Once a favourite for its campy, lurid interior, Adam's has undergone a major image shift, luring in the tourists along the old Sanlitun strip with Chinese folk music, traditional decor and a much more low-key, if still avowedly LGBT-friendly vibe. Where once pole dancers and weekend drag amateurs abounded, expect well-dressed, quiet huddles gathered around fruity beverages.
Into its second decade, the only dedicated gay club in town continues to lead the pack and is even muscling in on the pre-club drinking action with its slick tie-in bar Des Link. Entry is still free after 3am, the owners still discreetly support good gay social causes, and the place still heaves after midnight on weekends. Floor shows range from international gogo line-ups to celebrity DJs (Nina Flowers, of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame, was a recent headliner). The BOGOF happy hour from 9-10 PM on Sundays and Thursdays makes this one of the few clubs in town that gets a decent midweek showing. Gay clubs come and go in Beijing, but there’s only one Destination.
The most recent addition to the capital’s LGBT drinking circuit, Red Dog isn’t a gay bar per se, but tall, immaculately dressed Wuhan-born manager Kangyin – Jack to his friends – is going all out to guarantee a safe, friendly space for queer patrons. This boho hangout, tucked beneath a flight of stairs in Sanlitun Soho, attracts a discreet late-night crowd of serious drinkers. Aiming high in terms of quality and service, Red Dog warrants a splurge – expertly mixed classic and seasonal cocktails average 70RMB a pop. Consequently, this is less a pre-club charging station and more a place to treat your besties to an indulgent, languorous evening’s repartee.
Situated just across from Q Mex
in Sanlitun’s Courtyard 4 complex, this upstart, neon-illuminated partnership with gay dating app Aloha is a new kid on a well-populated block. Designed with old-school punters in mind – a lot of tables for groups, low music – there are a few nods to innovation: the ironclad smoking ban and all-gender toilets are a welcome addition, as is the Monday to Thursday 8-10pm happy hour, when cocktails can be had for 40RMB.
Finally one for the gals, and this is a heavy duty club, though they also dabble in an eye-popping lala floorshow of a weekend. Hard to find (tucked behind a restaurant in the dimmest, darkest part of the Sanlitun compound) the grim exterior hides an expansive underground dance hall with good beer, better beats and an all-female clientele who are definitely there to be seen.
Once the new kid on the block, GLAM (Good-looking Asian Male), held every Thursday night in the slick Long Jing cocktail bar, is now one of the capital’s longest-running gay socials. Pitched at the young professional crowd (cocktails average 70RMB), the two-for-one offer on all drinks helps pull in ’mos from all walks of life. Host Marlon Ma reliably draws in a sharp-looking crowd of LGBT embassy workers, financiers, hoteliers and college professors, who have turned GLAM into the rhinestone-bedecked queen of Thursday nights.
Long Jing. Glam open 9pm-2am Thursdays only.
GLIFAA Happy Hour
Long ago broadened out to include more than just diplomats and their partners, GLIFAA, led by US Embassy power couple Ravi and Claudiu Buck, runs a popular monthly get-together at a new, gay-friendly venue each month, allowing the capital’s queers to identify likely new drinking holes while also meeting new people in an informal setting the second Thursday of every month. Hob-nobbing is fuelled by BOGOF deals on suitably high-end beverages. Determined LGBT networker? Look no further!
GLIFAA Happy Hour, locations vary. Open 7pm-late, second Thursday of every month. For details, and to join the WeChat group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diversity, thy name is Les Booze! This night is still the go-to social for les, bi and trans ladies looking to mingle every third Saturday of the month. Expect plenty of drink deals, all enthusiastically served by Red Dog and Chill Bar's delightful crew of bartenders.
Les Booze open 9pm-late, first Friday of every month at Chill Bar and third Saturday of every month at Red Dog.
Fine Taiwanese leaf teas (starting from 60RMB a pot), top-end gourmet organic drip-brewed coffees and one of the airiest, creamiest cheesecakes in town, this café and art space is a great place to sink into a plush sofa and tap out that coming-out story you always wanted to. Pick up knick-knacks ranging from ethically-produced baijiu to keyrings, with many of the proceeds going to support LGBT causes in the Chinese diaspora. There’s a reason Two Cities has endured so long.
LGBT nights at Red Dog
Image credit: Franka Gulin.
Rapidly emerging as an open mic for Beijing’s hottest drag performers, the floorshow sees this diminutive, funky space crammed to the rafters and you’ll need to shove to get near the tiny stage. The crush is compensated for by a dazzlingly attractive clientele, bargain cocktails and a friendly, raucous vibe. Thursday nights are officially LGBT nights, but drag nights are pop-up only.
So popular the limited seats typically sell out within an hour (so keep an eagle eye on your WeChat), professional hot mess TigerLily calls the shots and the fabulous Palms LA team serve up their addictive take on Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine at this absolute riot of a bingo night. A full house is guaranteed even if your number doesn’t come up, and all proceeds go to support Beijing Gender Health Institute. Dressing up is recommended.
Lip-sync, dance, spoken word, stand-up comedy – anything goes at this rip-roaring queer night, formerly held upon the rooftop of the late Sanlitun Migas, one of the capital’s most sultry and dearly missed exterior spaces. Seasoned drag performers and new up- and-comers often use this popular night to try out new looks and material, and best of all, all proceeds go towards supporting the Beijing Gender Health Institute, a worthy local LGBT cause. The extravaganza is set to return more extravagant than ever this May, at Migas’ awesome CBD venue, Migas Mercado.