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Beijing's best bars for a maximum of ten foreigners

Ten's a party, eleven's an offence

As foreign residents of the city, we're unashamedly big fans of the hustle and bustle of packed-out Beijing bars, filled with a cosmopolitan crowd of both our local friends and anywhere between 11 and 50 of our closest, equally foreign pals. Maybe you don't have 50 friends, but the point is that we definitely like to convene regularly in a group greater than or equal to 11.

But sometimes we don't want to be surrounded by vast crowds of other laowai. Sometimes we crave something more intimate, more refined – the genuine human connection that only a shoebox-sized speakeasy can host. Sometimes we have no choice.

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Recent news that two titans of the Wudaokou student bar scene, Lush and Pyro Pizza, were being temporarily forced to limit the number of foreign customers to 10 at any one time sent veritable shockwaves through the local international community, threatening the very fabric of student existence, putting week-long drinking streaks in jeopardy and creating a serious risk of some actual study being done in the near future. Particularly problematic for 11-a-side football socials, too.

Reasons for the temporary restrictions – to be enforced this coming Friday and Saturday and due to be lifted March 22 – are officially uncertain, but such measures haven't yet spread beyond the Wudaokou limits. You can never be too sure when they might come for you and your go-to watering hole though, so here's just a few of our favourite small bars for when there's no room left at the inn – ideal hangouts for you and just nine other foreigners.

Fang Bar

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Back in the distant past of spring 2017, when a breeze of positivity and promise fluttered through the hutongs, Fang Bar and its contemporaries such as Jiao (from the guys now behind Nina) had mastered the art of the micro-bar along the former foreigner-favourite Fangjia Hutong. The ensuing brickings and closures of a brutal summer put paid to their previous digs, but fortunately Fang sprung back later in the year in a sneakily tucked-away spot just down the road at Jiaodaokou.

Its cocktails are terrific and capacity is ideal for your ten-strong squad, though fantastically cheap tortilla pizzas (25RMB a pop), cooked up in the space next door, may attract excess waiguoren.

Capital Spirits & The Distillery

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If capacity restrictions can’t keep foreigners out, then the much-maligned devil’s drop, baijiu, might just do it. The team at Capital Spirits, however, is out to convert the non-believers, with a strong range of baijiu-based cocktail creations and tasting floats. It recently shacked up with its partner bar The Distillery, gin specialists whose tipples may be more familiar and palatable to your ten foreign mouths.

Two intimate, dimly lit rooms offer sufficient pews and a charming ambience in which to talk about #JustForeignerThings that foreigners like to talk about, like getting visas and getting rowdy in bars, right?

Corner Plus

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Wudaokou may not want you, but over in Sanlitun’s Yoolee Plaza, people will actually welcome you into their own apartments for a drink. Granted, their homes have been converted into snazzy bars – and lots of them – but their petite size will keep you well within regulation.

Corner Plus is a raucous, smoky whiskey bar, offering decent cocktails and even better views out over the modern highlights of our cosmopolitan capital. Don’t come here for a quiet drink or a date; do come for a wild, burly night out that will probably lead you to KTV.

Two-person KTV booths

KTV

Speaking of KTV, these two-seat karaoke booths are the perfect arena to keep your laowai count and your vocal chords soaring. Ten will be tight, but you can probably squish five of you in here at a push; be aware, however, that its transparent casing allows for instant foreigner-tallying by any interested authority. Bring your own bevs from a nearby convenience store.

Read on here for more on what we thought when we first discovered them back in 2016. They’re now found in pretty much every good mall, and some bad ones too – search ‘youchangbar’ (友唱Mbar) on WeChat to track down your nearest.

Barista

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It’s evidently a coffee shop and not a bar per se, but it’s got ‘bar’ in the name and the action centres around what is undeniably a bar, before which seating capacity is limited to a mere six stools – bar stools – for your foreign behinds. Four of you will have to stand as you sip your swanky java, while the outdoor steps offer an al fresco perch, or quarantine, for your unlucky 11th member. Barista is an OG surfer of Beijing’s third-wave coffee scene, and serves up some of the best brews in town.
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