OBSERVING THE NAME OF THIS RESTAURANT, FOUND WITHIN STUMBLING DISTANCE OF MOST OF THE MUSIC VENUES IN GULOU, YOU MIGHT REASONABLY WONDER HOW A NOODLE CAN BE “PUNK ROCK”.
Record sleeves and gig posters for the likes of Scottish hardcore band The Exploited are taped to the venue’s walls, peering down at customers scoffing bowls of meat-stirred noodles and broth. Heavily tattooed staffers plonk down side dishes of fries between pouring shots. But this is no cheesy heavy-rock-themed eatery. The roots of the restaurant began in Noodle In: a rustic noodle shop founded by Lei Jun, a charismatic singer with brilliant Beijing oi! punk rock band MiSanDao. Lei made the place headquarters for the city’s punk-rock waifs and strays, and was about to relaunch the venue as Punk Rock Noodle in 2015 when he died suddenly, of a heart attack, aged 40. His wife Ma Yue, who has a picture of Lei and the couple’s pet bulldog tattooed on her arm, pushed on with the launch, to honour his memory.
Today, Lei’s spirit is still strongly felt in Punk Rock Noodle. A photo of the grin-gurning, shaven-headed frontman, glass firmly clasped in hand, takes place with pride behind the bar. It’s rare for more than a few hours to pass before a MiSanDao album is played loudly on the restaurant stereo: a fitting soundtrack to observe the striking photos of the band standing confidently on Tiananmen Square, jostling for wall space with a plethora of trinkets and records.
The Gulou sweatbox venues in which Lei performed with MiSanDao are nearby, and gig-goers flock to the restaurant to line their stomachs before rocking out in them. Dishes are named after bands who have visited – the Punks Not Dead dish, for example, was created in honour of The Exploited dropping in for a meal when they played the capital. Like Lei’s music, much of the food is straightforward, meaty and, in the case of the succulent lamb lumps, unforgettable. As staffers’ shifts end, the workers head off for band practice. The recruitment policy seems to be: “If you play punk rock, you can serve noodles here”. Everyone here lives, breathes and eats music. More evidence that a noodle can indeed be punk rock