This is Sanlitun (三里屯): Beijing’s equivalent of Clarke Quay. And like its Singaporean counterpart, Sanlitun is upmarket with big brands and chi-chi restaurants. The centre is a pretty collection of buildings with full length glass windows while two-storied shophouses make up the fringes.
Naturally this western wonderland in the far east attracts 20- and 30-somethings with yuan to burn. And how they turn up in droves for medium-rare steaks, Hunan food, giant burgers and other nightlife bric-a-brac.
I actually admire the sleek glass-steel architecture. It’s a nice change from the kitschy white tiled buildings with loud golden characters emblazoned across the front. Beautiful, but it lacks spontaneity and a little heart.
That, I found in an alleyway of dingy entrances and crudely lettered promotions; just past the BBQ seller from Kashgar and beyond an army of cigarette vendors.
There’s Shooters, a shots/cocktail bar where wooden, unfinished decor ruled alongside with loud, beaked-faced youth who snatched dice from long tables with black plastic holders.
Here’s another dive bar, Lau Wu (Tapas Bar – House Rum; Sanlitun Bei Jie, Opposite Tongli Studio; Tel: +86 010 6402 5086), with a Cuban theme. There are mojitos, caprinhas, and cigars. But its best lie in the tall cylinders of rum spiced with bananas, cloves, honey, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, or coffee.
Vodka infusions are more common as its neutral palate absorbs flavours well. But with rum, it has a tropical bite that tampers with whatever’s inside it. According to the bartender, a Beijinger, he was taught how to do it by a Frenchman and it takes a month for the flavours to properly seep into the rum.
If you make it there, go for the spicy shot. It’ll put a sweat on you – even in a howling winter night.