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Sanlitun Entertainment District
 
If you're looking to unwind at night in Beijing, you might try the many small international cafes and bars that are hidden away on the avenues and side streets of Sanlitun (Chinese: ͣembassy district. There's quite a swinging scene going on here, and a decided absence of karaoke.
 
You'll find dozens of hang-outs in this district, each catering to a slightly different crowd. If this is your first night on the town and you want to get an overview of the scene, recommend a walking tour. The easiest way to start is to get on the subway, the convenient Circle Line, and get off at the Dongsishitiao stop. Head up Gongti Bei Lu, the wide avenue that runs past 5 star Swissel, on your way. One of the first places of interest is the San Francisco Brewing Company (Tel: 65007788), located in Asia Hotel. It's a very modern pub, all glass and chrome, where you can get a good hamburger as well as watch movies in English which they show each night on their large-screen TV. However, the Brewing Company is expensive -- you will pay more for your hamburger than you would in San Francisco.
Sanlitun Bar
 

If you're in the mood to see a movie in English in a more interesting setting, I recommend that you walk ten minutes further down Gongti Bei Lu, past the Workers Stadium, until you see a small street leading to the City Hotel. Right before the City Hotel you will find the Owl Cafe (Tel:010- 65093833), a small and charming two-story building that looks a bit like an old English inn. Walk upstairs and you will not only get a good movie -- we saw "The Rain Man" the night we stopped in -- but also what may be the best pizza in Beijing. The room is cozy, the food delicious, and everything is a good deal cheaper than the San Francisco Brewing Company. The only problem with the Owl Cafe is that it is new and no one knows about it yet; you will have a quiet time here, maybe too quiet -- though that isn't so bad if you have come to watch a movie.

   
If you're ready to party, keep walking down Gongti Bei Lu a few more minutes until you find a very small street on the right hand side of the road, hardly more than an alley. The name of this alley is Dongdaqiao Xiejie, but the chances are you won't see the street sign. You will see, however, lots of quaint cafes and a steady stream of taxis dropping off a polyglot crowd. This might very well be the hippest alley in Beijing. At this point, you can choose your destination or simply wander from bar to bar, for they are all close together. You might start at Nashville (Tel: 010-65024201), which is down the alley a bit, a saloon which specializes in Country Western music and is packed full of an interesting mix of Westerners and locals. The night we stopped by, there were three local guys playing guitars, doing a fair imitation of old Eagles' tunes from the '70's. Like the other bars in the area, the atmosphere is friendly and informal; there seems to be a regular clientele in these places who know each other well and enjoy one another's company. So have a draft beer, listen to the music for a set or two, and then wander off down the street.
Sanlitun Bar in Beijing
   
Probably the most popular spot on the alley is Minders Cafe, where there is live music as well on the weekends, and an even denser, smokier crowd of expats and locals. The cafe is very noisy, a warren of small, dimly lit alcoves and you may have trouble finding a place to sit. This seems to be the place for singles to meet each other, play darts, and shout at one another above the music. We had a good martini at the Minders, though they used black olives rather than green ones -- but, hey, at this point of the evening, who cares?
   
If you're still in the mood, you can shuffle down the alley to the Jungle Cafe, Frank's Place, the Hidden Tree, Satisfaction, or even the Cafe. You are on your own now. The entire area is teeming with small, atmospheric places that will make you feel like you are in Greenwich Village or maybe a Greek island rather than China. You can try My Place or Jazz Ya, the Sentiment Bar or Kebab Kafe. But try not to miss the Here and Now Gallery Cafe on the north side of Gongti Bei Lu on your way back to the subway. The Here and Now is actually an art gallery with bar and live music -- "alternative" music, as they bill it, and if you have any interest in the Beijing counterculture, this is where you will find it. Close to the front door there is a sculpture of old TV sets that have been welded together, their wiring exposed to suggest the veins and arteries of a human body. The wall behind the small stage is decorated with an impromptu art work of old liquor bottles. It's fun to get a peak at the young Chinese avant-garde, and I heard the best blues guitar music here that I've come across anywhere in China.
sanlitun Bar Street
   

Beijing is home to a fascinating international community, people who have come here for a variety of reasons from all over the world. As you wander among the cafes of the Sanlitun district, you will have a chance to get a peek at this crowd at play, and join the party.

 
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