Although most average Chinese still prefer to get drunk at dinner, the Western pub tradition has gained ground among younger locals, and the city has a large, ever-growing population of establishments devoted exclusively to alcohol.
Drinking in Beijing occurs in one of several districts, each with its own atmosphere and social connotations. The city's oldest and still most popular drinking district is Sanlitun, located between the East Second and Third ring roads around the Workers' Stadium (Gongren Tiyuchang). The area's name comes from Sanlitun Lu, a north-south strip of drinking establishments a long block east of the Workers' Stadium that at one time contained practically all of the city's bars. Now known as Sanlitun Bar Street (Sanlitun Jiuba Jie), it has been overshadowed by other clusters of bars in the Xingfu Cun area north of the stadium and scattered around the stadium itself. Bars here are rowdy and raunchy, and packed to overflowing on weekends. Similar watering holes surround the south and west gates of Chaoyang Gongyuan (park) to the east, an area the government has tried to promote as the new drinking district because it has fewer residential buildings. The development of Lucky Street, north of the Kempinski Hotel, followed a similar logic. Bars and clubs in Haidian, the city's university district to the northwest, are clustered around the gates of several universities and cater to a crowd of local English majors and foreign students.
The fastest-growing spot for late-night drinking is the Back Lakes (Shicha Hai or Hou Hai), a previously serene spot with a few discreetly fashionable bars north of Bei Hai Park. It has exploded into a riot of neon, capped by Lotus Lane. Nan Luogu Xiang, to the east of the Back Lakes area, was previously home to only one cafe; now the bars are wall-to-wall. Perhaps the most notable trend is the resurgence of hotel bars. These are the most appealing and stylish spots in Beijing, most notably Xiu and China Bar (Park Hyatt), and Mesh (The Opposite House).
Beijing bars generally open around 5 or 6pm and stay open until the last patrons leave or the staff decides it wants to go home, usually by 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. Several of the Back Lakes bars double as cafes and open as early as 11am.
Karaoke: Down That Drink, It's Time to Sing
No one knows why Asian cultures have embraced karaoke (pronounced "kala okay" in Mandarin) with such red-faced gusto, or why so many foreigners become just as enthusiastic once they're on Eastern soil. Maybe the food lacks some amino acid crucial to the brain's shame function. Or maybe it's just fun to get soused and pretend you have talent, thousands of miles away from home. Spend enough time in Beijing and sooner or later you'll find yourself standing before a TV screen, beer and microphone in hand, with a crowd of drunkards insisting you sing to the Muzak version of a Beatles hit. Refuse and your Chinese host loses face; comply and you receive applause. Resistance is futile. Most karaoke venues in Beijing are seedy and given over to less-than-legal side entertainment, so if you have any choice in the matter, head to Party World, also known as the Cash Box (Qian Gui; tel. 010/6588-3333; 24 hr.), the city's classiest and best-equipped do-it-yourself concert venue. It's located southeast of the Full Link Plaza, at the corner of Chaowai Shichang Jie and Chaowai Nan Jie, and there's another location at Teng Da Da Sha, Xi Zhi Men Wai Dajie (tel. 010/8857-6566 is the reservation service line for both branches). Cash Box has a hotel-like lobby, pleasantly decorated private rooms, and a wide selection of Western songs, with some even released in the past decade. Prices range from ¥60 to ¥360 per hour, depending on the size of the room and night of the week. There's usually a line, so you'll have to give them your name early. You wouldn't want to embarrass yourself anywhere else.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.