Beijing’s nightlife has a distinctly different vibe from Shanghai’s. While you can still find over the top, luxurious establishments and get a traditional nightlife fix in well-trodden districts like Sanlitun, the best gems are the ones tucked away in unassuming side streets and alleyways. A movement of innovative bar owners have started to convert traditional hutong houses into slick, hole in the wall cocktail bars. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sipping bespoke cocktails or craft beers in a dark deserted alley, while the locals use the common bathrooms across the road. Here is our guide to Beijing bars featuring all our favourite spots to sit back and relax in after a long day of inhaling smog -‘干杯 ‘!
MAO MAO CHONG
English Address: 12 Banchang Hutong, off Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie, Dongcheng district
Chinese Address: 东城区交道口南大街板厂胡同12号
Do as the local and expat hipsters do and slip into this grassroots hutong bar for original cocktails with tongue in cheek names. The bar is owned by Eric Liu, a Chinese national who speaks fluent English and could possibly be the best- dressed bartender in China. The bar serves all the classics, but truly shines with its own creative concoctions. Definitely try the Mala Mule, which does the region proud with its Sichuan flavours. If you’ve rocked up late and they’ve stopped serving pizzas, ask Eric where to go and he’ll gladly point you in the right direction to get your late night Sichuan fix.
PRO TIP: If you go in winter, make sure you don’t get a table near the door. For some reason, everyone who walks in and out (almost) always forget to close the door, which will turn you into a temporary popsicle each time it stays open.
English Address: 3 Daju Hutong, Dongcheng district
Chinese Address: 东城区大菊胡同3号
A must-visit because it’s one of the rare bars that truly specialise in baijiu, China’s answer to vodka, sake and soju combined. This stuff is strong, pungent and kind of nasty, but the guys at ‘Capital Spirits’ manage to blend some awesome cocktails with it. Try the Baiju Sour as a starter and finish it off with some straight baiju, if you dare. One of the nicest Beijing bars you’ll find.
GREAT LEAP BREWING
English Address: 6 Doujiao Hutong, off Di’anmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng district
Chinese Address: 东城区豆角胡同6号院
English Address: 12 Xinzhong Jie, off Chunxiu Lu, Dongzhimen, Dongcheng district
Chinese Address: 东城区东直门新中街乙12号, 近春秀路
English Address: 45-1 Xinyuan Jie, Chaoyang district
Chinese Address: 朝阳区新源街45-1
When you think of Beijing, the concept of craft beer is unlikely one of the first things to come to mind. ‘Great Leap Brewing’ practically pioneered this concept of craft brewery in Beijing. Now with three bars named after their street numbers (#6, #12 and #45), there’s no stopping the tap. These are not just bars selling some craft beers, these are bars that actually brew their own. The beer list is surprisingly extensive and has something for everyone, even beer-haters. The newer members of the family (#12 and #45) specialise in burgers and pizza, respectively. The menu is considered to have some of the best pub food in the country, so definitely swing by if you feel like swapping your authentic Chinese fare for a classic pub schnitzel.
English Address: 6/F Floor, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Lu Chaoyang district
Chinese Address: 朝阳区三里屯路81号那里花园6层
A quality bar in Sanlitun that experiments with some creative cocktails alongside the classics. Pending warmer weather and clearer days, you can hang outside to take in the city skyline. What makes this bar cool is that it’s a different kind of bar depending on what day of the week you rock up. On the weekend, the place goes off with DJs turning the tables. On weekdays, there are many themed nights such as movie nights where they bring out the popcorn machine. If you’re hungry, definitely check out the restaurant – it’s fancy but serves up some of the best Spanish food in the city.
English Address: 20 Xinsi Hutong, Dongcheng district
Chinese Address: 东城区辛寺胡同20号
The sister bar of ‘Capital Spirits’ but with more elbow room. You won’t find baiju on the menu here. Instead, try the bar’s own house-made gin and vodka, which is literally made in an alcove next to the stairwell inside. Check out our Foursquare list below for more awesome Beijing bars and other cool spots to visit in our other Guide To Beijing articles.
Writer: Louise Yoo
Photographer: Louise Yoo