GoKunming recently paid a visit to Moondog, one of the city's most popular bars in Kundu. We spoke with publican Joost Meester before he heads back home to Holland after four years of running the tavern.
"Our ice machine broke today!" says Joost, while mopping up a puddle of water on the floor. "We have a guy coming to fix it soon. I hope he can do it...we use a lot of ice in this place, man!" Watching a 196-centimeter tall man mopping the floor simultaneously paints an imposing and humorous picture. But Meester, despite his intimidating height, is a big, friendly giant.
GoKunming: For those who aren't familiar with you or Moondog, could you kindly introduce yourself?
Joost Meester: I started this bar four and half years ago and that's what I do most of the day, I drink here and talk to people. I have a family, a small boy, and if I have time I play with him. The bar takes up all of my time [laughs].
GK: How did you first come to Kunming and then set up Moondog?
Meester: I came to Kunming because I met my wife nine years ago in Holland and after three years of her living there in a small village, she didn't like it anymore. We decided to move to the Spring City, and because of my shitty English, I couldn't teach. So, my wife and I started Moondog and Fried Feige joined us.
GK: What have been the biggest challenges of running Moondog?
Meester: It's mostly your energy levels. I guess spending 14 hours in a bar is part of that, but I don't really see it as a challenge as much as it is something I enjoy doing. I love talking to people in the bar and we haven't had any problems with the authorities. We've had to watch the noise sometimes and we always try our best to control it.
GK: What has been the best thing about running the joint?
Meester: All the people I have met, all the different countries. You learn so much from drinking with such groups. I think I can count on ten fingers the nationalities that haven't been to Moondog. And I have met great musicians here in Kunming.
GK: What has been some of the worst things about running the bar?
Meester: The fights. There have been a lot of brawls in Moondog, mostly after 3am. The troublesome thing about the fighting is that often it's your friends, and sometimes you have to kick them out, and that's always a bit depressing. But it's a rock 'n' roll bar, there is a lot of alcohol, it's open late and so that just comes with the territory.
GK: Any amusing stories from your time running the bar?
Meester: Probably the girls dancing on the bar. Also, a few weeks ago a guy did a striptease because he had his green underwear on for St Patrick's Day. But probably the funniest guy in the bar is my business partner Fried. I think everyone remembers the night he destroyed half of our furniture, or the night we started a beer coaster war. There are too many stories to mention. When Fried falls asleep and you try to wake him up, for sure you will get a punch in the face.
GK: What do you love most about Kunming?
Meester: I like the foreign community a lot. We are all friends and even with other bar owners, there is not one who wants to talk to me out of competition. I meet so many cool people that I wouldn't normally meet in Holland. That's something I love about this city.
GK: How has Moondog changed over the years?
Meester: Yeah, Moondog has changed a lot. When we started, it was a small operation and we had good business, mostly locals thanks to my wife of course. And then when Fried joined me it really exploded within four months; every Friday or Saturday night became overloaded, smoky and too hot. And then it changed again. When the new O'Reilly's Irish Pub opened near Green Lake, they took a lot of the party crowd with them. In the end, this was good for our trade, and now we got more of the long-term expats — English teachers and an older crowd.
We still love the party crowd but we couldn't handle it and the neighborhood couldn't either. We also focus more now on whiskey and draft beer. The Tsingtao beer crowd only comes sometimes. We couldn't maintain the busy times and the peeing in the street. It was great for business, but if I think about the people that live above Moondog...fucking hell!
GK: So how do you combine running the bar and being a father?
Meester: I have a great wife. She takes care of my son and me. She always says "Joost, rest more, rest more." It's one of the reasons I want to quit the bar because I don't have much time to spend with them. We have great parents-in-law. I think it's time to become more of a family man now.
GK: What will you miss most about Kunming?
Meester: Mostly the people. We have a lot of freedom here to live out our dreams. But in Holland, everything costs a lot of money. When I'm back in Holland, I will have a regular life, go to bed and wake up at specific times. I am very afraid that I am going to miss the crowd and the conversations here. Everyday new people walk into the bar. Yesterday some people just arrived from Nepal. I won't get that as much in Holland.
GK: Are there any other reasons for going back?
Meester: Yeah, the biggest reason is schooling for my son. My wife thinks that in Kunming schools, students are assigned too much busywork and so my son going to school in Holland is the main reason we are going back.
GK: What tips would you give to other people who want to start a watering hole here in Kunming?
Meester: Don't become lazy! All people want is enthusiasm. If you don't have the stamina for making events people won't come. Business takes awhile, it takes about a year — at first ten people know you and then 20 and then 200. Now we have Jeroen who is cooking for us with a lot of passion. I think the biggest success of Moondog is organizing parties, listening to people, drinking beers with them and letting people paint on the walls.
Even the crappiest guitarists can come and play here, as long as they bring their friends. I think Moondog is one of the shittiest bars in Kunming in [terms of how it] looks, but it is also one of the coziest. Fried and I are always welcoming and if you walk in, we ask your name and what you drink and we create an atmosphere where people connect and come back.
GK: Music is a big part of Moondog. Could you talk a bit about that?
Meester: We have live music at Moondog most nights. I have seen the best musicians and I have also seen amateurs who eventually leave here as huge performers. The problem with Moondog is that it is a small venue so we can't do big shows. Most of the music played in here is folk music. We used to have DJs but it's not really the right atmosphere. Recently, we had a jazz band in here and they blew me away. A few years ago, we had Sandy play here and the place was packed and I had to kick people out. Everybody came!
GK: Which Chinese artists among those who have played at the Dog do you admire most?
Meester: Lao Han. He played acoustic sets here a few times and he is really good and knows how to work the crowd. Lately, there is a new guy in town called Dian Dian, I've seen him play loudly and quietly. He is very, very good.
GK: Anything else you would like to add?
Meester: I want to thank everybody who has come to Moondog and helped us over the years. Also, to all the assholes I have kicked out, and who have all come back and become my friends again. I am very proud of this little place and the crew that comes here.
Editor's note: Joost will be playing parting shows at Mask with David and Jan on Friday, May 29 and at Moondog with Dale on Saturday, May 30. He would like to request that past and present patrons of Moondog email him memorable pictures or video of the bar at joostless[at]hotmail[dot]com.