One of the newest luxury hotels in Beijing is the Waldorf. Who would have thought that the Waldorf Astoria, that iconic New York City hotel, would go global. The Beijing hotel is the second Waldorf Hotel to open in China. The first Waldorf opened in Shanghai and there are more planned in a variety of cities across the country.

Needless to say the Waldorf Beijing offers luxury and service personified with some tradition-breaking features. Instead of a traditional-style lobby arriving guests feel they are entering an elegant manor with a reading room on one side and the Peacock Alley Lounge on the other. The Waldorf has created Hutong complexes as part of its luxury accommodations. Hutongs are traditional Chinese urban residences with shared courtyards and alleys which are famous in Beijing. The Waldorf has created that same ambiance.

It was in the Peacock Alley that John and I tried absinthe for the first time. It seemed appropriate that the long-forbidden alcohol should be available not far from the once Forbidden City. Until 2007 absinthe was banned in the United States mainly because of its purported addictive psychoactive properties. The absinthe of today is not exactly the same as the much stronger libation favored by the European bohemian crowd. Ernest Hemingway, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde were all know to imbibe. If any of those noted persons were to visit Beijing today they would without a doubt stay at the Waldorf Beijing. They would enjoy the Waldorf Absinthe Cocktail in Peacock Alley where they serve not only an absinthe-laced cocktail but many lesser known alcoholic libations served during Prohibition in the United States in a “camouflaged” form such as Long Island Ice Tea and the lesser known Bronx (gin, vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice) and Rob Roy (scotch, vermouth and angostura) cocktails. These last two were invented and first sipped at New York’s Peacock Alley. The Peacock Alley at Waldorf Astoria Beijing is the one and only place in Beijing to serve these legendary drinks.

The Forbidden City is not far from the Waldorf Beijing. For several hundred years it was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and its dignitaries. Formally called the Palace Museum, it has not been “forbidden” since 1949 when it was opened to the public. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO as the “Imperial Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties.” The grounds are beautiful and vast and, filled with tourists. John and I decided to explore without a guide so we could go slow and explore some of the places where the crowds were not concentrated. Most of the buildings are well labeled. One of my favorite parts was the gardens at the north end beyond the Gate of Earthly Tranquility.
When John and I returned from the Forbidden City we needed a well-deserved rest and adult beverage so it was only fitting that we retired to Peacock Alley and had a Waldorf Absinthe Cocktail. It was smooth and delicious. The absinthe was combined with bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters and topped with a twist of orange zest. Amazing experiences: the Waldorf Beijing, the Forbidden City and the Waldorf Absinthe Cocktail.