The fate of Beijing's multitudinous hutongs is something of a controversial issue for both foreigners and locals alike. These historic areas of Beijing have endured explosive development projects over the last few years, some more agreeable than others. Areas such as Nanluoguxiang (NLGX) and Houhai are popular examples of hutongs that have undergone a partial facelift while retaining a strong sense of charm and character.
One that is perhaps less well known, but no less charming, is Baochao Hutong (宝钞胡同), just off Gulou Dongdajie. Not as glitzy or trendy than either of its two aforementioned counterparts, the area nevertheless has its fair share of interesting bars and tasty restaurants. The mix of modern, trendy stores coupled with the tiny, old hutong-esque shops selling everything from fruit and veggies to nuts and bolts is an interesting contrast of cultural ideals. Equally attractive are the relatively tourist-free streets, more conducive to actual walking rather than the slaloming frenzy of the typical hutong trek. Just remember that the stores and places of interest will die out towards the far end of the hutong, but if you keep walking out the other end, you'll soon come to Gulou subway Exit A. If you ever find yourself tempted by this Baochao Hutong, here are some of the stops worth making:
1) Cangku 仓库View In Map
Perhaps noticing the dearth of alternative drinking holes in Beijing, Cangku was opened by Hu Song, the lead singer of metal band Yaksa in 2008. Hidden away from the more crowded NLGX and Houhai areas, but still not more than a 15 minute walk from Gulou station, this is one of Beijing's many hidden gems. As with most of the cheaper bars in the city (looking at you Smugglers!) it's probably wise to stay away from too much of the liquors which may or may not be of dubious quality. The beers, however, are fresh and affordable, coming in at 15 RMB a bottle.
With the interesting upstairs lounge area, graffitied outside walls and frequent live music, this has become a staple of the more underground music lovers in Beijing – a fact you can tell by the frequency of people just jamming on the small stage. Pool tables and foosball are available for those who enjoy a little competition while they drink.
Add: 10 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 6401 1066
Opening hours: Daily, 18:00-02:00
2) The Orchid Bar and HotelView In Map
Located in a months-old boutique hotel of the same name, the Orchid is a whitewashed hutong oasis, with chaise longue seating and low tables of reclaimed wood. Tall windows look out onto a vine-strewn courtyard, with under-floor heating for the winter months. Drinks worth sampling include a gin and tonic made with limited-edition Botanist Islay gin, and bottles of Xinjiang Black, a dark lager from northwest China.
The wine list is solid, cocktails are simple and not too extravagantly priced (it's worth paying 50 RMB if you know the alcohol is real!) or you could even go for one of the delicious Great Leap Brewing's beers. You can step out onto the trio of terraces to catch sight of the Drum and Bell Towers looming over the tiled rooftops or hear the faint sounds of warbling karaoke from Houhai. There are also some wicker chairs to recline and sip your wine, with the dimly lit, lime-green and yellow decoration throughout bathing you in its relaxing glow.
Add: 65 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 8404 4818
3) Triple-MajorView In Map
The recent grand-opening of Triple-Major was noted in particular by those in Beijing with an eye for new styles. This avant-garde concept store in the largely ungentrified Baochao Hutong stocks an astutely selected range of designers from around the world. At the time of the opening, the Australian art and design collective ffiXXed launched its solo exhibition, "everything, everywhere, all the time", as part of the grand opening event.
For those of us who missed out on the party, Triple-Major has posted a video in which proprietor Richie Chan introduces the store and some of the designers he carries, and ffiXXed discusses the installation and some of their recent designs. While the prices are of course higher than anything you can expect to pay in a clothes market like Yashow for example, you'd be hard-pressed to find the brands and styles anywhere else in Beijing. So if you're one of those people who likes to look cutting-edge, no matter the cost, then this place is for you.
Add: 81 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 8402 0763
Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 13:00-20:00
4) Baochao Restaurant [Sichuan] 宝钞饭店View In Map
Sequestered in the depths of Baochao Hutong, this newly opened restaurant serves homely, authentic Sichuan cuisine. The lavishly decorated exterior of the restaurant is a point of interest, and also helps you to spot the place! Those who harbour a special place in their hearts for spice and chillies will have cause to rejoice. The service is top-notch, complete with warm and friendly waiters and the occasional conversation with the restaurant owner. The relaxed and companionable atmosphere makes this restaurant a great dining option for couples and families alike. Baochao's specialty dishes include the ‘spicy jumping chicken' and the ‘dough drop soup'.
Add: 107 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 8401 7883
5) Modernista Old Café and Tapas BarView In Map
With its black-and-white chequered floors, hardwood bar and soundtrack of soft jazz music, Modernista could just as well be found tucked away in a western European backstreet as a Beijing hutong. This wine-bar-cum-jazz-bar-cum-movie-theatre will likely become a Mecca for the ‘Euro-hipster' scene and is already popular with the students of the Chinese Language schools that dot the area as well as those from institutions such as Tsinghua and Bei' Da.
For all those who have the inclination to meander the hutongs in search of hidden gems (which is you, otherwise you wouldn't be reading the article!), you'll likely be delighted at the 20-plus wines on offer by the glass, starting out at just RMB 35. The menu boasts a long list of absinthe and Whiskey (including Talisker), which run from about 25 to 90 RMB. There are also an impressive number of reasonably priced imported beers from about 15 to 40 RMB. While the winter chill can quickly sap your will to go outside, you can soon restore it with a glass of their delicious mulled wine (hot red wine with spices) for 20 to 35 RMB.
Modernista also hosts various special nights such as the silent movie evenings if you fancy something more than just a drink.
Add: 44 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 136 9142 5744
Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 16:00-02:00
6) Haney Restaurant 哈尼个旧云南餐吧View In Map
Wen Juan, one of the former Dali Renjia owners, has opened Haney right across the street from his old restaurant. The new one is located next to the Bao Chao Inn and Déjà vu youth hostel.
Named after the Hani minority from southern Yunnan, this restaurant is triple the size of Dali Renjia and features a shop selling specialties like preserved pears and pu'er tea. The building is interesting in and of itself with traditional Chinese architecture that wouldn't look amiss in the middle of Yonghegong!
Staples like niurou mixian, with tender stewed beef and fresh mint, are delicious. Unusual ingredients such as banana flowers and taro buds are also worth trying. Eggplant blackened over a flame and dressed with lime and chillies is a further dish of spice that is worth a try.
Chicken is prepared in various delicious ways. Filleted, marinated in spices, wrapped and grilled in banana leaves is particularly good. Stewed chicken in a broth soured with pickled bamboo compliments the green curry chicken fried rice.
Considering the variety of dishes, impressive setting and occasionally exotic ingredients, the prices at Haney are also particularly impressive. So if you feel like good quality Yunnan food at reasonable cost, it's definitely worth a look.
Add: 107 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 6401 3318
7) Mr Shi's DumplingsView In Map
Across from the Orchid Hotel this dumpling shop is a welcoming little restaurant, clearly aimed at the laowai scene, with English menus and a gregarious English-speaking owner. The place does get its fair share of locals as well, however. There's a wide range of home-style dishes, as well as handmade dumplings, which you can get boiled or fried. Of particular note are the beef and coriander (which are excellent fried) or the pork and lotus root. With its friendly atmosphere, well-priced fare, this is definitely worthy of a lunch-time visit if you are near the Drum and Bell tower, or to fill your stomach before you head down to one of the bars.
Add: 74 Baochao Hutong
Tel: 010 8405 0399; 131 6100 3826
Opening hours: 10:00-23:00
Overall Baochao is an inexpensive, well-stocked, grittier alternative to its more illustrious competitors. It definitely feels more like a real Beijing hutong than its gaudy counterpart Houhai. Other than the bars and restaurants, little stores like Boutique d'Antiquities and Monster Jewelry offer some retail therapy to those who would like to have something other than a hangover or a full stomach to remember their trip here. If you need to buy something to remember China, or gifts for the rentals at Christmas time, then Nanluo is still your best bet. For a relaxing afternoon wander around Gulou or an evening's revelry with friends however, Baochao is most certainly worth a go.
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Keywords: Baochao hutong Beijing traditional streets of Beijing best hutongs in Beijing best bars and restaurants in Beijing
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