Sanlitun Houjie Demolished: The End of Beijing Bar Street?

As Beijing’s city center is changing with incredible speed, it is now Beijing’s nightlife hotspot Sanlitun bar street that is demolished and bricked up. While Beijing expats might shed a tear over the disappearance of some of their favorite bars, many Weibo netizens are happy with the government’s decision to “clean up” the unpolished hubbub of Beijing nightlife.

Beijing is changing fast – really fast. As parts of the old hutongs are already unrecognizable or in the midst of being bricked up, bulldozers have now reached the area of Sanlitun Houjie / Tongli Studios, better known as the back street of Sanlitun Bar Street.

Sanlitun Bar Street is one of the most famous nightlife areas in Beijing, known for its cheap beers, many bars, restaurants, and street vendors.

Since the Beijing Olympics, the area at large has undergone drastic changes. With the coming of the Taikooli Shopping center in the summer of 2008, the transformation of Sanlitun from a low-key nightlife scene to an upscale shopping street was set in motion.

Bulldozers renovating the Sanlitun street in August of 2016.

For local bar lovers and many expats and students, there was always still the Sanlitun ‘back street’, or houjie, one of the few parts of the area that did not seem to have changed that much over the past decade and was not as polished or expensive as the newer parts of town.

 

“The demolishment of the area is another step in the mission of the city management to gentrify the area.”

 

The ‘rough part’ of Sanlitun was both loved and hated for its street vendors, loud music, 10 RMB beers, beggars, balloon sellers, occasional bar fights, and lively atmosphere.

View on Sanlitun houjie from Taikooli, 2016.

On April 24 the bulldozers and construction workers hit the street to start the demolishment of the street side across from Tongli Studios.

Rumors were going around for weeks that parts of the old bar street would be demolished. According to one of the staff at the old Luga’s bar that What’s on Weibo spoke to, they do plan to reopen again after renovations, but the exact plans of what is happening in the area is yet unclear. Other sources said that the whole side of the street would be closed and simply bricked up.

According to the Beijing Youth newspaper, the demolishment of the area is another step in the mission of the city management to gentrify the area so that houjie would no longer be a “dirty street” (“今起不再有’脏街'”). A total of 33 business will be demolished, among them are several DVD stores, bars, restaurants, shops, and nail salons.

On Chinese social media, the large-scale renovation of Sanlitun is receiving ample attention from various media outlets and netizens. Many Weibo commenters show their support for the latest government move and agree with the renovations, saying that the Beijing bar street needed to be cleaned up.

“This time, I give Beijing full points for this renovation,” one Beijing resident (@小威威的野蛮女友) says on Weibo: “This place was too crowded, too messy, too dirty.” Another commenter agrees: “They will make it pretty again.”

 

“Goodbye to that old Sanlitun dirty alley that now belongs to the memories of our youth.”

 

“The people who say this demolishment is not good obviously do not live in Beijing, haha,” one other person said.

But not everyone agrees. As the city center of Beijing is rapidly undergoing renovations, there are considerably fewer parts of the city that offer a laid-back and unpolished nightlife scene, while fancy bars and expensive dining places are mushrooming everywhere.

“There is a sense of beauty in these places that are are bit messy,” one commenter said: “They are more friendly, they are warmer.” “I agree,” another person says: “From now on, Sanlitun will not be as lively as before.”

“The street may have been somewhat dirty, but I love that kind of feeling,” one local resident (@bulabula安) commented.

There are also many people who say they feel sad over losing their favorite noodle place located across from the Tongli Studios or other popular bars and dining places.

“Goodbye dirty Sanlitun street!”, Beijing musician Liu Dayi writes on Weibo: “I can only say f*ck! Goodbye to that old Sanlitun dirty alley that now belongs to the memories of our youth.”

– By Manya Koetse

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Author

About the author: Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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