I live in Tianjin, China currently. Here is a recent article I wrote about a military themed restaurant within the city. Come visit sometime!
Drawing Sword Brochette Restaurant
Theme restaurants are a novel thing to visit in your free time. The few I have visited in China provide both laughs and ample photo opportunities, along with stories you can tell your friends back home. Cat cafes seem to take the crown as the most popular form of theme restaurant, here and abroad. Who doesn’t like sipping a tea and eating mashed potatoes while fat felines laze around the premises? The one criticism most brought up with these restaurants is that despite the novel attraction of sitting in a place with weird decorations or cute animals wandering about - how is the food? Often it is bland and ordinary - basic barbecue dishes one could easily find on a street corner.
In Shanghai, More Than Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant, caught my imagination with the sheer absurdity of the idea. It’s not something you should think about while eating, but it works, with cute fecal pillows to clutch and golden urinals decorating the walls. The deep fried banana I had ordered was served in a cute mini toilet.
In Tianjin, there are few theme restaurants to choose from - a prison themed restaurant was in operation but closed a few years ago. There are a few cat cafes but none seem to be of the quality you’d see in Beijing or in Japan. I venture out this time to explore one of the more famous theme restaurants in the city, one which sees the customer as a member of the army of the People’s Republic.
I already feel as if I'm being interrogated as two guns point towards me at the entrance way. They are held by two soldiers dressed in yellow. Beside them, a military jeep parked with a flag blowing in the night breeze erected above it. The sign above reads liang jian chuan ba, meaning Drawing Sword Brochette. It is named after the popular 2005 Chinese historical and war TV series Drawing Sword, directed by Zhang Qian and Chen Jian, which depicts a soldier’s brilliant military tactics in the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War.
If you already have had your war history kicks at the Anti-Japanese Museum and Military Museum in Beijing, and perhaps the Daku forts on the east side of Tianjin, but felt your stomach needed a little filling after seeing the horrors of war, this theme restaurant, easily found next to the Guolou subway station on line 2 across from Joy City, should be good to ration you up for another day of battle.
“Good evening!” one of them shouts. I give a salute, which they return with great enthusiasm and wide smiles. The guards are young and fresh faced - probably just out of high school and are acting the part of the stoic, serious and quite important troupe you'd see at Tiananmen square. A man and woman who look to be on a date emerge from their car and the guards scurry over to take a photo with the lady whose husband is setting the focus on his camera. Here, serving the people is a top priority.
Inside the main doors is a staircase leading down into the bowels of the building. You might say it is like a bunker. The decor is of being in a barracks, with weapons and military paraphernalia adorning the walls, giving it a museum like quality. There are combat training punching bags shaped like soldiers with Hitler moustaches drawn on their faces.
When stepping into the main restaurant area, actors in military costumes all shout and salute your welcome. There are props everywhere. A little kid knocks one of the Hitler punching bags over and starts stomping on it's head - a future soldier in the making.
There are wax figures of some of the personalities of war including Dr. Sun Yat Sen, maps with battle blueprints hung up, barb wire and mesh fences separating the tables, and different military attire to try on, including hats, coats, helmets and gun props. A baby balances himself on top of a jeep while the mother attempts to take a photo before it falls off. A motorcycle and a rickshaw, which patrons can sit in and pretend they are driving, await more photo ops. A giant Gatling gun prop stationed by the war costumes makes one wonder just where the enemy is outside and when a shoot out will commence.
The staff are always in character. They are quick to give a command, constantly shouting at each other and salute customers whether they are cleaning dishes, eating on break in their mess hall, doing a drill with a sergeant, finding a comrade a seat or taking the dishes to the backroom via mini jeep (which is quite an ingenious way of transporting them around the restaurant).
As for the food, it is typical barbecue street corner type stuff, with basic meat sticks going from 4RMB upwards, with nothing going for much over 50RMB. There are war style dishes fit for cannon fodder like rice and mushroom meals as well. Hot pot is also a choice for men in training. Not much to write home to Mama about while in your death throes on the battlefield.
The dining entertainment sometimes consists of the typical Chinese singers you’d see at the bars rimming Hou Hai in Beijing. Certain nights will see a Michael Jackson impersonator while during other nights there are lounge singers or lively cover bands. The live entertainment is enough to get a soldier’s spirit engaged and ready to get into the trenches for another long shootout.
This niche restaurant is heavy on atmosphere, so it is best to know what to expect and to play along when planning to go there. Put on the costumes, take photos, salute the staff and keep a patriotic mindset. For an experience of a workplace drama presentation from wannabe soldiers who couldn’t get acting jobs in a war film, it's worth enlisting.