Maybe we hit it on an off-night, or maybe we are just used to the variety and raucousness of New York, but Sanlitun Bar Street was a bit of a disappointment.
By cab, Sanlitun was about 15 minutes from the Palace Hotel. The cab driver dropped us off at the southern end of the street, near the English sign announcing that you've arrived at "Sanlitun Bar Street" (it's official name). We strolled up one side of the street and back down the other, peering into smoky bars noisy with the sound of 70s hits being sung badly by cover bands. Finally, we decided we really wanted to sit and have a drink.
We picked the least smoky place we could find and pushed our way in. The beers were priced along New York lines (about $4 for a bottle -- mainly Heineken). The crowd was probably about 25% tourists, 25% European ex-pats and 50% local. The "band" consisted of two female singers backed up by a guy with a synthesizer and turntable. Things got a little fun when members of the audience were called on to participate. One of the guys I was with got up to sing himself, but decided I needed to sing with him. I wonder how many people can say they've sung "Hotel California" in a bar in Beijing?
Aside from the unique sensation of being on stage, the whole Sanlitun experience was not especially fun. Maybe I'm just too old for it. Another group of friends went to Dongdaqiao Xie Jie, a similar concentration of bars and clubs, and had a great time at Dirty Nellie's. If Irish-type pubs are your thing, you might find that preferable. Otherwise, you may find the bar in your hotel lobby will do just fine.