Hutongs Nightlife

Hutongs Nightlife, Beijing, China (D)

The second ring road is where the hutongs of 'Old Beijing' still remain. Down these dark, twisting alleyways seethes a vibrant nightlife. Hiding in the hutongs are stand-up comics, dirty dubsteppers, Chinese rockstars, and a brewing revolution of craft beers. And with all locations within walking distance of each other, consider this your guide to a successful bar crawl in Beijing.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Hutongs Nightlife
Guide Location: China » Beijing
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (D))
# of Attractions: 15
Author: Danielle Sumita
Author Bio: All the Asian adventure you can stomach. And then some. I do things, know stuff, meet humans. ...write like The Bard himself. Seek. If it all amounts to nothing more than a head full of sensory memories and a faint yet indelible trail of Me across the Universe, that's okay
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • 4 Corners
  • Dada
  • Salud
  • Great Leap Brewery
  • Temple Bar
  • Modernista
  • Siif
  • MAO Livehouse
  • Yugong Yishan
  • Maomaochong
  • Hot Cat Club
  • VA Bar
  • El Nido
  • Café de la Poste
  • Penghao Theater Café
4 Corners

1) 4 Corners

Where everybooooody knows your naaa-aaame… yes yes y’all, this is the neighborhood bar for the ages. Constantly reinventing itself, 4Corners has served the stomachs, livers and hearts of the Beijing community since its Wreck the Bar demolition/redecorating party. Headed by a dreadlocked, world-renowned chef and a funk musician forever wearing a loosened tie, this is the venue to host and be hosted. Charity dinners and capoeira demos sometimes share the night in this social mosaic of a hutong bar. After visiting nearby Houhai Lake or the Drum and Bell Tower stop by 4 Corners to brunch on fresh pho and poutine. Lap up lovingly-named drink specials by the fireplace or in the open courtyard, depending on the season. Always ambitious, this neighborhood favorite never lets you down.
Image Courtesy of Jun Trihn.

2) Dada

This second installation of Shanghai-born Dada bar has taken over the Beijing dirty dance scene, hosting all your dark favorites from drum & base, dubstep, psytrance and jungle house. Local djs and international acts stop and drop in this surprisingly spacious hole-in-the-wall club. Don’t let the grime fool you— Dada is under veteran management— which explains the numerous awards the nightlife spot already claims. Fleshing out its party-until-the-morning-sun reputation, Dada also hosts weekly cinema nights, vintage markets and other special events to show love to the local community. Cheap libations and eccentric regulars make for a surreal experience every time.

3) Salud

Gypsy jam sessions, on the daily. Loft seating in wooden alcoves, for a cozy reunion or an intimate first date. Prime spot, located in ultra trendy Nanluo Guxiang a.k.a. Hipster Way. Unadulterated by the insincerity of its touristy neighbors, Salud is a true hold out in the constantly changing Gulou area. Its formula of good drink specials, diverse music, and enchanting patronage (be they first-time visitors or long-time regulars) keeps Salud fresh. The crowd often spills out into the street as a sign of good times, and its popularity is consistently earned.
Great Leap Brewery

4) Great Leap Brewery

This original location hides in the hutongs on the edge of Houhai and Qianhai Lakes. With a tiny indoor space, Great Leap Brewery’s charm stems from its outdoor courtyard seating, making it ideal for a summertime session of overdoing it. Despite China’s love of beer, craft brewing has yet to take flight, and thus Great Leap Brewery reigns proudly as a pioneer on this noble mission. Seasonal and annual beers lovingly dubbed Liu the Brave Chai Masala Stout, Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and Three Door Tripel is only a taste test of over 40 beers offered here. The lack of choice brews in Beijing can be upsetting, so take advantage of the bar’s daily specials in a particularly Sino setting.
Temple Bar

5) Temple Bar

Tucked behind the overwhelming gaiety of Gulou Dong Dajie, there waits a place of other raucousness. Opened by musicians, for musicians, Temple Bar caters to no one. It's got rock-and-roll aloofness written all over its undecorated walls, the simple wooden venue-scape concedes care only for its corner stage. And what a stage! Here locals belt out Beatles covers and rockabilly tunes, and avant-garde artists experiment with Trip-Hop/Chinese-Folk jams. Since real rock bars need no cover charge, expect instead to show your financial support by knocking back several cheekily-named shooters.

6) Modernista

Bicycles line the façade of this café and tapas bar year round. Jazz Is the music of choice for the dark wooded, black-and-white tiled 1930’s remembrance. Starting from 35 yuan a glass, wine and dine a friend without losing your shirt. Catch a film screening of surrealist classics or borrow one of their books and dream out literary fantasies during Modernista's Absinthe Green Hour. The venue also hosts a decent dance party, so if live swing music in the heart of hutongs is your thing make a move. And afterwards, see if you can snag an old poster or two papering the area— Modernista utilizes the chic, vintage style of Théophile Alexandre Steinlen in its marketing— making it a steal for no-fuss home decor.

7) Siif

Yes. They’re serious. They seriously have three floors, stacked on top of each other in a precarious Jenga tower of fun. They seriously have a dank basement, the walls littered with music/graffiti/party paraphernalia. They seriously have live feed of the downstairs dance floor to the TVs on the bar floor above. You can also watch people through the floor, which is seriously see-through, as a fun addition to your trippy experience. Oh, yeah, and they have drinks. Mostly, go to Siif if you're looking for a quiet nightcap in a neighborhood hutong bar... and THEN plan on getting sucked into a time warp of dirty dubstep dancing until 4am. Because this is China.
MAO Livehouse

8) MAO Livehouse

No street cred for music lovers who come to Beijing and don’t catch a show at Mao Livehouse. You say you love rock and roll but you’ve never experienced the wild highs of local acts AK-47 or Carsick Cars? Say that to a Beijinger and you’ll get no love. The fanbase for Mao Livehouse is hardcore loyal, metal-studded and often angsty in ways that they don’t understand. Even if metal and punk isn’t your 'scene', alternatively, go for the cheap drinks and unmatched insight into the collective psyche of Chinese youth. Take selfies under the Mao hairline logo outside, get smashed inside MAO's graffittied bowels, yell at someone-- anyone-- that they just don't understand whilst leaving. Beijing’s premiere live music space wants you to feel like there are no rules.
Yugong Yishan

9) Yugong Yishan

With a name derived from the Chinese idiom about an old man delegating the removal of two mountains to his progeny for generations… the premise to this live music venue is formidable. Inside things are less heavy, though as a spot dealing mostly in the currency of punk rock and hip hop, Yugong Yishan still has a reputation to keep. With a gaping dance floor and ample mid-venue seating, all flavors of alternative Chinese attitudes can be witnessed here. Sit back by the bar to avoid the mosh pit or put your hands up stage-side to see an emcee battle go down. Either way, Yugong Yishan is THE place to get rowdy.

10) Maomaochong

Sichuan pepper. Infused. Vodka. There’s nothing better than sitting back with a Mala Mule and admiring the sundry patrons at Maomaochongs, perhaps with the company of a pumpkin pizza. Now, while you stare cross-eyed at a lengthy list of cocktail creations for your second foray into Beijing mixology, don’t worry so about how your wallet feels. From innovative offerings like The Beetnik (using beetroot -infused gin) to the Bangkok Hilton (starting with thai tea infused scotch) prices top out at 50 RMB. Make it over on a Wednesday night and only 35 yuan will get you the same. Great vibe inside but word to the wise: leave your disorderly drinking buddies at home… Maomaochong is across the alley from a police station.
Hot Cat Club

11) Hot Cat Club

Not a strip club, this stripped-down club is instead a well worn home for the local creative scene. Onstage, rockers take you on a ride back to 90’s hair metal. In the back room, newbies take lessons from the Beijing bilingual improv group. Stand-up comedians take their seats amongst their fans after bringing down the house with hilarity. Grab one of Hot Cat's provided board games, choose from their respectable beer selection, and get in on this quirky lovefest tonight.
VA Bar

12) VA Bar

Just on the edge of kitchy Wudaoying Hutong and across from the Lama Temple lies a cozy haven for some of the best live music in Beijing. Like many other hutong hideouts, VA Bar wastes no effort on beautifying itself, instead providing a quality sound system and one-of-a-kind bookings. Grab a utilitarian drink and groove to gypsy jazz with that other mother-tongued sweetheart; music filling the room won’t leave much room for conversation. Or sweat it out to some of the best funk bands in Beijing, you might be inspired to throw some part of your wardrobe onstage. Even… even!... be impressed by the open mic contributors, which is a feat in any neighborhood hangout. A Veteran Affair, indeed.
El Nido

13) El Nido

Spanish for ‘The Nest’, this tiny, unassuming hutong bar has no tolerance for grandiosity like its similarly named Beijing Olympic Stadium Bird’s Nest (which will inevitably come up in Google search results). This spot has a loyal outdoor following, mainly because the indoors is almost closet-like, but also because its clientele would rather stand outside smoking to keep an eye on their fixed gear bike. If you can handle the hipsters you'll share in an unparalleled beer selection, as well as French wine and absinthe. Great place to bring some street food and knock back a few choice ales.
Café de la Poste

14) Café de la Poste

With a familiar name and a friendly staff, Café de la Poste deals in simple pleasures. Located just south of Lama Temple, where gold paper offerings shine and incense wafts from tiny shops, tourists often wander in to Café de la Poste and fill themselves with hot chèvre, quiche and crème brulée. Choice meats selected by the founding chef himself result in some top cuts for carnivores. At night, the 'exclusively French' wine menu gets more play, and apéritifs and digestifs are offered to bookend your meal. The ambiance is transnational and an eclectic music selection of swing to hard rock depend on patrons’ preferences. Salsa if you wanna, just make a request at the bar. Laid-back charm and high quality fare keeps you there round after round. ...after round. Santé!
Penghao Theater Café

15) Penghao Theater Café

Rebuilt from a traditional Chinese courtyard Penghao Theater is one of the only performance spaces dedicated for independent theater. With an attached café accommodating struggling artists this is a great place to go for dinner, drinks and a show without breaking the bank. Before a performance, mingle with the coolly casual drama nerds of the capital with a glass of 25RMB house wine in your hand. Get cultured stageside by viewing experimental dance pieces, experiencing the work of guest dramaturgs, or by supporting local talent in the annual Nanluo Guxiang Theater Festival. After the show, lounge about in hidden Turkish alcoves or sit on the rooftop for a nice view of the hutongs. And try the cake. Please try all of the cakes.

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