Houhai, located dead in the middle of old
Beijing, is also known as Shishahai, an area including Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai and with a history of more than 700 years.
According to historical records, Houhai was designed in the thirteenth century. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Houhai has been the city's largest commercial area. It was also the terminus of the local water route, so the surrounding area booms with hotels, restaurants, stores and business workshops.
Many interesting restaurants and shops have shot up around the lake during the last six years. The lake, however, achieved global fame after becoming a safe haven during the SARS outbreak. Since then, Houhai has been a landmark of Beijing nightlife and a tourist destination to rival Wangfujing.
Houhai is a comprehensive entertainment area. Along its chic, sexy and prosperous shores, you can also find traditional food like chou doufu, stinky doufu, a popular local snack disliked by many foreigners.
Every restaurant in Houhai has its own style of entertainment, decoration, food and drink. Take Qiulu Shanwu for example, it's a delicate Hunan restaurant. You can have great night view on the second floor, and enjoy a star-dotted sky on the third floor.
Buffalo's menu is very interesting. It's like a CD cover with extremely romantic names like "Love can be food" and "Fish from the love sea". South Silk Road is one of the Yunnan and Guizhou food restaurants favored by local diners seeking a nice environment. Its sofa seating and large glass windows let customers have a good view of Shishahai while dining.
Nuage, the famous Vietnamese restaurant, has very striking decorations. Some people have compared it to the The Lover (1992), a Hong Kong-France collaboration written by Marguerite Duras. Business is booming, and Nuage is expanding into a new building.
Here come some specific highlights.
La Baie Des Anges
Two French brothers make their wine restaurant, La Baie Des Anges in Houhai, a popular spot for socializing Beijing's ex-pats. Olivier Six, 28 and Benjamin Six, 26, arrived in Beijing last June and started their business in September of last year.
But many cafes and restaurants offer events like wine tasting in order to offer their customers more alternative entertainment. How can La Baie Des Anges stand out in the competitive Houhai area?
"The place caters to the varied tastes of laowai, with many more different kinds of wine, and it's a nice place to hang out with friends," Louis Mok, a French student said.
It's not surprising that more and more ex-pats start businesses in China, but more of them, who get into the dining scene, should have more experience as it applies to China. "China isn't new to us," the Sixothers said. Before they moved to Beijing, they visited China many times. And their Chinese "uncle" in Beijing, who has been the brothers' friend for many years, looks after them. "The main difference in having a winerestaurant like this one is the working hours," Six said. Customers in Beijing are used to visiting after 9pm, so they're forced to cook at 1am and leave work after 3am.The good news is their business is getting better, according to Six. One reason is that more people like hanging out in Houhai in summer than winter, and another reason is that their name is known by many people.
The two brothers try to organize different events every week. For example, there is a wine-tasting party every Tuesday night, live music played by their friends like a Brazilian music night that was staged on July 7, a theme party spotlighting National Day on July 14 and a speed-dating event held on July 21.
"We organized our first speed-dating event in March and after that, we got many requests asking when the next one would be," Six said. The event costs only 8yuan which includes three glasses of wine.
"So far, most of our customers are foreigners, French, American, Italian and South American," Six said, "there are more and more Chinese customers dropping in, accounting fabout 20 percent of our clientele."
Where: 5 Nangongfeng Hutong, Houhai, Xicheng
Open: 6pm-2am (closed on Monday)
Tel: 010-6657 1605
Cost: 25 yuan above per person
Aladdin, located in Houhai Xi Yan, is decorated in typical Arabian style. Two golden Sphinxes crouch outside the pub, guarding valuables within. Walking inside, you can see carpet with colorful Arabic patterns on lamps that look like they must have a genie.
The restaurant creates a mysterious environment and attracts guests from around the world.
It looks less crowded in daylight, but at night, the image must be totally different. The only way to make it better would be to have three or four girls dancing around you, on their eyes unveiled. It seems like an image straight out of the Sudan.
The owners host activities and readings from time to time. Head there to learn something about Arabian culture, or just to meet hot girls. Their coffee is the second best thing in the house, and is served up in a very mysterious environment.
Where: No 4, Houhai Xi Yan, Haidian
Tel: 010-6400 9561
Cost: 100 yuan per person
In the Zone
Walking around the Houhai Xi Yan areas, Annie and I felt that it was totally different from what we experienced in the mainstream areas. It was much cooler and quieter. We felt calmed after walking through the disco pubs. Here we saw some quiet pubs, and Zone was the first one opened in this area in 2003.
The pub owner, Zhao Yang, has a sister named Zuo Jia. He named the pub Zone because "Z" is the first letter of her name,nd "one" indicates that this is the first one and there certainly will be a second, or third branch of the pub in the future.
Zhao invited a Macao local chef to serve you. There is not a particular flavor in the pub, but you can taste typical Macao Baozaifan-Rice cooked under the pot, which is a little bit salty.
Zhao made this pub look like a typical ancient Southern architecture. Tiles and bricks, I felt like sitting in a small town in Southern China. Zhao got these materials from a Wangfu-a palace where a Prince lived.
There is a special seat, which is higher than others, located in the center of the pub. You first take off your shoes-those who have holes in their socks please don't try it-then climb some stairs to sit there. Raise up yohead and you can see the bamboo roof. Just imagine, sitting there and tasting coffee or tea with your friends.
"For some youths, they might like noisy and crowded disco, but here, elder guests can enjoy another environment," said Zhao. As he mentioned, many high-ranking officials of government, bosses of internatnal companies, and artists drop in frequently to taste their spirits.
Where: No 12, Houhai Xi Yan, Xicheng
Tel: 010-8403 1419
Cost: 50-100 yuan per person
Set in an expansive, comfortable space open to the lake, this well-stocked bar hosts live music nightly with hip cover bands. It boasts an extensive menu of Western foods, champagnes and red and white wines along with staple booze. It caters mostly to local high rollers, and is the perfect stop for live jazz music and champagne.
Boasting dark wood paneling and floor to ceiling windows, this jazz dive defines rugged sophistication. It was started by Liu Yue, Cui Jian's former saxophonist, and it's the most authentic jazz joint in town, featuring top acts from Thursday to Sunday. It's perfect for those tired of glitz but hry for jazz.
The beat goes on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The performances range from inspirational to downright formulaic, but always very engaging. Two weeks ago, a bald German man played a fantastic piano he drummer was cool; the bass player had a funky smile. Some of my friends visit there every Sunday night. Go and listen for yourself.
Where: No 83 Yandai Xi Jie, Houhai’s bar areaOpen: 2pm-4am next day
Tel: 010-8404 7171
Cost: 80 yuan per person
(Beijing Today by Annie Wei September 19, 2007)