Artist Jiwei Li in his studio in the 798 district of Beijing // © 2014 Mark Edward Harris
Feature image (above): At night, Hou Hai Lake becomes a center of Beijing’s nightlife. // © 2014 Mark Edward Harris
As dusk gives way to night, the tranquility of Hou Hai Lake is transformed by dozens of clubs trying to out-amplify each other. While the scene might seem more reminiscent of Ibiza than Beijing, Hou Hai Lake is one of the most popular locations for young residents looking to dance the night away.
Beijing is commonly associated with history and politics, but there is another side to this modern capital city that includes great art galleries, nightclubs, pubs and restaurants. Looking for a shortcut, I asked a few local residents and ex-pats to share some of their favorite places to sample Beijing’s nightlife.
Down an alley in the Daxiangfeng Hutong is Mei’s Mansion, a hidden treasure for gastronomes and a favorite of local entrepreneur Tiffany Chang.
Designed with the early 20th-century Beijing opera star Mei Lanfang as an inspiration, this elegant restaurant is housed in a 200-year-old traditional courtyard residence. The waitstaff, clad in 1920’s period costumes, serves a seemingly endless parade of dishes, including house specialty jellyfish jiaozi (a type of dumpling). Courses can be washed down with Beijiau, a strong Chinese alcohol.
Locals and ex-pats also recommend The Courtyard, in the Dongcheng district; Capital M, located south of Tiananmen Square; Il Millione and Mercante for Italian fare; and Vinvi and Yotsuba for Japanese cuisine.
Of course, Beijing is the best place to sample Peking duck. Chang suggests Duck de Chine, while Beijing-based journalist Joerg Winter and his wife head to Beijing Da Dong in Gongti.
Clubs, Pubs and More
Beijing offers more raucous nightlife options as well. Visitors looking for nightclubs should try the area surrounding Worker’s Stadium. Mix, Vics and K are popular clubs here. Beijing-based physician Emanuel Luttersdorfer and his group of ex-pat friends often rendezvous at Lantern, home to the developing Chinese electronic music scene.
Sanlitun Pub Street, in Chaoyang district, has a number of clubs with music ranging from rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop to jazz and Latin. Salsa Caribe is where Toronto-based Ken Huang tries out his dancing shoes when he’s in Beijing.
Guests seeking traditional Chinese entertainment have plenty of options as well. Venues for performances include The Capital Theater, the Beijing Concert Hall, the China Folk Culture Palace and the National Center of Performing Arts — known locally as “the Egg” because of the unique shape of the building.
Art lovers should plan to devote a good amount of time to an area named 798, a former industrial zone that is now home to numerous galleries and restaurants. Local English-language newspapers such as The Beijinger, City Weekend and Time Out Beijing list gallery openings.
Naturally, a sophisticated, modern city such as Beijing is going to have a thriving nightlife, and visitors will have a good time taking it all in. Just remind clients not to party too hard — there are plenty of historic sights to see in the morning.