Living in Sanlitun/Gongti Beilu
The area has gained international notoriety as Beijing’s original nightlife destination, but there’s more to Gongti Beilu than fake alcohol and Chinglish-speaking bouncers. The Gongti area is best described as a microcosm of the modern Beijing experience. Luxury apartment blocks abut soon-to-be-leveled hutongs, and trendy fusion restaurants are a mere stone’s throw from grubby but charming family-owned restaurants serving 3 kuai Tsingdao and baozi at all hours. Shopping ranges from Yaxiu Market (similar to, but less crowded than the Silk Market) to upstart designers and foreign chains, including the first true Apple store in Asia. Nightlife options abound, from 4 a.m. foot massages to chichi dance clubs to large-scale concerts. Simply put, Sanlitun is the best of both worlds: Expatriate conveniences with more than a dash of local flavor.
The housing market around Gongti is dominated by luxury and “luxury lite” apartments. Amenities vary greatly depending on rent, but count on having a Western-style toilet and air-conditioning at the very least. Those paying rent at the higher end of the spectrum are often blessed with an oven, an almost mythical appliance in Beijing. A clean, relatively spacious 2-bedroom flat will set you back between 5500 and 9000 RMB, and a small, ultraposh 1-bedroom starts at 7000 RMB. Many of the modern complexes have on-site gyms, and all but the local-style compounds have elevators and security passkeys.
Residents encompass every age, nationality and socioeconomic group on the planet. About half of the neighborhood population is local Chinese, and the rest are foreigners from everywhere from London to Accra. This makes for great people-watching, especially in apartment courtyards in the mornings and evenings. A high percentage of the foreign population consists of young (22-35) professionals recently out of intensive language courses, as expat families tend to congregate out in Shunyi. The people in this demographic generally work long hours and party hard, hence the proximity to the bars. Don’t expect to cozy up to your neighbors on the elevator, though. People are generally aloof, and the convivial “love everyone” mentality of Wudaokou is lacking here.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
Several luxe dance clubs have recently opened to complement the original two housed on either side of the Workers’ Stadium. International DJs spin regularly here, and cocktails are very pricey by Beijing standards. A couple of bars such as Kokomo’s on the Sanlitun back street offer rooftop decks and happy hour specials, and a Latin dance club blares salsa beats every night of the week. The Bookworm is a café and bookshop on the south street that holds frequent lectures and documentary screenings, and a bowling alley and the ubiquitous KTV joints serve as alternate options to bar-hopping. Nearby Ritan Park is a great place to relax in spring and autumn.
Shops, Restaurants and Takeaways
The dining scene around Sanlitun is catered toward foreigners, so dining options tend to be more of the Western variety. This is great for offsetting a bout of homesickness, especially since a range of restaurants offer delivery through beijinggoodies.com. Gongti Beilu alone boasts a sublime sushi place, Norwegian, Thai, Persian, Italian, and Mexican restaurants, several sandwich shops and an American-style pizza joint. Those jonesing for Chinese can pop down side streets to sample dishes from Sichuan, Yunnan, Beijing, Canton, and Shanghai. Late-night partiers can swing by the Rickshaw, a 24-hour pub, or buy jianbing (a Beijing egg pancake) or chuan’r (barbequed kebabs) from street vendors to satisfy the munchies.
The area is probably the best-serviced district in Beijing, and it is the best location for those seeking optimum access to the city. Subway lines 2 and 3 and the new airport rail line all stop here, as well as innumerable buses. Taxis are still the best option though, and at 2 RMB per half kilometer, are quite a bargain. A short trip to most destinations will generally cost between 10 and 20 RMB.
AREAS OF BEIJING