these days is a group of students sitting around passing a joint - and many of you will know how awful that can be! It's official - they've won - they've got us working all hours, maginalised discussion, debate and culture as we sit in front of TV with a can of lager. It might be unpopular with the Puritan classes who seem to be in the majority these days but I long for a good opium den and a few pipes.

But opium dens only
live on as bars now selling all forms of corporatised alcoholic drinks, overpriced food and supposed bohemianism but mostly just glorified pubs and Chinese take-aways. And so a guide to opium dens you can visit today:

Chinois exoticism li
ves at London's Blakes Hotel, run by that awful social arriviste Anouska Hempel, boasts of, ‘The Opium Den that is The Chinese Room - sits in subterranean splendour next to the critically acclaimed restaurant. The room itself the epitome of decadence and comfort dedicated to the likes of Chanel and Dietrich is the place to be before or after enjoying the delights of an evening.’

The Opium Den in Melbourne is apparently a leading gay nightspot

Sydney has one too - a wannabe swanky bar apparently selling Thai food and all the out-of-the-can Asian exotica you'd expect

Honolulu has an opium den targeting American tourists with drinks in large glasses and with paper umbrellas in - which for many American tourists I accept is probably a very daring night out on their annual 3 day holiday or whatever they get over there

Then there's the Opium Den Chinese restaurant in Oxford - who says Oxford's lost its edge and just become a holiday home for posh kids and full fee paying overseas students who buy the heritage and get awarded the degree however bad their English cause they paid wads?

And, last but not least, my personal favourite - The Opium Den in Swansea - and believe me if there was ever a city that really needed an opium den or six it's Swansea!!


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