The regeneration of Beijing’s old hutong alleyways is ushering in a new wave of drinking venues
By Tom O’Malley
GREAT LEAP BREWING
Hidden in a maze of gray alleyways in the Nanluoguxiang area, this microbrewery occupies what was once the library wing of a Qing-era mansion. But it’s hops, not history, that draws the crowds. A dozen locally flavored ales are handcrafted on-site; among the best is Honey Ma Gold, made with Sichuan peppercorns and organic Shandong honey. Regular bluegrass jam sessions add to the homey feel (6 Doujiao Hutong; 86-10/5717-1399; greatleapbrewing.com).
MAO MAO CHONG
A kaleidoscopic sweep of infused vodkas lines the bar at this laid-back Nanluoguxiang hangout, glowing like potions in a science lab. Australian co-owner Steven Rocard is something of an apothecary, blending gin with beetroot, bourbon with figs, and vodka with just about everything else. Try the Beetniks, a zesty creation of vanilla vodka, beetroot gin, apple juice, and mint, or the tea- infused Feng Shui. Rocard also bakes some of Beijing’s best pizza (12 Banchang Hutong; 86-10/6405-5718; maomaochongstore.com).
A dusty, deserted Beijing alleyway is the last place you’d expect to find a Vietnamese courtyard restaurant and cocktail bar—but it’s well worth seeking out. Impeccably assembled pork spring rolls, zingy salads, and delicious grilled fish are complemented by themed libations like the Quiet American, a mix of whisky, lemon, ginger, and grapefruit bitters that is best enjoyed alfresco under the shade of Susu’s old scholar tree (10 Qianliang Hutong Xixiang; 86-10/8400-2699).
Savoring an aged single malt on one of Zajia’s mismatched armchairs, your gaze darts from one quirky art installation to the next. “Everything here is non-permanent, just like Taoism,” says owner and art curator Ambra Corinti. Looking up at the soaring, wood-beamed roof, you see what she means: though it’s not visible from the street, this Gulou-area bar is housed inside the vestiges of a 500-year-old Taoist temple. Zajia is also the hangout of choice for many of Beijing’s indie artists, musicians, and filmmakers, who congregate regularly to stage experimental theater or music recitals (23 Doufuchi Hutong; 86-10/8404-9141).
Located in a months-old boutique hotel of the same name, the Orchid is a whitewashed hutong oasis, with chaise longue seating and low tables of reclaimed wood. Tall windows look out onto a vine-strewn courtyard, with under-floor heating for the winter months. Standout drinks include a gin and tonic made with limited-edition Botanist Islay gin, and bottles of Xinjiang Black, a dark lager from northwest China. Step out onto the trio of terraces to catch sight of the Drum and Bell Towers looming over the tiled rooftops (65 Baochao Hutong, Guloudong Rd.; 86-10/ 8404-4818; theorchidbeijing.com).