First published on 26 Apr 2011. Updated on 11 Sep 2012.
The nightlife scene around Houhai has taken a bit of a battering in recent years. It all began when the neon and concrete leviathans first truculently plonked themselves beside the lake. Bringing with them all the screeching touts, thumping music and persons of ill repute, they’ve turned the idyllic shore-side paradise into a tacky hellhole. Their influx has also managed to force out many of the less brash (and intrinsically more charming) bars, ruining the area for nostalgic cynics.
Zajia is the kind of place that should be within stone-skimming distance of Houhai’s lakes, but can instead be located in the courtyard behind the Bell Tower, an almost bucolic area that has so far managed to avoid the deathly encroachment of neon. The small space can be found up a candle-lined flight of stairs, beside Contempio, sharing part of the same renovated temple.
Inside, it is old-school Houhai: wooden floors, benches and a tiny bar staffed by friendly owners. The space is enlarged by two second-storey mezzanines, accessed by steep stairs. These second-floor areas are private and peaceful, with floor seats and no room to stand. The drinks list is the only part – thankfully – that breaks from tradition. As much as we loved swilling nothing but Tsingtao in the old Houhai bars, the addition of fine whiskies – Talisker 10 and Macallan 10 (both 45RMB) and foreign beers – Leffe, Erdinger (35-45RMB) – mark this as a place the hutong hipsters will truly relish.
Zajia is a fantastic bar for out-of-town friends, people with a love/hate relationship with old/new Houhai, or groups wanting a more intimate space. The new bar captures the spirit of what once made Houhai one of the best drinking areas in the world, even if it is nowhere near the water.
One of Beijing's most unusual bars!