It may only be seven or so kilometres northeast of the Forbidden City, but the bright lights of Sanlitun feel thousands of miles away from the traditional image of China. The neighbourhood’s first bars opened in the 1990s and cemented Sanlitun’s reputation as Beijing’s party hotspot, from the mega-clubs around Gongti to the rowdy bars on Dirty Bar Street. These are the stops you should have on your itinerary after the sun goes down.
Formerly known as Sanlitun Village, this shopping precinct opened its doors in July 2008, just in time for the Olympics, like so much of upscale Sanlitun. Taikoo Li is split into two sites: one is the Deck, dripping with expensive fashion labels; you are going to start your night at the other, the Piazza, where there’s a string of stylish bars and restaurants with a distinctly international flavour.
A short stroll from Taikoo Li is Nali Patio, another playground for cashed-up expats and fashionable locals. This multi-storey Spanish-style hacienda is dotted with high-end restaurants – book a table at Mediterranean restaurants Mosto, Taste Spain or Agua for a meal that suits the southern European surroundings, or kick off your night with a cocktail at tapas bar Carmen.
Sitting just south of the Workers’ Stadium North Road, the 1949: The Hidden City complex is a trendy converted factory occupied by cocktail joints and swanky restaurants. The peking duck at Duck de Chine is renowned as the city’s best, if you’ve got a little wiggle room in your budget. There are a number of great places to eat in the neighbourhood, so be sure to check out our list of the best restaurants in Sanlitun.
At the other end of the swankiness scale, Sanlitun’s Dirty Bar Street was an infamous hive of debauchery until it was tidied up in recent years. The sleazy bars were bulldozed and the venues have been cleared of their more tawdry elements, but the party atmosphere hasn’t disappeared. This street, running north of Taikoo Li, is still where you’ll find some of Beijing’s rowdiest bars and pubs, with revellers squeezed into dozens of watering holes.
Aurora is the face of the new Dirty Bar Street. This intimate nightclub attracts a sophisticated crowd to its recently refurbished space, packing the dance floor for old-school hip-hop on Wednesdays, Soul Train Thursdays and deep house and electronica at the weekends. Bar Blu, with its themed nights and rooftop terrace, is another favourite in the area.
The Beijing Workers’ Stadium, or Gongti to the locals, was one of the so-called 10 Great Buildings that Chairman Mao constructed for the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 1959. Six decades later, the Great Helmsman never would have dreamed that this concrete monolith would be another hub of Beijing nightlife. Gongti still hosts football matches, but this hulking 66,000-seat stadium is now more famous for the nightclubs located inside its gates.
Elements, a flashy Gongti institution, headlines the long list of bars and clubs that surround the stadium. The Beijing franchise of the Babyface brand and the glamorous Sir Teen are two of the mega-clubs that this precinct is renowned for, while Destination is the Chinese capital’s premier LGBTQ spot. Head to Mix for quality hip-hop and the Den for cheap drinks and international sport on the big screens, or just follow the crowds that swarm on the Workers’ Stadium into the wee hours of the morning every weekend.
The best way to end any night out? A big greasy meal, of course. And while you might tuck into a big kebab or a cone of chips in other parts of the world, Beijingers sink their teeth into chuan’r – barbecued meat skewers – and tang er duo – fried sugar cakes in the shape of an ear, which taste a lot better than they sound. You can find both these late-night treats at food trucks camped around the gates of the Workers’ Stadium.
If you feel like finishing your night with something more substantial around Gongti, head to Bellagio for a steaming plate of kung pao chicken – a dish as packed full of flavour as its name suggests – washed down with shaved-ice desserts and bubble tea. Hotpress, which exploded onto the Beijing food scene in 2018, serves massive meaty sandwiches that go down a treat after a beer or two, as do the hot dogs at Super Dog, just a short stroll from the stadium.