As you sip a martini or imported beer while listening to a European DJ spinning or watch a live jazz band, it’s hard to imagine that just 20 years ago, Beijing did not have one single bar. And even in pre-revolution times, Beijing never rivaled the after-dark sophistication of Shanghai. These days, however, many bars or clubs would not look out of place in London or New York. Beijing is now developing its own distinct nightlife identity, from hutong bars to clubs and live music venues that promote local DJs and bands. However, it is still the expat community that drives the nightlife in Beijing. Generally, bars in Beijing have a happy, friendly atmosphere—even the relatively snooty clubs around Worker’s Stadium don’t have a dress code.
Beijing is also the center of China’s film industry and the home of the most vibrant live-music circuit on the mainland, and has a burgeoning theatre scene. Whether you want to listen to jazz or punk, watch a local film or a Hollywood favorite, watch acrobats or a musical, you will find it in Beijing. For events, check Time Out Beijing, The Beijinger and City Weekend.
In 1995, Sanlitun Lu had one bar, and it was losing money fast. As the lore has it, the new owner moved the loo away from the front door, changed the name, and lured Beijing’s few expats in for drinks. Now the area is choked with drinking holes, lounges, and clubs, forcing it to spread around Gongti, where pumping dance clubs attract big name DJs. Houhai, once a quiet lakeside neighborhood, has exploded into a bumping bar scene ideal for sunset cocktails. Chaoyang West Gate, which has a predominately expat feel, has a friendly strip of bars. For a hipper scene, Dashanzi 798 is full of wine bars and galleries; and for students, Wudaokou in Haidan offers cheap drinks by the pitcher. For clubbing action, bring your dancing shoes to the streets around Worker’s Stadium near Sanlitun.
Langung Thai Bar + Bistro
This Thai tapas bar and bistro’s mystical décor, elaborate roof deck and overall chill ambiance offers sanctuary from Beijing’s club-driven and the raucous Solana Bar Street. With delicious cocktails made with house infused vodkas paired with delectable Thai tapas, Lantung is an ideal place for a date, drinks among friends or even a late-night Buddha call
Mao Mao Chong’s
Considered one of the most exciting openings in 2010, Mao Mao Chong’s is an extremely popular hutong bar known for its creative cocktails and reasonably priced international beer. The walls are decorated by the bar’s talented owners, a husband and wife team who also make some of the city’s best pizza. Mao Mao Chong’s is a welcome change to the kitsch and flashy bar streets.
This elegant bar mixes masterful cocktails to the Jianwai SOHO set. Twilight is stylishly decorated in a way that suits the jazz music that sets the mood. This bar is best late, as the chill vide evolves into an energetic cocktail buzz. The Apricot Old Fashioned is original and delicious, and there is a huge whiskey selection.
Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-2am
0102 , 3/F, Bldg 5, Jianwai Soho, 39 Dongsanhuan Zhonglu, enter on south side of Starbucks building
(010) 5900 5376
With power dance floor, crystal-clear system and more mirror balls than Xanadu, this Gongti hip-hop club oozes extravagance and makes for a sublime clubbing experience. Club LA attracts a young crowd that enjoys commercial hip-hop and R&B. The cocktails are voted the city’s best and are reasonably priced.
No. 8, Gongti West Gate
(010) 6552 6969 / (010) 8599-9999
Beijing’s Irish pub, Paddy O’Shea’s, has become a true phenomenon. On any given evening, this bar hall is bursting with professionals enjoys multiple pints of the Beijing’s best Guiness and cheering for their favorite football clubs. The bartenders are attentive and keep the whiskey, Carlsberg and Kilkenny flowing until late.
XIU is one of the few bars that draws its inspiration from Beijing’s architectural legacy. Located on the top of the Park Hyatt, XIU has designed a jaw-dropping atmosphere that fuses the traditional with the contemporary. If fact, it feels like drinking on a Chinese pavilion suspended in mid-air. Bartenders expertly mix cocktails while the chef’s barbeque away.
Sun-Wed 6pm-2am, Thu-Sat 6pm-3am
Hyatt Beijing, F/6, 2 Jianguomenwai Street
(010) 8567 1108
The Stumble Inn
This elaborate two-storey sports bar in The Village offers 100 beers, wrap-around windows, and a breezy terrace. The kitchen prepares delicious burgers, hearty sandwiches and Jenga fries. This is widely considered the best sports bar in Beijing, and you always be able to see your home team—not to mention your home beer.
The clientele at this unique bar is mostly Japanese, but a growing number of westerners are turning up to enjoy an impressive selection of top-shelf single malt whiskey. This is Beijing’s top whiskey bar, not just for the selection, but the attention to detail. The lighting is delicate and the ice cubes are perfectly round.
2/F (entrance via stairs at south wall of Chaoyang Theater), Chaoyang Theater, 36 Dongsanhuan Beilu, Chaoyang District
(010) 6507 1107
Black Sun Bar
Black Sun is a classic fun bar, complete with a pool table, darts, foosball, an original caipirinha recipe and a lively patio right in the middle of Chaoyang Park’s West Gate. The pub draws a gregarious, sporty crowd that come for the beer selection, professionally mixed cocktails, excellent pub grub, and the sports on TV. Tuesday is quiz night and Fridays feature drink specials.
Sun-Thu 5:30pm-2am, Fri-Sat 5pm-3am
Chaoyang Park West Gate
(010) 6593 6909
Cheese and Wine Made in Heaven
Distinct from the other bars around the West Gate, this spot is run by a sharply dressed Parisien who has a system that works. You simply sit down and order wine, and then choose cheese from one of the fixed platters or by weight. The cheese is mostly French, although the wine selection is global.
Sun-Wed 12pm-12am, Thu-Sat 12pm-1.30am
1-15 Chaoyang Gongyuan Xilu (next to Jenny Lou’s), Chaoyang District
(010) 6501 2901
Paddy’s Pit Stop
Part of the growing Paddy’s empire, the suburban addition is a smaller version of the Dongizhimen Paddy O’Shea’s, and offers the same food and beer selection. This hangout provides non-stop sports coverage and outdoor seating.
Pinnacle Plaza, Shunyi
Open in 2004, which is an eternity by Beijing clubbing standards, LAN club, a product of designer Philipe Stark, is still a masterpiece. The food and drink target sophisticated tastes and the music cultured ears. LAN offers live music and world-class DJs on most nights.
4/F Twin Tower, B12 Jianguomen Waidajie
(010) 5109 6012
Despite the fact that about four nightclubs open in Beijing each week, Mao Live House maintains itself at the top of the live music scene. Associated with the Japanese record label Bad News, owner Li Chi has made his establishment all about music. The atmosphere is non-assuming, but they bring in the best local acts and occasionally a foreign band. Expect to be impressed with the sound and music. Li Chi leans towards rock, but is open to anything he finds fresh and original.
East Shore Live Jazz Café
This small jazz ‘dive’ is Beijing urban sophistication, and is the most authentic jazz club in the city. At its heart, it’s a musician’s jazz club: its comfortable, unpretentious, and dedicated entirely to music. There are live bands Thursday through Sunday, including owner Liu Yuan’s own quartet, which jams into the wee hours.
2/F, 2 Qianhai Nanyanlu (just to the west of the post office on Di’anmenwai Dajie)
(010) 8403 2131
The Emporer Hotel’s rooftop overlooks the Forbidden City, perhaps the best view in all of Beijing, and there’s a hot tub if you need to further relax. This is a fabulous place to impress visitors, and the red lanterns and fashionable staff top it off. However, the service comes with an attitude.
Tango and Star Live
Tango, a warehouse-style is one of the more interesting clubs in Beijing. It spares you the usual gaudy ambiance of the Worker’s Stadium clubs, and plays great music from global DJs. Upstairs, Star Live, is one of Beijing’s best live music venues that features local and foreign bands most nights of the week.
79 Hepingli Xijie, South Gate of Ritan Park
(010) 6428 2288
Very popular with Beijing’s Spanish and Italian crowds, Salsa Caribe offers free salsa lessons from 7:30-9pm every evening. The Latin house band plays live most nights and the dance floor heats up by late in the evening. The venue is large and there is a nice balcony to cool off. The specialty drink here is the mojito.
#4 Courtyard, Gongti Beilu, behind the Boookworm
(010) 6507 7821
Find out more about the best expat bars and nightclubs in Beijing on our Listly list: