We’ve written before about the craft beer explosion in China, but what if you’re looking for something a little stronger the next time you’re out? While cocktail culture in Beijing isn’t as prevalent as it is in Shanghai, there are a handful of places to go for a well-mixed drink. Here is a trio of spots that overflows with creative drinks and décor.
Amongst local Chinese, baijiu is the most popular Chinese liquor, but it’s a very strong distilled spirit. That it has an odor that’s been compared to nail polish remover most certainly makes it an acquired taste. Yet, it’s beloved by millions of people, so Capital Spirits co-owners Matthias Heger, David Putney, Bill Isler and Simon Dang knew that it could be made to appeal to a wider audience. Capital Spirits, a hardwood-floored and exposed brick-covered lounge tucked down a hutong near Beixinqiao metro, is the world’s first baijiu bar. Baijiu novices will want to order the intro flight, a tasting of four types of baijiu (light, strong, rice and sauce), accompanied by an explanation from one of the owners. If there’s a bit of trepidation, you can whet your appetite with a cocktail like the Baijiu Sour (rice baijiu, orange bitters, lime concentrate, lime juice and Cointreau).
A good drink is worth a little detective work, isn’t it? Hidden House is a trendy speakeasy yet it’s the farthest thing from pretentious. Looking like a glassware shop to passersby, the entrance on Xindong Lu (Road) is as inconspicuous as it can get. Open the door by tapping the switch and, voila, the bookcase-cum-entrance slides open. The small space has a few cozy alcoves to hole up for a drink or two after work, plus a handful of seats at the bar. Go for the Mai Tai, which uses bourbon instead of rum, so that, even in Beijing’s blustery winter, you’ll feel as if you’ve transported to warmer climes.
This is among Beijing’s most exclusive lounges: there’s a ¥200 (approx. US$31) per-person minimum, a smart-casual dress code and mandatory reservations. Bartenders here prepare bespoke cocktails so, instead of perusing a menu, you simply tell what flavors you like and what kind of mood you’re in. Sometimes you’ll receive a classic like, say, the Aviation or the Rob Roy. On other occasions, the mixologist will concoct something special like the No Name, a drink made with vanilla bean- and orange peel-infused Armagnac.