Beijing's best new bars and clubs of 2018

From swanky cocktail lounges to cosy hole-in-the-walls, here are the most exciting openings of 2018

Oh, what a year. Thankfully, a new crop of top-notch cocktail bars and clubs joined Beijing's nightlife scene this year, helping us drink and dance our way through the last 12 months. From hutong haunts to Gongti giants, we did not suffer from a lack of new places to spend our nights. We've also seen a few bars close then reappear in new digs El Nido and Botany spring to mind but if you're after something brand new, these 13 picks have you covered.

Bars

Scandal

The vibe at this Sanlitun watering hole is Miami Vice meets ritzy Riviera, with a dash of Prohibition glamour for good measure. Scandal is hardly your casual local joint, but for cocktails that feel special and are actually worth the price tag, it’s the new one to beat in Sanlitun.

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Gongti Bei Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

Little Creatures

Aussie brewers Little Creatures call themselves ‘certified hopheads’, and have been brewing ales of the palest kind for over a decade. Food's also a reliable option here, with the brewers playing around with a distinctly British-Aussie menu, offering up classics such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, as well as the recently introduced Aussie favourite, jaffles. 

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Chunxiu Lu (Chaoyang, Chaoyang)

Herbal

Designed by Glenn Schuitman, founder and creative director of late lamented Sanlitun fixture Pop-Up Beijing, Herbal was conceptualised by 18-year Beijing bar stalwart Ah Jian, TCM doctor Zhai Xu and Schuitman. Specialising in Chinese Traditional Medicine-based cocktails, these boozy, complex tonics are just what the doctor ordered.

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12 Xindong Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

Straight Spirit

Speaking of Schuitman, the long-term Beijing fixture has had a very busy last 12 months, also helping to co-found specialist whisky bar and new LGBT hangout Straight Spirit. With its idiosyncratic driftwood décor and dapper, knowledgeable staff, this Central Park watering hole has crammed a tiny space with a heady mix of class and sass, becoming an almost overnight institution for the capital’s growing legion of whisky lovers.

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6 Central Park (Chaoyang, Chaoyang)

Terrazza Martini

Formerly the home of Migas, Nali Patio's sprawling rooftop space is now occupied by Terrazza Martini, Bacardi's first flagship lounge in China. Still as popular a location as ever, Sanlitun revellers have regularly flocked to this spot on Friday and Saturday nights for live music, boozy bevs and general debauchery. Drinks here are strong – veering towards dishwasher cleaner-strong – but frankly, you're not here for subtlety or a low-key night out.

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81 Sanlitun Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

Pickering's Seafood and Gin Bar

In full celebration of Scottish provenance, Beijing's first dedicated gin bar offers an extensive fresh seafood list with imported salmon, lobster and more. Gin, however, is the real name of the game here. Try one of their botanical-infused gin and tonics prepared in-house, or choose a cocktail from their delightfully offbeat custom menu.

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81 Sanlitun Bei Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

Inception

Owned by the same cocktail progenitor behind Hidden House, Miles, Ming Bar and Revolution, this Xingfucun speakeasy boasts a similar aesthetic to each of these prequels, just on a considerably swankier, larger scale. With its wood-panelled walls, leather upholstery and Sistine Chapel-esque frescoes, Inception is undeniably beautiful, with a solid drinks list to match.

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12 Xinzhong Jie (Dongzhimen, Dongcheng)

Boxing Cat Brewery

Brewing beers for over ten years, Shanghai heavyweights Boxing Cat offer an impressively diverse selection of IPAs, ales, stouts and more, all priced at flat rates. However in a slightly unexpected twist, its Anglo-Southeast Asian menu has also been garnering buzz, making Boxing Cat that rare third option that satisfies both serious drinkers and teetotallers alike.

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20 Xinyuanli Xi, Xindong Lu (Liangmaqiao, Chaoyang)

Arch

Critics' pick

Tucked away in the not-notable carpark of the more notable former residence of Republic of China-era warlord Duan Qirui, Arch is about as close to a hidden gem as it gets. Owner and bartender Alfred Yu demonstrates an unerring ability to mix and match complex flavours, resulting in drinks that are casually exceptional and all too quaffable.

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3 Zhangzizhong Lu (Dongcheng, Dongcheng)

50/50

50/50 takes inspiration from the concept of yin and yang, and there’s certainly a noticeable duality between its sparse décor and punchy menu. Despite its no-frills interior and overall laidback atmosphere however, this casual cocktail den takes a serious approach to booze, striking a balance between boundary-pushing mixology and neighbourhood hangout.

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55 Xingfucun Zhong Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

Clubs

Aurora

Headed up by veteran Beijing DJ Pancake Lee, Aurora sprung up in the area formerly known as Dirty Bar Street in early 2018, and has since gone on to become the shiny nightlife face of this new, soaped-up era of Sanlitun. Aurora's size means that partygoers can experience an intimate clubbing experience, and queues regularly form outside during weekends where touring DJs descend with a deep house, techno and disco bent.

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Sanlitun Bar Street (Chaoyang, Chaoyang)

Zhao Dai (招待所)

The brainchild of former management at Yugong Yishan and the long-deceased White Rabbit club, Zhao Dai brings the club scene north of Sanlitun and up to Xinyuanli. With previous headliners including the likes of Frits Wentink, Galcher Lustwerk and Mykki Blanco, Zhao Dai separates itself from the city's Gongti giants with its eclectic, wide-ranging programming – and strict no photography policy.

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19 Xinyuanli Xi Lu (Liangmaqiao, Chaoyang)

Playhouse

True to its name, the latest addition to Gongti offers partygoers a plethora of games, art and collectibles alongside its massive dose of hip-hop. Standout headliners from the past year have included Kendrick Lamar collaborator Knxwledge, DJ Wordy and trap up-and-comer Rico Nasty. Jaden Smith even turned up in October. Playhouse is working hard to replace Mix as the go-to hip-hop club in Beijing, and with so much going into it, we can’t help but think they'll succeed.

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50 Gongti Xi Lu (Sanlitun, Chaoyang)

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