Depending on the speed of your skip, this walking tour through one of Beijing's most historic areas could take two hours or more. There are a few places to stop and refuel along the way though, and it's worth it to discover a fascinating area of Beijing.
1 Former children's bookstore
Starting from the corner of Meishi Jie and Yangmeizhuxie Jie, head west along the latter for about 200m until street number 47-51. You’re looking at a classic example of Dashilan
(foreign style) Art Deco architecture, a popular style in the area between the fall of the Qing Dynasty and rise of the Party. A striking emblem of a brief and very much bygone era, this building was apparently once a vibrant children’s bookstore, though these days its jigsaw roof serves a purely residential purpose. Which colours are used in the quirky tiling on the ground out the front?
2 Ubi Gallery
Moving slightly further west on Yangmeizhuxie Jie, enter the super-sleek Ubi Gallery
space, modern chicmonger and showroom for contemporary Asian ceramics and jewellery designers. Opened in 2012, Ubi Gallery was one of the first spaces in the Dashilan area to get on board with the Dashilar Project, an initiatve that encourages artists and businesses of the vicinity to grow sustainably and in ways that respect the traditional urban fabric of the neighbourhood – an initiative we hope might catch on in some of the brickier-by-the-day hutongs of the old city. What’s Ubi’s street number on Yangmeizhuxie Jie?
3 Ji’anzhai café
Exit Ubi Gallery and head two doors further west. Stop and consider this seemingly listless café. The owner, Wang Xiuren, is about as lao
Beijng as it gets. 'Her family have had this building since the Ming Dynasty, something like fifteen generations in a row!' offers our guide, Beijing Postcards
’ supremely knowledgeable Lars Ulrik Thom. This spot was once famous for its medicinal offering: gou pi gao
, a kind of herb-smeared Band-Aid (dog skin, if you must know) for which people would regularly queue down the street. Scale the stairs to the roof for an unrivalled establishing shot of Yangmeizhuxie Jie, but make sure you clock the shop’s original sign on your left. It’s behind glass and is now over 200 years old. Inside the café on the right are two large photographs. Who was a guest at the 'Big fence 4 and 5'?
4 Berry Beans Café
Continue west briefly on Yangmeizhuxie Jie and turn left at the first opportunity, which will be Qingzhu Xiang, and start dropping metaphorical breadcrumbs like we should have. Once you hit Dashilan Xi Jie, wiggle forth onto the hutong straight in front of you – Zhujia Hutong, one of the 'eight great hutongs' of the area – and enter the courtyard of 7 Zhujia Hutong. You are now in a former Qing Dynasty brothel, and you will shortly be drinking a commendably put together third-wave flat white. The quaint rooftop is a stone’s throw from the froth and bubble of Dashilan Xi Jie and completes a clutch friend-in-town venue and top spot to caffeinate before the rest of the tour. And just how much is that commendably put together third-wave flat white?
5 Baihuayuan community garden
From Berry Beans, double back onto Dashilan Xi Jie from Zhujia Hutong and turn left. A fork in the road created by an old community temple presents two options: to the left lies Liulichang, your one-stop calligraphy supplies, but today we are heading right. Follow Yingtao Xie Jie for 200m and take a hard right onto Yingtao Hutong. On your left is Baihuayuan community garden, a spacious slice of respite and former source of vegetables for the locals. Baihuayuan is now a popular spot for the elderly, young and caged birds alike. At the end of the garden is a plant nursery. Outside the nursery, five white poles bear which animal?
6 Birdcage shop
Exit the garden from the opposite end and turn right onto Tongzi Hutong, following it around the bend before taking the first left onto Yanshou Jie. Now heading north, make haste over the next 200m, for you’ve an important appointment with the charming old fellow who sells the neighbourhood’s handmade birdcages, as well as some special walnuts in eggcups and rather ferocious-sounding battle insects, at 62 Yanshou Jie. We jest, but apparently some of those nuts in cups go for 'tens of thousands of kuai per nut,' opines Lars once more. The store is a visual feast, with cages of all sizes and colours – 'the darkness of the bamboo comes from the oil on the makers hands', cackles the birdcage master – with each cage topped by a brass plate featuring in many cases, as fine wares tend to, the cast of Journey to the West. At the back of the store on the left is a table displaying five of the birdcage master’s most-prized photographs. Who features in the central photograph?
7 Little Ant Shadow Play
Continue north on Yanshou Hutong, following the bend to the right as it morphs into Yanshou Jie and then to the left, until you reach Qianmen Xi Heyan Jie. Straight ahead of you, at number 149, is a shadow play performance and research space with a difference – Little Ant Shadow Play is staffed exclusively by dwarves, an initiative that runs anticlockwise to job discrimination against the aforementioned. Drop-ins are more than encouraged and performances can be arranged upon request. Must say, really didn’t see that one coming. What are the opening hours of this unexpected spot?
8 Beijing Postcards Public History Space
Head back down Yanshou Hutong the way you came, until you’re back at Yangmeizhuxie Jie. Turn left, away from The Impossible Project’s showroom at 146 (see competition below). One shop after meetingsomeone restaurant is Lars Ulrik Thom’s new spot, Beijing Postcards Public History Space, a micro-museum documenting the stories of some of Dashilan’s most interesting residents. The space holds weekly events that discuss the rich history of the area, a history Thom has dedicated years to studying. Stories of the Neighbourhood, the current exhibition, features how many local residents?
Beijing Postcards Follow Beijing Postcards’ WeChat (BeijingPostcards) for updates on events at the new space.