Beijing's lala bars can be somewhat elusive. For foreign gals, the problem is often linguistic – the need for discretion in outreach often means they pass the average Western woman (who likes women) by entirely and eschew foreign-language publicity. For locals, the issue is often simply tracking them down.
Most are entirely off-limits to unaccompanied men and large mixed groups, and with good reason: these are spaces for women in a country – a world – with very few opportunities to socialise freely and openly with just each other, so forgive these enterprising feminists for wanting to keep things sacred. Step inside, however, and you receive a warm welcome.
Tracking Amo (stylised 'AMO') down is indeed a challenge unto itself – tucked behind a restaurant in the dimmest, darkest part of the Sanlitun compound, this bar-club-cabaret’s exterior is an unassuming black box tacked onto the rear wall of an uninspiring mixed-use tenement. There’s no signage whatsoever, and only the distant throb of the venue’s state-of-the-art sound system led us to the door.
After a quick bag search (punter safety is taken extremely seriously), we were graciously escorted into a roomy, dramatically lit interior space where one of Amo’s many resident DJs was wowing the crowd with a well-selected mix of cutting- edge hard house.
Amo’s interior is open-plan, and follows the tried-and-true cabaret-seating-around- a-main-stage layout, with the tucked-away bar almost a side note (there’s attentive table service). Bottled beer is the tipple of choice, with a frosty Hoegaarden going for 35RMB, and there are various drinks specials that change from week to week.
The prominence of the main stage became clear shortly after we sat down. Floor shows run most nights – we were treated to some superlative hip-hop performed by a jut-jawed team of ladies fully embracing the street-smart tomboy aesthetic, right down to their basketball jerseys and sneakers, fitting neatly with the night’s theme of 'Fight Club'. The crowd hollered throughout, mobbing the dancers when they left the stage.
Part of a chain of lala bars (along with the original incarnation in Chengdu and a new branch about to open in Shenzhen), Amo bucks many trends familiar in other Beijing clubs by embracing the idiosyncratic Chinese attitude to fun: karaoke, dance, even super-sized parlour games designed to allow customers to network are all on offer as well as an all-female line-up of DJs, while the management exploit every social media channel available to spread the word.
Most striking about Amo, despite the fast-flowing beer and high-octane soundtrack, is how friendly, laid-back
and open the vibe is. Although it draws a fashionable young crowd, everyone genuinely seems to know each other, and even some of the less gifted turns during the floor show earn rapturous applause and much back-slapping for their efforts from a crowd clearly there to have a good time.
The ironclad commitment of the Amo crowd to cutting loose, making new friends and letting their hair down is a reminder that, when it comes to a night on the tiles, there is a lot to be learned from the lalas.
Inside Compound 4, 68 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district (6593 7288). WeChat: AMOBeijing.