Although strides forward have been made in recent years, Beijing’s LGBT nightlife remains as noted for change as for quality. The Boat, moored on the canal near Liangmaqiao, sailed into the sunset a couple of years back; Sobear, the only venue for hirsute gentlemen and their admirers, is so gone; Kai, the stalwart LGBT lighthouse of Sanlitun Village (now Taikoo Li), once the schloss for same-sex schmoozing, is now a shell of its former self. The list goes on.
Happily, a raft of brand-spanking new venues catering to the increasingly diverse demands of the city’s LGBT community has sprung up to take the place of these fallen pioneers, while a few veteran watering holes continue to pack ’em in, despite the whims of the powers that be. This month, Time Out
brings you the cream of the crop, the tried-and-true hangouts guaranteed to welcome LGBT Beijingers – both Chinese and expat – with a sparkling smile and a Stolly.
While its once-packed Friday night fiestas have seen a downturn in popularity of late, Alfa remains in the hearts of local LGBTs – with a little help from the activist community, and the Beijing LGBT Center, which takes a cut at the door. A well-regarded venue for queer events, including Beijing’s first-ever ‘drag race’, and close connections to the queer arts community mean that what Alfa lacks in finesse it makes up for in good intentions. While the sound system is uncomfortably loud, and an odd aquarium bathes the backroom dance floor in an unearthly blue glow, there’s more to the gay scene here than sweaty bodies. The drinks are generous, and the water features beneath the seating areas, best enjoyed while puffing on a sparkling clean shisha, are a boon to those looking to chill rather than spill. Friday night’s happy hour (8-10pm) mixed drinks are 15RMB (shots 10RMB), and from 10pm-midnight Alfa’s ever-popular buy-one-get-one-free promotion is still in full force.
Alfa 6 Xingfuyicun, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district (6413 0086; www.tiny.cc/alfabar; WeChat: alfa_beijing). Open 5.30pm-1am daily; gaynights 5pm-1am Fridays. 朝阳区工体北路幸福一村6号
An Club (night)
Run by legendary lesbian impresario An Shao and now celebrating its second year of existence in a brand new venue, An Club, held at Amnesia, is one of the most diverse and popular les nights in the city. A well heeled crowd gathers on Saturdays to drink, converse and dance the night away to up-to-date electro out of sight of prying eyes. While the clientele is overwhelmingly Chinese, the crowded, festive atmosphere is welcoming and far less cliquey than the more mainstream gay nights around town. An is also a great place for les expats seeking to brush up on their lala patois – if they’re gregarious enough. And the free-flowing beer, wines and mixed drinks that come bundled with the all-inclusive entry charge should help grease the social wheels. Indeed, by any standards, with all-you-can-drink offers available for a cool 100RMB, An represents some of the best value for money in the city.
An Club Amnesia, Ground Floor, SOHO, Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang district (158 1070 7400). Open 9pm-1am, Saturdays only. 朝阳区光华路SOHO一层
The original golden oldie. Despite being Beijing’s longest-established LGBT venue (it was launched around 2004), Des, as it’s affectionately known to locals, has managed to remain top dog. The popular Friday and Saturday spectaculars are among the best-attended and most colourful in town, and the multi-level layout prevents most spaces other than the heaving dance floor from ever being intolerably overcrowded. International guest DJs and occasionally a sprinkling of go-go boys, drag queens or even the odd celebrity arrive on weekends to sweeten the pot. The confidential and free HIV testing clinic on the top floor, run by golden-hearted volunteers from LGBT NGO Danlan, is also a valuable addition. Drinks are buy-one-get-one-free before 10pm. Entry charges vary and usually include a free drink. Regulars can purchase membership cards (500RMB or 1,000RMB) for discounted entry and drinks deals.
Destination 7 Gongti Xi Lu,Chaoyang district (6552 8180; www.bjdestination.com; WeChat:beijingdestination). Open 8pm-3am Sun-Thu; 8pm-5am Fri-Sat. Free entry Wednesdays. 朝阳区工体西路7号
Feng Bar (night)
With its painfully fashionable and overwhelmingly fresh-faced crowd, some more mature local lalas have given Feng a wide berth of late, as its weekend shindigs have become known as a young woman’s game. An ethereally attractive crowd mingle tos ome serious rhythms while sipping suitably stylish, if rather indifferent, long drinks (prices start at around 35RMB), and while some have been quick to label Feng a little too much (the skimpy attire, the elaborate hairdos…), its continued popularity is undeniable. Loud and high-octane, lesbians who take their down-time seriously will be hard-pressed to find a better-frequented girl-on-girl venue. Canoodling aplenty after 11pm. Entry 30RMB (women), 50RMB (men).
Feng Bar Basement 1, Taiyue Heights Hotel, Sanlitun South Street, Chaoyang district (5971 1167; 1391189 9374) Sat only 7pm-3am. 朝阳区三里屯南街泰悦豪厅酒店B1
Winner of our Bar & Club Award 2013 for Best LGBT Venue, Funky has brought Beijing’s LGBT club scene up-to-date with its expansive layout, well-mixed hard house and dubstep, and some of the best cocktails to be had in the Gongti area (expect to pay upwards of 50RMB for your tipple of choice). Luscious go-go boys flown in from Japan, Korea, Thailand and the US are a mainstay, along with myriad other spectacles including bondage shows, couture fashion shows and A-list special guests (a recent appearance from US gay porn icon Peter Le saw us literally trampled underfoot). Having just opened their brand-new lounge in time for the chill of winter, Funky now offers space to drink and chat, though the majority of the clientele is still here to go nuts on the dance floor – particularly the youthful, buff and well-groomed Friday and Saturday night crowd. Indeed, Funky is already developing a reputation as being host to Beijing’s best-looking club night of the week.
Funky Sixth Floor, 8 Gongti Xi Lu, Chaoyang district (6551 6866;WeChat: Funky-bar). Open 6pm-late. 朝阳区工体西路8号6层
Mesh’s Thursdays lost their official ‘gay night’ status last year, but the bar remains a draw, with well-heeled local LGBTs continuing to gravitate to this still gay-friendly and très chic hangout to get themselves ready for the weekend. More a place to preen than to pick up, the seductive lighting, artsy décor and pleasant (on good days) outdoor patio continue to draw an immaculately dressed crowd of high earners of all nationalities and predilections– including the Abercrombie & Fitch boys. For group gatherings wanting to dress up and be seen, Mesh is one of the sleekest bars with some of the most elegant drink options in town (prices start at around 50RMB fora dry Martini). Dressed-down solo LGBT drinkers looking to make new friends, however, might find a warmer welcome elsewhere.
Mesh The Opposite House,11 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district (6417 6688). Open 5pm- 1am daily.朝阳区三里屯北街11号瑜舍
Two Cities (bar)
LGBT party animals may have their appetites sated, but what about the queer culture vulture? For the perfect place to sink into a sofa and catch up with an old friend, type out that first, angst-ridden coming out novel, or simply enjoy one of Beijing’s best cheesecakes (a snip at 30RMB) while watching the world go by, Two Cities is everything 99 percent of the capital’s gay venues aren’t– and is all the better for it. Run by two gay friends from Taiwan (yes, they’re just friends!), Two Cities is a beautifully laid-out coffee shop decorated with regularly changed displays of artworks by local LGBT artists. Filled with a jumble of books, squidgy seating and, most days of the week, hip local LGBTs, this is one of the best places to come if you’re looking to escape the Beijing bustle for an afternoon. We recommend trying one of the artisan Taiwanese organic teas (prices start at 60RMB for a pot), though a limited selection of cocktails is also available. A great place to plug into the local LGBT arts and cultural scene – chances are, if an event is worth attending, it’ll beheld right here.
Two Cities Café and Lounge 46 Fangjia Hutong, Dongcheng district (135 5238 7478). Open 1-11pm Mon-Fri; 11am-11pm Sat and Sun. 东城区方家胡同46号
Sample the scene
Beijing’s gay scene is, for the most part, discreet, friendly and mixed. If you’re looking to hook up, you’d be better off downloading an app such as Grindr. But for a fierce night out, choose the venue that suits your style, pick out the right outfit, and venture forth with your best guys and gals in tow to paint the town pink!
• Get WeChat. Almost all gay nights run their own (mostly Chinese-only) accounts that will keep you informed about upcoming events, guest DJs, themed parties and special offers.
• Go with your gut. From fashion shows to film launches, speed dating to hard house nights – there’s plenty on offer, so choose something that suits you, rather than following the crowd
• Try something new. Chances are, even for those who are old hands at gay nightlife there will be surprises in store in Beijing. Why not spread your wings a little and discover how the locals get their kicks?
• Bring friends. Beijing’s gay nightlife is about socialising, and it can be hard to get involved if you’re a shy newbie who is flying solo.
• Pace yourself. A lot of gay nights offer drinks specials if you get there early, but bear in mind the party won’t really start until around 11pm.
• Make no assumptions. Beijing’s gay crowd areas diverse as they come– don’t presume folks are there to cruise or be cruised. For many, the city’s gay nights are simply a chance to be yourself, and not be judged for it.
• Be friendly. If you’re greeted at the door by a drag queen, a shaven-headed female bouncer or an oiled, muscular man in Speedos, make eye contact, smile and say ‘hi’.