As capital of China, Beijing brings together people from all over the world. The prosperity of the city has brought about a varied and colorful nightlife.
The diverse nightlife in Beijing makes it suitable for people with different interests, but especially for the young.
There are cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, bars, song and dance halls, Karaoke clubs, restaurants, Beijing opera, or teahouses, not to mention Kung Fu and acrobatics shows all over the city at night.
A few yards from my hotel, there are hundreds of bars lining the street. At night, the place lights up in neon.
Beijing’s famous streets, such as Sanlitun or Houhai also come alive. The two cater for the local youth as well as many foreigners. The music, décor, and various kinds of activities make them enjoyable places to relax and make friends.
For any traveler to Beijing the city’s history and culture can be daunting. The Chinese capital is brimming with more sights, eats and treats than most countries. The city streets pulse with an intermixing of tourists and locals inspired by the lights, sounds and tastes of the night.
This daytime and nighttime culture cross, contrast and lie upon the pedestal of thousands of years of history, making Beijing not just the cultural and political capital of the country but also the center of night life.
This is why if you love night life, then Sanlitun Bar Street is the place to be in Beijing. The bar is the heart of a typical Beijing night. It is the home of authentic after-dark-action served in a country, but also mostly frowned upon because of its authoritarian system of government.
Here, the Chinese call it democracy. Perhaps, the irony of it lies in what happens at Sanlitun Bar Street. There so much that happens on this street that will make you think you are in another country.
According to a Chinese colleague, who declined to be mentioned by name in this article, the Chinese enjoy their nights engrossed in what can be perfectly tamed unholy in most God-fearing and democratic countries such as Malawi.
“We enjoy strip dancing or nude dancing,” he says.
That is why, he said, Sanlitun—Beijing’s tourism capital—is fully packed at night.
“It is the abode of Beijing’s most popular and bustling nightlife destinations,” he adds.
The Sanlitun attracts foreigners and locals, who party until dawn. On this street, some bars have outdoor terraces but most of them are indoor and cozy bars.
In 2015, a Chinese woman was killed while her French husband was wounded by a man with a sword in one of the street bars. The incident brought a tinge of how fun can attract crime and violence.
“The incident is long forgotten, for every other night, all the bars are congested with merrymakers, loud music, cheap if not free booze and of course, pole dancers and strippers,” the colleague explained.
Just like Western-styled bars, Beijing bars and pubs also accord fun-seekers on the dance floor the latest chart-topping hits out of Europe and the United States.
The bars and pubs also dish out some hot and new music performed live on stage including African music.
But what caught my attention on my first night out was the weird names of most bars.
A translator who accompanied me said most of the bars have names that seductively invite fun-seekers inside to unwind.
What does that say? I asked him looking up at some of the sign posts.
I could not help laugh when he started to read them aloud: “That one says: No I Don’t Want To Go Lady Bar, that one reads: Love Baby Love and that one reads: Love Baby Baby.”
There is also a bar named Face Love Love and Kill Yourself.
While Mics, Vics, Swing might sound familiar to any Malawian. There are over 15 bars and pubs on Sanlitun Street and every night the whole row is lit up in neon, ready for another night ride, sending all merrymakers cascading to the floors of hell.
Every pub has a planned entertainment for the evening, seemingly carefully designed to lure and entice drunken fans off their unadulterated boredom.
Pole dancing is the main dish in each and every club. In most bars, pole dancers are foreigners, putting a deeper and more nuanced whirl and twist on the pole dancing obsession.
But it is Mics that is home to most Africans visiting the city.
Almost on a daily basis, hundreds of Africans trek to this pub to drink Carlsberg and Heineken beer. The pub is fully packed every night you would think, the few Chinese in the bar are visitors, not guests as they are often outnumbered by Africans.
As dawn breaks, it is the Sanlitun Street taxi drivers that have the task to drive imbibers home to nurse their hangovers.