Where do in-the-know Beijingers go to whet their whistles? Put your navigational skills to the test to find these hidden spots in the Chinese capital.
First on our list is the watering hole that’s trickiest to find. To wend your way into Hidden House’s pint-size interior, go about 200 yards north of Jingkelong, Xindong Lu (Road), open the door of what appears to be a glassware shop, flip the switch, and what was once a bookcase slides away to become the entrance. Try your luck at snagging one of the alcoves or grab a seat at the bar to watch bartender Xiao Ming mix up a London Mule heavy on the lemon, ginger and cucumber. Despite being somewhat secret, Hidden House is less posh cocktail lounge and more after-work, happy-hour standby — if you can find it.
A delightful independent bookshop carrying more than 16,000 titles, this literary haven looks like a greenhouse from the outside. But inside, it’s an expat’s dream — a light-flooded, book-jammed library-cum-shop that doubles as an events space, bar and café. And while most are drawn to The Bookworm for reading material and its slew of arts and culture events (trivia nights, book festivals), it’s also home to a well-stocked bar. The focus is on wine and whiskey, and tastings of both are held regularly. Vino is available by the glass and bottle, with markups far lower than what you’ll find elsewhere in Beijing. The whisky list is 30 long, with pours from the likes of Scapa, Glen Elgin and Mackillop’s Choice.
Janes and Hooch
Though it’s since added a sign to its once unmarked door, Janes and Hooch remains Beijing’s most authentic speakeasy-style bar. The lighting is flatteringly low — so much so that you won’t be able to read a menu without holding a candle to it — and the tin ceiling, cement flooring and exposed brick conjure a vibe of a Prohibition-era saloon sans moonshine. Janes and Hooch’s cocktails are painstakingly crafted, served in cut-glass cups of varying shapes. The Kopi ‘O,’ so named for the coffee traditionally served in Malaysia and Singapore, is Gosling’s black rum, Malacca black coffee and palm sugar. The Chicago Fizz — a nod to the city of speakeasies — is a piquant mix of rum, ruby port, citrus, creamy egg white and gum syrup.
Two-parts speakeasy, one-part members-only club, a step into Parlor is a trip back to 1930s Shanghai. Lamps are low, bricks are exposed; birdcage chandeliers cast shadows onto period murals. The bartenders — the males in bowties and the women in qipaos (one-piece Chinese dresses)— mix infused spirits and bitters to form tipples such as the Fig Old Fashioned, made with fig-infused Old Fitzgerald bourbon whiskey, orange bitters and Jerry Thomas bitters. The second floor décor is even more authentic, with a mahjong table surrounded by high-backed damask chairs and a cigar lounge. The only anachronistic element is the karaoke room, which no VIP club in China would be caught without. For access to the second-level sanctuary, a deposit of ¥50,000 ($8,009 USD) and approval from existing members is required; the money is used as your bar tab.
Photos Courtesy of Ben McMillan and The Bookworm Beijing