See Ya Cuju: Say Hello to Gulu Bazz, Badr Benjelloun's New Vermouth Bar

Many a Beijing rummy drowned their sorrows at Cuju this past fall after owner Badr Benjelloun announced his plans to shut down and entirely revamp the Beixinqiao bar, which was equally popular among sports fans as those with a taste for sugarcane spirits.

Now, after a few months of preparation, Benjelloun has unveiled a different sort of venue in the same hutong location: Gulu Bazz Kitchen and Vermouth Lab.

Benjelloun describes it as "Arguably the first vermouth and fortified wine-focused place in China," and has stocked the bar with bottles of Sicilian Martinez Marsala Superiore Riserva Secco, Niepoort Tawny from Portugal, and Noilly Prat and Dolin vermouths (both of which are from France). More exciting still: like a true mad scientist, Benjelloun is concocting his own soon-to-be-ready vermouths at the bar, made with various botanicals and other fragrant ingredients. 

Benjelloun is serving drinks in chemistry beakers that not only look fun, but indicate to the customer the exact amount poured for them.

"What I love about fortified wines is that they’re like a cocktail already, right away when you pour them,” he says of the textured flavors of the imported goodies lining Gulu Bazz’s shelves. He plans to serve them for about RMB 50 per glass or get a flight – better to test a range of flavors that a country or specific brand has to offer – for RMB 60-80.

Benjelloun begins, during a recent visit, by pouring us a glass of the aforementioned Marsala. It’s a sharp and bitter fortified Italian wine, and its 18 percent alcohol level is almost immediately apparent, quickly leaving us tipsy.

Then, from his vermouth stash, he opts to give us the Noilly Prat, which proves to be more nuanced thanks to its faintly sour flavor and the delicate aftertaste burn. For Benjelloun, it epitomizes the straightforward sophistication of many European bars. “The French enjoy serving this one with nothing more than a slice of lemon. It’s very simple, unlike the flashier, more complex cocktail trends that you hear about, which are really more of an Anglophone thing.”

He finishes us off with a beaker full of Italian Punt e Mes vermouth, which has a faint sweet tinge upon touching our palate, that’s quickly followed by a rush of bitter aftertaste.

Bottom line: these offerings are a marked departure from the swaths of rum that Cuju was famous for (devotees need not worry; Benjelloun will continue to serve those spirits at his Guanghua Lu located Caravan). Patrons are also sure to quickly notice that Gulu Bazz is, unlike its predecessor, anything but a sports bar. Again, Benjelloun has opted to broadcast games at Caravan during reasonable hours, because throwing open Cuju's doors for NFL diehards at all hours simply took up too much of his time. Instead, he’ll throw up Charlie Chaplin oldies and other black-and-white classics on Gulu Bazz’s screens.

Cuju regulars that grew fond of the menu’s Moroccan fare, however, will be pleased to see Gulu Bazz’s assortment of tapas with North African twists, including a “build your own shakshuka” menu. Benjelloun will also maintain several tried and true nightly specials like cassoulet Tuesdays and couscous Fridays, and he plans to have a shakshuka brunch special on weekends after Spring Festival. On top of that, Benjelloun will use the venue as an incubator for small F&B entrepreneurs on Wednesdays, including a sure-to-be-tasty effort by Candice Kitchen on Jan. 11.

While it’s a noticeable change from Cuju, patrons will see much of Benjelloun’s trademark style in the revamped venue’s beverages, eats, and atmosphere. And his sense of humor is also evident in the bar’s name, which comes from the Moroccan language Darija.

RELATED: Get 50 Percent Off at Caravan During Social Sundays

“‘Gulu' means 'say' and 'bazz' is hard to translate,” Benjelloun tells us, before adding: “It's an expression of surprise at something strange and unusual. So if we see pigs fly, we say ‘bazz.' If we see someone bitching about the pollution, but at the same time have a coal factory, we also say bazz.”

It's likely that the vermouth and fortified wines on offer at Gulu Bazz are sure to leave patrons spouting befuddled contradictions and phrases at this fun revamped venue.

Gulu Bazz Kitchen and Vermouth Lab
Tue-Sun 6pm-late. 28 Xiguan Hutong, Doncheng District (6407 9782)
东城区细管胡同28号 

More stories by this author here.
Email: kylemullin@truerun.com
Twitter: @MulKyle
WeChat: 13263495040

Photos: Kyle Mullin, Badr Benjelloun

Comments

Why in hell do you cover this man so much? Between the constant -and much exaggerated- lauding and the questionable awards (sportsbar, really? been to a proper sportsbar before?) it's kind of a blow to your already very low credibility... Sad

nishta wrote:

Why in hell do you cover this man so much? Between the constant -and much exaggerated- lauding and the questionable awards (sportsbar, really? been to a proper sportsbar before?) it's kind of a blow to your already very low credibility... Sad

I don't usually comment on personal things and won't even go there as far as coverage or cult of personality. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. That said, on the sports side, I beg very much to differ!

When for the better part of 4 years you stay open day in day out, sometimes all night long, giving people a reliable place to watch sports that range from cricket to american football with handball, hockey, tennis and god knows what in between, it qualifies you a sports bar.

When you're there all season long open for games no matter how little crowd they draw so that people can get their fix, and not only during finals and big games, it qualifies you as a sports bar.

Sure enough, cuju was always an unconventional sports bar but it did what most so called "sports bars" couldn't do until recently.

Disagree all you want with merits and whatever... like i mentioned above. Opinions are like arse-holes, everyone is entitled to one.

Cuju was a sports bar and that's not an opinion, that's a fact.

Cheers

My comment was directed at the website staff, not you. Obviously you'll defend your business. But since you took time to write I'll respond: I appreciate as much as the next man when a business goes out of their way to provide a service. But if crowds don't come then something must be wrong? Maybe one of the things that was wrong is that a sportsbar comes with an atmosphere, that Cuju lacked. You call it unconventional, fair enough. But my point was about the awards, and an unconventional somewhat underground poorly populated bar doesn't qualify for "best sportsbar". This being said, my not being impressed is with the website, not with you. Best of luck with your new venture, sincerely.

As for the ridicusoulsy partial coverage, well it is it ridiculously partial, effectively killing all credibility this site can have when it comes to covering expat places. And in case you hadn't realized, Thebeijinger coverage of Badr Benjelloun is the butt of many jokes around the hutongs these days.

The guy's creative, always up to something new, and takes the time to let us know about it.

You'd be surprised how few bars fail at even that basic task (some places Have had the same happy hour promotion for a year or more running -- or don't do anything at all new -- which makes the same Hutong Hideaway hard to write about more than once.)

Our writers are always looking for new things to write about, and when you're as active as Badr is in trying out new things, then you get written about.

Same applies for every bar out there: do something fresh and creative and let us know about it and we're likely gonna eat that right up.

 

Books by current and former Beijinger staffers

http://astore.amazon.com/truerunmedia-20

Appreciate the feedback nishta. I really do think it's an interesting spot and that Badr is doing very neat stuff with it.

That said, I'm always looking for new places to cover. What are your top picks for sports bars in Beijing? And when it comes to other sorts of venues, if you had to pick a few overlooked or underappreciated gems, what would they be?

Nishta probably loves going to Hooters or V+ Sports bar, LOL. He's THAT classy

"Sports bar" could mean different things to different people

To some, a sports bar is where you'd go to watch a game

To others its a place where people go play bar sports (pool, foosball, darts and the like)

Cuju was the former

Books by current and former Beijinger staffers

http://astore.amazon.com/truerunmedia-20

I have no idea how venues and you guys communicate, but I guess for the layman like me I'd imagine it would involve proactive work from writers as opposed to waiting for venues to contact you with content. Maybe you do that, but as a customer I got that Caravan and Cuju are cool places, no need to talk to me about those 5 times a month. I'm saying it the way I'm saying it, but in the end it's a reader's feedback you got here, I suppose it's valuable.

I'm a classic man, I enjoy a good old pub, and for that Paddy's is always my choice. Sorry I don't have a hidden gem to tell you about, but hey, that's your job, not mine...

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