Beijing's Sanlitun bar street closed for renovations
Last call for nightlife nostalgia
Published: Feb 01, 2023 10:12 PM
Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Photo: Cui Meng/GT


It was last call at Beijing's landmark spot Sanlitun bar street on Tuesday as the area is about to undergo some much-needed renovations out of safety concerns.

According to a notification letter issued by the Sanlitun sub-district administrative office on December 25, 2022, all bars on the street are to be closed down, as "housing is not suitable for operations, which seriously impacts overall safety."

Wei Lei, deputy director of the ­Sanlitun sub-district administrative office, said Tuesday that the buildings, all constructed during the 1990s, need to be improved. He also noted that due to its popularity among visitors, the "Sanlitun bar street" brand will be preserved.

On Tuesday night around 8 pm, almost half of the bars on the street were still open with visitors taking photos in front of the flashing neon lights. One staff member at one of the bars told the Global Times that it was "the busiest day" they had had for a long time. ­Hundreds of local people came and took photos with the bars to recall their stories with the street, which carries so many memories about life and being young.

Jiang Xujun, a 40-year-old Beijing local, told the Global Times that he had captured the "glorious moments" of the street, which he called the face of one of the world's international metropolises, Beijing.

Ever since the 1990s, the street has been a landmark in the capital city. One local bartender noted that as the street is located close to Beijing's embassy area, foreigners accounted for about 60 percent of their customers since the mid-1990s. 

Visitors take photos of the Sanlitun bar street on Tuesday night in Beijing. Photo: Pang Yue/GT

Visitors take photos of the Sanlitun bar street on Tuesday night in Beijing. Photo: Pang Yue/GT

"The street actually carried my memories of being young," Cui, a 52-year-old resident who lives near the street for more than two decades, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"Those bars were my biggest source of mental relaxation," Wang Qing, a regular visitor to the street, told the Global Times. 

Nostalgia aside, other local residents, like Catherine Peng, were happy to see the bars go.

"They were so noisy. We complained but got no feedback," she said, adding that she thought the bars were "lowbrow."

Recalling some of the bars' revealing pole dancers, Liu Liyang, another resident, told the Global Times that she hopes some more "elegant" shops will take their place.

Wei also said that as part of the Sanlitun area's overall improvement project, new businesses like cafés and health food restaurants will replace the bars in the future. 

Urban planning expert Li Bo told the Global Times that over the last four years, the area has been gradually upgrading its facilities to better suit ­Sanlitun's international character and people's changing lifestyles. 

"In my opinion, the bars were outdated. We once had them to promote the busy and life-loving ambience of Beijing, but people's lifestyles have changed. Now they prefer more authentic and ­hidden Beijing experiences," Li noted.

Prior to the closure of the bar street, Beijing's Shichahai, another hot entertainment area, also went through a major "surgery" in 2017. More than 4,000 square meters of illegal structures, including some located on the rooftops of major bars, were demolished.

Along with other measures such as banning bars' open-air operations, the area was restored to show Beijing's classic and historical beauty.