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November 24, 2011

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The old Bulldog learns new tricks

SOME pubs you go to for the rowdy atmosphere, others for the hope of meeting company for the night. Some have blaring sports on giant TVs, others the nooks and crannies that remind you of your local back home.

The Bulldog has a little of all of these, and is hoping to provide a bit of everything, for everyone.

At least that's the plan from the new man behind the bar: Julian McRoberts, bar manager and a full-time pub enthusiast.

Although only two months into the job, his knowledge of pubs and drinks means he knows how to please his punters.

And that, very simply, is to give them what they want. "A day of the week for different people, for people who want to have fun," explains McRoberts. And that's just the start.

But the Bulldog has been doing that for years, almost a decade in fact. So what's new? And if you're not familiar with this old-world, four-story converted house opposite the US Consulate General in Shanghai at 1 Wulumuqi Road S., then why become acquainted?

"The best thing about this place is seeing a big crowd of people having a good time, it's infectious," says McRoberts.

Big crowds are common, 150 and upward on a good night, perched on rustic furniture as beers flow over the wooden bars.

The atmosphere is stout but jovial, which doesn't happen by chance: McRoberts is out working the floor, making sure that any new face is welcomed with a free shooter, and loyalty is rewarded. But more on that later.

Once known for its older, more distinguished, real ale-sipping crowd, the Bulldog now hosts all sorts of events, beyond the standard daily specials and happy hour.

The Shanghai dragon pub-crawl now stops here, bringing with it gaggles of drunken revelers looking for a good time. For those looking for something a little more sedate, there's the Falcon pipe-smoking club that hot-boxes the place on a monthly basis.

A teacher's night is starting soon, and the Chinese comedy circuit will be taking the mic from this week. Then there is the long-running, twice-weekly pub quiz, "Pub quizzes are always packed!"

McRoberts used to be quiz master, with one of the toughest quizzes in Shanghai, and even plans for karaoke, Western-style. "I want the whole bar singing, and laughing at you," smirks McRoberts. Just like back home.

But that's not to forget the sports, a staple of the Bulldog, and still thriving.

"You should have seen the rugby world finals, place was crammed, standing room only!" recalls McRoberts. "After that cleared, the place filled up again for the United, City (Manchester) derby - a great atmosphere, and a great night, unless you're a United fan!"

So where does the Bulldog fit in the Shanghai scene?

"Drinking habits have become a lot more sophisticated, more people drinking cocktails, whisky bars opening all over the place," explains McRoberts.

The Bulldog instead offers something more stable, lasting and unpretentious. Trends pass, fads die, but honest boozers live on. "Come down, ask for me, and see for yourself," says McRoberts.

And if you show your face there often enough, other perks await. "You get a loyalty card, and once a month everything is free in our VIP night. If I start to recognize your face, you get a VIP card," entices McRoberts. "I don't want to run a place where you can buy loyalty, I want you to know everyone here, and everyone knows you."

The old stock is expanding under McRoberts's stewardship.

"This is comfortable and friendly, a place where people know they're going to have a good time, and its open to all, old and new," McRoberts explains. "Don't take us for granted - this is an interesting place, full of interesting people."

Something for everyone, and surprises to boot - turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

(Liam Singleton is a Shanghai-based freelancer.)

Straight Up

This is a regular series about bar and club bosses who make Shanghai's pub scene and nightlife so chill. Served straight up.

Julian McRoberts

Age: 36

Nationality: Canadian

Years in bar industry: 4 years

Favorite music: Classic rock

About the bar/club

History: Open since 2004

Music style: Rock/pop

Target customers: Sports fans, after-work crowd

Regular events:

? Mondays: Pub quiz, pizza and a beer at 60 yuan

? Tuesdays: 2 for 1 pasta night

? Wednesdays: 2 for 1 main course, Ladies and Men's night

? Thursdays: Pub quiz

? Fridays: Teachers night, burger and a beer at 60 yuan

? Saturdays and Sundays: English Premiere League, weekend roast

Upcoming events:

? Lauphilos Open mike comedy night (in Chinese)

? Anzac Football Club Christmas party

? Falcon Pipe Club meeting


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