Welcome to Readers’ Writes week, starring the collective wisdom of 17 fellow bar-goers who answered my survey about their favorite Beijing drinking holes and the city’s nightlife scene. They include men and women, span five decades in age, hail from four continents, and provide some appreciated insights. (Note: This first appeared in last week’s newsletter. To get the newsletter, send an email with “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Without further ado…
OLIVER SEDLINGER, Austrian, 6 years
Favorite Beijing Bar(s)
Cafe Pause and Cafe Europa for wine from home (Austria), Q Bar and Bed for drinks and cocktails, Maggie’s for 80s music and eye candy.
All-time Favorite Bar(s)
First Cafe, Neo Lounge
The Beijing scene
Beijing needs a place like YY in Shanghai
BH, American, business manager, 9 years in China
As a thirty-something ex-pat, the Pavillion works for me. Nice atmosphere (especially during the warm weather months), few if any twenty-something riff-raff, lots of screens playing sporting events, and a “real” bar with footrests. For similar atmosphere (a la Lost in Translation), Red Moon is also a nice spot. Centro has somehow managed to retain its reasonably hip and comfortable “see-and-be-seen” atmosphere.
No Name at Houhai – the low-key atmosphere is the perfect alternative for those who can’t stand Babyface (or similar). Goose and Duck is, IMO, the single best “drinker’s bar” in Beijing. Good cheap draft beer. Genuinely friendly staff. Always a fun crowd (as opposed to Suzie Wong’s, across the street, where it seems everyone is itching to get into a fistfight – over girls, perhaps? Could that be possible in a town that has Maggie’s?). And pretty good snacks to match (best Sloppy Joe in town, IMO).
There are truly, positively, 100 percent without a doubt, not enough “real” bars in Beijing. And by “bars” I mean places where people go to unwind after a long day, perhaps catch a game on TV, chit chat with the bartender, etc. This must be the case if I find the bar at Friday’s (by St. Regis) to be among the best “bars” in town. At some point, the night scene here became usurped by an obsession with fashion, design (often bad), and bar-owner narcissism. Beyond that, the “pure” dance scene seems to be great. However, it is clear (from comments made to me by both men and women) that there is very little here between the traditional “bar” and “can’t hear you screaming over the music” nightclubs. There is a large group of frustrated singles out there who find it virtually impossible to find a nice little place with good music where nice people can mingle (The Tree comes to mind here, in terms of what Beijing needs more of).
STELLA GUO, Chinese, freelancer, 20 years
Q-Bar: The place to end the evening (slumped over the bar ;- ) ). Great mixed drinks and friendly owners / bartenders
The Tree: Stinky four cheese pizza and Belgian beers
Touch Bar by Houhai: Not for the drinks, but a place to relax and watch the world go by, especially good on a warm spring afternoon
While there’re lots of bars in Beijing and new ones coming up every day, most kind of run together and good drinking spots are still hard to come by.
CHELSEY “LIVING THE DREAM” MARK, Canadian, performer / host / actor / singer / artist / model / freedom fighter / nightlife writer, 7 years
Zeta, mainly because my friend is the manager there and the DJ is also my friend… ha! It’s like my Cheers in Beijing. I’ll always know that Sammy, Norm and Cliff will always be there… :)
I usually follow my party friends, which have finally moved from Suzie Wong to China Doll, which is nice… People at China Doll seem to be more polite and a little less “tipsy.”
Goose and Duck … John is going to rock it with the new space … he also sponsors my ice hockey team here! Go Hot Wings! The Jerseys are the coolest thing on ice…
Kai, because you can drop in any time, the staff are always calm and will never give you attitude, the drinks are cheap, the music is always an adventure, in a good way! And people are always ready to have fun and meet people. The size is perfect. Summer time … man, look out!
Beijing’s drinking scene is vast, don’t get sucked into always frequenting the same bars, have some fun and go to random places. Stick the bar list on the wall, and take your pick. Get used to having bad cocktails – there are few places in the city that can actually mix proper drinks, i.e. Centro, Zeta. Also, be aware of the fake alcohol, so if you want play it safe, stick to bottled drinks. When ordering, speak slowly, check it twice, and get used to the slow service in receiving your drink and change.