Closing Time: Alternative Beijing Bars Facing The Chop

Closing Time: Alternative Beijing Bars Facing The Chop
By Mark Turner ,

Beijing’s night life is a bustling scene. One of the most noticeable characteristics of the scene is the transient nature of many of its bars. Recently, though, more venues than usual seem to have shut up shop, among them Kick Bar, White Rabbit, Together Bar, and a number of places on Ladies’ Street.

It seems that bars in Beijing disappear almost as quickly as they emerge. There are a number of reasons for this, the first being that bar culture is not really an integral part of Chinese culture thus far – to many Chinese people the concept of bars is still a little strange. Chinese people prefer to be ‘doing something’ when they are kicking back with friends, the idea of being at a venue without karaoke to sing, food to eat or board games to play is still a novelty. Chinese friends of mine have asked me “What do you do when you go to bars?’ My reply, “talk, drink, dance”, is often met with a mildly incredulous response.

It seems that the bars hardest hit in the recent trend are those of a slightly leftfield or underground nature. Perhaps they were more reliant than most on foreigners living in Beijing, who themselves come and go with the wind. Although there is a grass roots movement of Chinese people in both rock and dance music (witness, for example, the flourishing punk circuit around live venues such as D22 and Mao Live Bar, as well as the Beijing dance music stalwarts Acupuncture records), most of the barflies and party goers are still from the foreign community. With an international set of party-lovers who study for a couple of semesters and then leave, or else are here working on year long contracts, it seems that leftfield/underground scenes are more fragile in Beijing; it being more difficult for them to establish firm roots.

Much lamented was the closure of White Rabbit club, previously located in Lucky Street. Speaking on the closing, Kai Bar resident DJ, D Rock said “It’s a real shame that White Rabbit closed down. It was a real Beijing institution and one of the only real underground dance venues. It was just like a rave back home – the real deal!” We have it on good authority that the rumored relocation and ‘come back’ of the grimy, back-to-basics venue, which was popular with fans of all genres of dance, will likely not now be happening. The artists that once graced White Rabbit have now migrated to Sanlitun’s Club China Doll, which is located next to Tong Li Studios, itself previously home of the now deceased Kick Bar

Worse still, is that one of the surviving venues may not be around much longer. The future of alternative music venue Obiwan is hanging in the balance. The club is well known for providing alternative music for Beijing’s masses. Indeed, their motto is ‘music by music lovers, for music lovers’. Speaking on recent tough times in Beijing’s bar scene Obiwan’s proprietor Ed commented, “Ever since the Olympic crack down and the increased restriction on visas, Beijing bars have suffered … places in Sanlitun are now empty on weekday nights.”

What the future holds for Beijing’s alternative club and dance is uncertain; it currently seems that the prognosis is not great. One thing is for certain, though – Beijing desperately needs some new venues to fill the gap left by the recently deceased members of its dance scene. Fingers should be crossed, hoping for new arrivals that will help to keep Beijing’s vibrant night life scene well-rounded and a thing for all to enjoy.

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