Hidden Hutongs: Houhai

From rock ’n’ roll music shops to hidden temples, this lakeside area offers more than just bars

From rock ’n’ roll music shops to hidden temples, Houhai has a lot more than identikit bars

Vintage DDR

Vintage DDR offers up an assortment of second-hand clothes, jewellery, shoes and more inside its delightfully creaky environs. Located just near the Drum and Bell towers, Vintage DDR is the perfect place for treasure seekers. Unlike nearby vintage stores – where the offerings are all carefully selected for Gulou’s hip and discerning crowd – DDR is a true junk shop. In addition to the usual offerings of ’70s polyester shirts and beat-up leather shoes is a hodgepodge of old stuff that feels like it was just scooped straight from someone’s attic: creased leather wallets with old photos inside; engraved metal compacts still filled with powder; a spread of grandma-approved costume jewellery and lots more.
Vintage DDR 33 Dashibei Hutong. Open 2-9pm daily. 西城区鼓楼西大街大石碑胡同33号

Li Ji Restaurants


This place is a Beijing institution. The twin Li Ji (李记) Restaurants are neighbouring Xinjiang eateries with a twist that are operated by the same owner. The first, larger restaurant offers up ample seating both inside and out, where every evening scores of locals sit devouring chuan’r and family-style dishes. Most popular is the barbecued lamb leg (25RMB), monstrous hunks of meat that customers chow down on wearing plastic gloves, and their famous shao bing (1RMB), which you can get stuffed with cold meat. Head further down the hutong for some more specialised offerings from Li Ji such as (jiangrou baodu; 李记酱肉爆肚): fried tripe served with sesame sauce.
Li Ji Restaurants 19 Ya’er Hutong, (6403 1635). Open 10.30am-11.30pm daily. 西城区后海鸦儿胡同19号

Guanghua Temple


Venture further down Ya’er Hutong, past a tree-lined stretch dotted with cafes, and you’ll stumble upon an unexpected respite: Guanghua Temple. A picturesque Buddhist temple that was built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Guanghua Temple is now home to the Beijing Buddhist Association. Pass by the rose garden and fortune tellers sitting outside and enter the temple’s peaceful pavilion, where pious old women sweep the stone ground and devotees burn incense at an altar. In the back is a structure that houses a golden Buddha. Try stopping by in the early morning to get the full meditative experience.
Guanghua Temple 31 Ya’er Hutong (6407 6395). Open 6.30am-4.30pm daily. 西城区后海鸦儿胡同31号



Among the oldest independent record shops in Beijing, Rockland is a haven for music nerds and collectors of both Chinese and foreign records. Located just around the bend from a string of bars and restaurants on Yingdingqiao Hutong, Rockland is run by local graphic designer and music fanatic Xiao Zhan, who also owns 69 Café on Nanluoguxiang and has organised several indie festivals over the years. The one-room shop – which has been open for more than a decade – boasts an array of classic Western indie and art rock albums as well as modern Chinese offerings. Don’t forget to ask Xiao Zhan for some of his self-made stickers, flyers and compilation albums.
Rockland 2 Nanguanfang Hutong (138 1036 7674). Open 1-9pm daily. 西城区后海南官房胡同2号

No Name

Hidden behind the tourist traps and general schlock of the Houhai area is one of the city’s most delightful Yunnan eateries: No Name, which is tucked away on Dajinsi Hutong, just west of Yingdingqiao Hutong. It’s a pain to find, frankly, but those who persist will be rewarded with an exquisite dining atmosphere, replete with thick wooden tables, delicate lanterns, gracefully leaning ferns and a stunning view of the Drum and Bell towers. If the weather’s nice, head straight to the roof for unparalleled scenery. The food is admittedly a bit pricy, but if ambiance is what you’re after, No Name is hard to beat.
No Name 1 Dajinsi Hutong (8328 3061). Open 4pm-late daily. 西城区大金丝胡同1号(后海银锭桥东50米)
  • 4 out of 5 stars