Beijing's best tucked-away bars and restaurants

We uncover the city's favourite hideaways for great grub and a cheeky tipple

We all have days when we just need to escape from the hustle and the bustle of this big, busy city, but unfortunately, being able to stop everything at the drop of the hat and leave at a moment's notice is not a pleasure enjoyed by most – but that doesn't mean you can't avoid the noise. We've hunted high and low to find Beijing's hidden-away bars and restaurants, where you can beat the queues and skip the long wait for some tasty grub and a cocktail, or two.

Start your day at a speakeasy



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Apparently speakeasies are for breakfast too. Known as Daxing Hutong Miancha, this enterprise can hardly be considered a restaurant. But starting at 6am every morning, you’ll notice a motley crew of schoolchildren, middle-aged office workers and grandparents collected around the red doorway of 7 Daxing Hutong, just off Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie. Everyone has a bowl in hand and is attentively sipping on miancha (面茶), or ‘flour tea’. In fact, it has little to do with tea, instead it’s a traditional old Beijing millet and rice flour porridge topped with a thick layer of sesame paste and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Wander back into the hutong courtyard to the husband-and-wife team’s tiny kitchen (they’ve been running this breakfast operation out of their home since 1994) and make your order (3RMB per bowl, pay after) before posting up on the street for a hearty morning meal.

Go for a Japanese dinner



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From street level, there’s no hint of this charmingly named izakaya that’s stolen away on the second floor of a humdrum office building on the west side of Chaoyang Park. ACW, takes pride in its five varieties of fried chicken wings (24-30RMB for five pieces). Choose from a selection of typical Japanese mixed drinks like cassis and oolong tea (38RMB), grab a small Asahi draft (30RMB) or invest in a bottle of whisky to keep behind the bar for future visits.


Bar lori is squirreled away in the lobby of a nondescript hotel off Xingfucun Zhong Lu. Sanlitun hardly excels at subtlety, but Iori has managed a low profile for years – even as the area’s hottest neighbourhood has exploded around it. Rock up on a weekend night and you’ll likely be one of only a few parties in this tiny, classy bar fitted out with plush, red leather chairs. Owner Oitate Takao mixes up expertly executed drinks at standard prices for the area (generally around 80RMB for a cocktail). In typical Japanese form, Iori has an extensive whisky collection.


Ishikawa


Tucked away in a grey, characterless courtyard of offices in south Sanlitun, Ishikawa has made its name in unagi (roasted eel). Ishikawa touts two styles: Osaka, where the eel goes straight over the coals, or Tokyo, where it’s steamed first before grilling. Lunch sets are excellent value, priced between 46-70RMB.



Check out some not-so-secret secret bars



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This speakeasy-style watering hole opened in 2014 and quickly gained popularity. The entrance on Xindong Lu leads into a small, dead-end foyer. Press the ‘light switch’ next to a bookshelf and suddenly it slides to the side, revealing a cosy interior with booth seating and 1920s decorative finishes. Try a Grape Gimlet (65RMB) or Silver Gin Fizz (60RMB).


Fubar



A visit here means popping into Stadium Dog at Gate 10 of the Workers’ Stadium. The bar’s name is posted on the awning outside, but once inside the hot dog stand, there’s little sign of it. Head to the back where a lone white button on a grey brick wall begs to be pressed. The wall slides aside, leading into a cavernous space. The best part? Drunk munchies are easily assuaged with a quick trip upstairs.



Check out a Members Only (almost) joint



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Qingping Huiguan is a member's club that's actually legal and cool. This intimate club is a few doors down from the raucous Great Leap #12 Brewpub might be one of our favourite secrets.

Opened in 2005 by husband-and-wife team Wu Jianxin and Sarah Morgan-Wu as a platform for creative and engaged community members, Qingping Huiguan’s gorgeous two- storey space is at once comfortable and refined, accented with reclaimed, roughly hewn wood, elegant latticework screens and slate flagstone floors. While it’s fundamentally a members’ club, it’s a lesser-known fact that the secluded outdoor courtyard and first-floor bar is open to walk-ins and passers-by.

But wait, wait, there’s more – the biggest scoop is that, although membership to the club itself is fully booked, a separate 200RMB lifelong membership to the newly launched Mumu Café on the second floor actually allows access to the entire building, provided you dress in the required business attire (which pretty much just means no shorts). Before the café opened, access to the plush members-only area was accessible only by fingerprint access on a terracotta warrior replica. (No, we’re not joking.)

Finish up with a spot of karaoke (and golf)


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Karaoke at KTV is a way of life in China – it's where friends meet, occasions are celebrated, business deals are sealed – and broken – so as you can imagine, that makes it a very heaving after-work hotspot. If you're after something a little more understated, you need Alpha Wing – a combo KTV and virtual golf venture, marked only by an understated sign.

Down a dark flight of stairs, Alpha Wing contains four virtual golf simulators and two adjacent KTV rooms. Prices are the same for both golf and KTV – a neat sum of 160RMB per hour for up to five players. While you aren’t able to simultaneously belt out ‘My Heart Will Go On’ while practising your swing and screaming ‘fore!’ at the top of your lungs, it’s a deadly combination we can get behind at any hour. Plus for more inventive drink options afterwards, head to Maiden Voyage, the classy hidden basement cocktail bar under Chongqing Spice Girls Restaurant next door.

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