Tender is the Beijing Night

Tender is the Beijing night.


Kai

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 1, 2006

My two friends were over from England, so it was a cultural imperative that I show them not just the regulation sights such as the Forbidden City and Great Wall, but also the bright lights of Beijing by night. The obvious area to do this was, of course, Sanliturn. Despite the demolition of the famed bar street in 2005, the area still remains home to much of the Chinese capital’s best nightlife. So, just four or five hours after they had touched down on Asian soil we found ourselves reclining on expansive couches on Kai’s second floor.

Nestled between the more vaunted locales of Poachers Inn and the Hidden Tree, Kai may not be the biggest, brightest, or most hyped of venues in Beijing, but it is well worth the visit. It is a compact two-storey affair with a small bar and even smaller dance-floor on ground level and an array of soft-furniture upstairs.

Our first night on the tiles in Beijing was a Sunday. Accordingly whilst Kai was busy it wasn’t crammed to the gills. There was plenty of space upstairs to relax allowing us happily drape ourselves on a couple of comfy seats, tuck into a few 10RMB beers and stare at the stars through the glass roof. We soon found our surroundings even more comfortable when we discovered it was just 5RMB for anything on a comprehensive menu of shooters. So after a few banana boats, lube jobs and kamikazes we were well on our way along our first tour of Beijing at night.

The second trip to Kai was on a Friday night and things were a little different. Whilst the dance-floor on Sunday had been occupied, things had been breathable. With the ex-pat community out for some weekend revels though, it had a claustrophobic feel that was impressive even by Chinese standards. Space was at such a premium in fact that the party spilled out into the street where we stood with countless others.

The road outside Kai is closed to traffic ensuring it easy to stand chat and mingle. Both Poachers and the Hidden Tree are just few feet away so the area is generally bustling with people making their way between the two; the usual route being to stop off at Kai on the way. Next door is Shooters, a downmarket version of Kai which provides, as it’s name would suggest, cheap shots. Just as with Kai though it too struggles to accommodate everyone on a Friday or Saturday evening with its customers also joining the melee in the street.

Given Kai’s size and the proximity of more well-known venues, I could never see it as being home for a full evening; I would always want to head on somewhere else. Yet for any tour of Beijing it is a definite stop between bars and on the way to drunkenness.

Kai Club
Sanliturn
Beijing

The Legend of Suzy Wongs

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 1, 2006

Overated and overpriced. The Crazy World of Suzy Wong’s could easily be described as a Beijing institution, yet as I exited into the streets of Beijing’s Chaoyangmen district I could not help but feel a little disappointed.

Turn to the nightlife section of any guidebook on Beijing and you will find Suzy Weongs strongly mentioned, usually in impressive terms. Similarly speak to much of the Beijing ex-pat population and you will also get a glowing reference. When I have visited I can easily see the reasoning as to why it receives such high accolades, but I have failed to find myself captured by its spell.

Suzy’s does tick a lot of boxes in terms of an excellent night on the tiles. On the weekends it is supremely busy with a heaving dance-floor downstairs, a wonderful roof-top terrace, and throngs of people chatting upstairs. It even tries to perpetuate a rather lavish image of by-gone China and to give the feel of an opium den or something such through a series of couches and beds, on which patrons can recline and relax.

The first problem for me though was unfortunately the price. When two of my friends visited from England they were looking for great nightlife, but were reluctant to pay prices similar to those at home. This was where Suzy’s fell down. The 50RMB entrance fee was nothing heinous, but following it up with 35RMB beers (small beers) was a little steep. When that is contrasted the with the ludicrously low-prices of many restaurants and shopping areas, it almost made them forget they were on vacation at all.

The second issue was that Suzy’s didn’t seem to provide anything that was not on offer in other niches of Beijing. On a Saturday evening in the Chinese capital there are plenty of joints crammed to the walls. Poking one’s head around most doors in Sanliturn will bars and clubs throbbing with both ex-pats and locals. The somewhat gimmicky appeal of Suzy’s didn’t really manage to overcome this.

Ultimately we enjoyed Suzy’s, but knowing that in Sanliturn—just a few blocks away—there were cheaper equally frenzied options we found ourselves migrating a kilometre or so north to check them out.

World of Suzie Wong Club
West Gate of Chaoyang Park
Beijing
010/6593-6049

Maggies

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 2, 2006

Thanks to a combination of several 10RMB beers purchased at Kai in Sanliturn and my garbled attempts at Chinese pronunciation, I had failed to clearly communicate our exact destination to the taxi-driver. Instead I had been forced to resort to using a very basic offering of left and right in Chinese (zogwei/yogwei) to help us get to the general vicinity of where we were headed. It was only as we drew close to Maggie’s that our driver realised that we were aiming at one of Beijing’s more notorious establishments and let out a knowing little chuckle.

Despite being located in the centre of the embassy district and having an imposing price-range, Maggies manages to be one of the seediest joints in all of Beijing. The clientele is divided pretty much straight down the middle with half being well-off western men and the others being Chinese and Mongolian prostitutes.

Because Maggies makes very little effort in hiding its disreputable raison d’etre, it is not the ideal place to go for a quiet beer. I generally head in there with friends from out of town for something of a rather childish novelty value. On most of these occasions I have felt like a naughty school boy, trying my best to look inconspicuous whilst feeling a touch ashamed and embarrassed to be in there. Most of the time I have spent inside Maggies has been taken up by looking at the floor and avoiding the gazes of its female ‘custom’.

Moving away from Maggie’s seedy underbelly, the place is actually very nice. There is a large dancefloor, a huge bar at which to perch one’s self and several large comfortable coaches around the place. Beers are a pricey 30rmb unfortunately.

The whole problem is though, that it is very difficult to move away from the seedy underbelly. At the bar you can perch on a stool, but the odds are there will be a hooker perched on the next one. The dancefloor is often crowded and pumping, but crowded with ladies of the night and the majority of coaches have hookers draped on them. Not the best place for a few drinks with friend’s and certainly not great for a conventional type of date.

Maggie's
Gong Ren Ti Yu Chang East Road
Beijing, China
86 (0)10 6501 6655

Cutie Club

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 2, 2006

If you are heading out on the town in Beijing, the chances are that you will find yourself in the western-oriented enclaves of Chaoyang or Sanliturn. These offer some excellent choices in both bars and night-clubs. The majority of these though attract a mainly ex-pat clientele. If you are looking for something with a little more diversity, then the Worker’s Stadium is the place to head.


In terms of being a sports stadium, the concrete monolith has definitely seen better days. However, it has somewhat reinvented itself as home to a whole cluster of bars and nightlife. Two of the most popular of these are Vix and Mix situated just inside the north gate. Both are home to a combination of east and west. Fitted beneath the eastern wall of the stadium though is the Cuty Club, a less well-known establishment which boasts a far more Chinese clientele.


Before we begin I must predicate my thoughts on Cutie Club by saying that considering it is a late night venue some of my recollections may well be viewed through something of an alcohol fuelled mist My favorite aspect of Cuty though, is the entrance. The corridor leading to the main bar area is bedecked in small glass panels which contrive to reflect light around like an array of precious jewels, almost giving the impression that you are entering a place of genuine splendour.


Whilst that perceptions of crystals encrusted walls may be just an illusion, Cuty does work hard with its use of light to create a glistening atmosphere. Once inside Cuty, the clarity of light is unfortunately impinged upon by the obligatory clouds of smoke emitted by Chinese revellers. This is exacerbated by the fact that the dance-floor is a compact affair crowded primarily with young Chinese women, bordered by the bar at one end and rows of tables to all the others. Around 1 or 2am this arrangement allows Cuty to hit something of a peak, with those wishing to enter the dance-floor left limited to just a few square centimetres of space in which to show off their best dance moves.


The only downside to Cuty is the price of drinks, 30RMB would suggest that the walls really were jewel encrusted. On the plus side though, there is no cover charge.

Cutie Club
8 Gongti Xilu
Beijing, 100000
86 10 6552 9988

The Den

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 2, 2006

I sat staring through a thick haze, which was comprised in equal measure of the effect of several hours drinking and the cheap cigar that was slowly burning out between my fingers. It was late and our around our table at the Den.

It had been a long night, or at least it felt as such. At that moment it was somewhere in the vicinity of 2:30, yet despite our dishevelled states, we had only ventured four or five hours before. We had begun with grand plans of conquering Beijing, but had over-exerted ourselves before getting even remotely close to assault on Beijing’s nightlife was reaching a sedate and fatigued end as the three of us sat weeping the city. Thus we were sat in a semi-deserted Den having one final night-cap before heading home to the hangovers that would manifest themselves a few hours later.

The Friday evening—the culmination of which I describe above—was a somewhat atypical visit in terms of the Den. Ordinarily I would have been there far earlier to take in happy-hour, when the already reasonably priced drinks come at half-price. Prior to 10pm there is precious little space available as hordes expats crowd around the tables enjoying chilled beers by the 12RMB pint. After 10 the prices rise, but the crowds remain. Attention generally switches to the corners of the room where soccer or rugby are shown on massive flat-screen TVs

Saturday and Sunday evenings watching the football in the Den is one of my personal favorites in terms of nights out in Beijing. The only drawback with the Den is that whilst it does have a very homely feel, it is still a bar aimed at ex-pats in Asia. Accordingly it does often play host to not just sports fans and revellers, but the odd call-girl as well.

Den
4 Gongtidong Road, Chao Yang District
Beijing, China, 100027
+86 (0)10 6592 6290

Frank's

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 3, 2006

Dipping through the underpass that runs beneath Beijing’s third ring road—one of the city’s major traffic arteries—you are beginning to move away from the beating heart of the city’s nightlife. However, despite being situated on a leafy side-street somewhere on the way into Chinese capital’s extremities, Frank’s manages to maintain something of a healthy lifeblood.

Frank’s is one of Beijing’s top venues for watching sports, particularly in the summer months. It appears that whoever designed the interior was on a mission to fill every corner and to cover as much wall space as possible with TV screens. Of course venues for watching sports are not uncommon in Beijing. Both the Den and Club Football do excellent trade with live games flickering across their walls. Where Frank’s does seem to have the edge though, is when the weather is warm—a major issue in the middle of a Chinese summer. Outside, to the rear of the bar is a large deck where further screens are erected and a barbecue sizzles away.

My definitive memory of Frank’s comes from a bright Saturday afternoon in the late summer. Along with a couple of hundred Australians I squeezed in to watch the Australian football grand-finale. Just for the day Frank’s charged 140rmb for as much beer as you could drink with a free barbecue outside. Ordinarily drinks are still quite moderately priced at 25RMB per pint.

Australian football is a complex and often confusing game. I have to admit that, because of my ignorance of the rules and the limitless beer, I had little clue about the game except that West Coast Eagles won by 1 point—apparently. Thankfully, after another trip to the barbecue the English code of football was available and I seemed to find my bearings once more. The only drawback to an excellent evening was the slightly longer than regulation cab-ride home.

Frank's Place
Gong Ren Ti Yu Chang East Road, Chao Yang District East Gate Of Workers' Stadium
Beijing, China
86 (0)10 6507 2617

Club Football

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 6, 2006

In terms of doing exactly what it says on the tin, Club Football is right there. That is of course, if you are British. Australians and Americans may have slightly different view of what football can be defined as. However, whether it is football or ‘soccer’ you are after it is an excellent venue.

The décor of Club Football is pretty intense. The footy theme begins before you even get within ten meters of the entrance. The bar is set back around twenty metres from the road. So, to make finding it that much easier a giant soccer ball is placed next to the gate. Once inside though, things go genuinely football crazy. The walls are covered with framed shirts and actions shots of some of the world’s best players. There are also scarves from football clubs around the world donated by patrons wanting to leave their mark.

Obviously though with football to watch, the order of the day are two or three large TVs where games from mainly England, but other places in Europe as well, are beamed to an eager audience of expats. On a Saturday evening the front bar area is usually crammed to bursting. The major problem in terms of atmosphere though is that the place is divided into three or four small rooms. So, unlike places like the Den and Frank’s people are separated, detracting somewhat from the communal feel.

One excellent feature of Club Football though, is the way it serves Beijing’s footballing community. It works well as a meeting place for players and families and the staff are also able to introduce newcomers to Beijing to potential teammates. For that service I owe them a big thank-yuou for setting me up with the Beijing Drifters.

ClubFootball also boasts an impressive menu. It has a wide variety of beers. The local TsingTao or Beijing Beer are cheapest at 15RMB a pint, but Carlsberg is also available for 25RMB. There is also Hoegarden on tap and lots of other beers available by the bottle. The food is very good and pretty reasonable too – the only problem on a weekend is finding somewhere to sit to eat it.

Club Football Centre
10 Chunxiu Lu, Chaoyang District
Beijing

Mix

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 7, 2006

Just as the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea is marked by the pillars of Hercules, the gates of Beijing’s Worker’s Stadium are also adorned by twin outcrops—the nightclubs Vick's and Mix. Whilst the two garish and rather tacky Chinese clubs may not quite match the rock of Gibraltar in terms of pure scale and splendour, they can often prove to be epic enough on the right evening.

The European side of the Gibraltar straits is by far the most famous, similarly there is also something of a disparity between Vick's and Mix. Vick's has the more elaborate entrance, boasting an illuminated and elevated walkway that winds its way around the exterior of the building, but unfortunately the place seems to loose its lustre once inside. Mix on the other hand saves its delights for the interior.

As mentioned in some of my other journal entries, my judgement in relation to nighttime venues is often open to question; particularly for places I would frequent in the latter stages of the evening when significant quotants of alcohol have been consumed. This is particularly true of Mix, where things do not start to liven up until well beyond midnight.

The interior of Mix is something of a maze with three or four different dance floors hidden on various levels, each one usually rammed with different styles of music pounding away. There are also plenty of atmospherics: the combination of body heat, deep red lighting and smoke gives an intimate yet intense impression.

Mix is generally crammed to bursting on a weekend. However, on a Friday and Saturday there is a 30RMB cover charge and often a long line involved before you can get in. To me this just works to emphasize how Mix is one of Beijing’s best attractions on a weeknight. Whereas other dancing venues such as Poachers or Suzy Wong’s are sparsely populated mid-week, Mix still manages to pull in the crowds.

Club Mix
Worker's Stadium
Beijing, China
+86 (10) 6530 2889

Hidden Tree

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Paul Bacon on October 7, 2006

I suppose age is all relative. At 26, and seated in the comfortable and restrained atmosphere of the Hidden Tree, I was feeling very young. Part of this was the very relaxed and low-key set-up of the Tree. The place seems specifically organised for a quiet night’s socialising.

The Tree is separated into three or four smallish sections. The bar is long and L-shaped with stools covering its length and width. In one of the adjoining rooms a band plays very chilled out acoustic guitar music with a gentle Latin feel. In the largest room is a giant pizza oven and an array of tables were a relatively mature clientele sit and chat away the evening.

The Tree is a rather sedate venue for a Saturday evening in Beijing; on the occasions I have frequented it I have found myself enjoying one or two quiet drinks before heading to find something a little more lively, and to locate a slightly younger crowd. However, perhaps part of the impression given by the Tree comes from its neighbours. Just around the corner are a cluster of livelier, slightly more raucous establishments, who maybe alter the perspective through which I see the Tree. Closest is Kai just 30m away where there is a small crowded dance floor and where beers are just 10RMB and shots only 5RMB. Beyond that is Poachers where on a weekend the music can be heard for a block either way and the rustic decore gives an anything goes type of atmosphere.

With neighbours like those it is difficult for a bar of the Hidden Tree’s type to compete in terms of livley socialising. It even appears that the management have recognised this and acted accordingly with the creation of Shooters: a sister bar to the Tree aimed at young revellers, selling a whole array of shots and cocktails for 10RMB each.

In summation, for a quiet drink the Tree is an excellent venue. The choice of beer is superb, with drinks from all across the globe available either on tap or bottled. The food is also excellent. The speciality is, as the large oven would suggest, pizzas. For a little more life though, it is probably best to take a short walk around the corner.

Hidden Tree
12 Dong Da Qiao Xie St
Nan San Li Tun Chao Yang District, China
+86 10 6509 3642

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