Beijing’s New Nightlife Scene
Published: September 2010
By Meghann Foye
China’s capital has become one of the Far East’s most exciting nocturnal playgrounds. T+L hits the town.
Two years after the Olympic games, Beijing continues to evolve at full tilt, with exciting new lounges, restaurants, and hotels popping up across the sprawling metropolis. From an under-the-radar whiskey club and a buzzy locavore restaurant to a sleek skyscraper hotel, the city’s latest after-hours offerings are giving Beijing’s glittery sister Shanghai a run for its money.
The heart of expat nightlife is the centrally located Sanlitun Village, where newcomer Apothecary (drinks for two $22) is shaking up local cocktail culture with creative concoctions and house-made mixers. Try the “secret Earl Grey,” Beefeater gin finished off with pomelo-lavender bitters. A five-minute stroll south will lead you to D.Lounge (drinks for two $50), a brick-walled gallery that, come night, morphs into a gathering spot for fashion designers and media types. The most creative drink: “emperor’s whiskers,” made with tea-infused vermouth. Across town in the Central Business District, well-heeled urbanites take in live jazz over Moët champagne, crispy prawn fritters, and Cohiba cigars at Park Hyatt Beijing’s Xiu (drinks for two $22). The rooftop lounge has five interconnected pavilions inspired by Song Dynasty architecture and an outdoor patio with 360-degree views of the city. Don’t be fooled by the fading paint and dusty velvet banquettes at D-22 (drinks for two $10): the best young Chinese indie bands can be found cutting their teeth at this respected rock bar in the university district. For something more subdued, head to Ichikura (drinks for two $20), which has a 12-seat Japanese whiskey bar stocked with a selection of rare vanilla- and cherry-scented whiskeys.
The convivial atmosphere and tender duck pancakes at Da Dong’s (dinner for two $100) make it one of the top places to try Beijing’s most famous dish, but Peking Duck, Private Kitchen (dinner for two $40), in the historic Chaoyang District, is a noteworthy new contender. Here, the plump bird is presented in heated rosewood boxes in an intimate dining room. On Beijing’s oldest commercial street, established China restaurateur Michelle Garnaut’s Capital M (dinner for two $130) draws the city’s glitterati with seasonal, locally sourced dishes such as wild-mushroom-and-truffle risotto. Graffiti art covers the walls of Ireland-born chef Brian McKenna’s new restaurant/lounge Room Beijing (dinner for two $50), which turns out whimsical, Chinese-inflected creations (chicken wontons with avocado-and-lime dip; raspberry-and-herb-infused chocolate pop tarts). Reservations are essential at Temple Kitchen (dinner for two $250), where a traditional 10-dish menu highlights classic regional ingredients (sea cucumber, abalone) in a 700-year-old former Buddhist temple. The best place to recover from a late night out? Brunch at Maison Boulud à Pékin (brunch for two $55), Daniel Boulud’s French-American outpost with a Beijing twist housed in the former U.S. Embassy. The goose egg en cocotte with smoked potato and chorizo is a surefire way to refuel.
The China World Summit Wing (doubles from $290), a serene 278-room hotel in the bustling Central Business District, resides in the top 18 floors of Beijing’s tallest building. Views extend from the Rem Koolhaas–designed CCTV tower to the golden rooftops of the Forbidden City and beyond. Start (or finish) your evening at the exclusive Atmosphere cocktail lounge. Mixologist Serhan Kusaksizoglu—who trained at Munich’s iconic Schumann’s bar—has a sophisticated menu of bourbons, rye whiskeys, and single malts. After exploring the city, guests will appreciate returning to the new Gold Rooms at Fairmont Beijing (doubles from $267), where bathrooms now have oversize bathtubs, heated floors, and over-the-top, 24-karat-gold rain showerheads. Yi House (doubles from $140) is the first boutique hotel in Beijing’s edgy 798 Art District, an enclave of galleries in former factory buildings. Work by notable locals such as photographer Chi Peng is on view in the 30 gray-walled guest rooms. Sanlitun fans will want to check in to one of the 98 light-filled Studio suites at the Opposite House (doubles from $290) for unbeatable access to the area’s nightlife. Survey the scene at the hotel’s chic subterranean lounge, Punk: David LaChapelle and art enfant terrible Ai Weiwei, among others, have been spotted here.
Meghann Foye is a writer based in New York.
The new Norman Foster–designed Terminal 3 turned Beijing Capital International Airport into the world’s second-busiest hub, with 50 million passengers yearly. Langham Place, Beijing Capital International Airport just opened near T3 with 372 spacious, wood-accented rooms. Tech amenities include smart phones with free instant messaging and a lobby bar filled with Macs and PC’s. T3 also has a wide collection of shops: White Collar carries Chinese designers for women (look for patent-leather wallets and colorful knit sweaters) and Huaxiangyuan Tea Shop has quality Lapsang souchong and pu-erh, wrapped in pretty packaging.