A Journey Into China’s Nightlife Scene

“And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” – The Talking Heads

There I was. Gazing in disbelief. Was it the pulse of the bass beating through my chest? Was it the kaleidoscope of gold chandeliers and laser lights sending beams of light reflecting in every direction? Was it was the group of completely wasted businessmen spilling their drinks all over as they danced together on the bar? Yes. The answer is yes! Yes, this is absolutely ridiculous. Yes, ill shoot another whisky-n-juice. and YES, I’m still wondering how I got here.

Two words pretty much sum up China’s nightlife scene. Totally bizarre. Sure. In top tier cities, you can still visit the pub for a pint of Guiness. You can still find foreigner strongholds to quench your thirst for foreign brews and familiar company, but this isn’t why you came here. You came here for the adventure. Put your socks on and hold on tight because partying in China is a truly unique experience.
Okay, okay. Enough about my stories. Let’s leave to you to explore. To help you navigate China’s nightlife scene as quickly as possible, were going to break it down into four categories:

Foreigner Joints –Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, and various foreigner tourist destinations around China. If you’re craving an atmosphere from home, you had better stick to these cities. Foreigner joints exist to cater mostly to the expat community living in the city. Beijing’s Paddy’o Shays or Chengdu’s Shamrock are prime examples. A wide variety of foreign food is usually available. The atmosphere seems lifted right out of the UK. These establishments make for a great time, and offer some of the comforts of home.

Local bars – These are the bars that exist around the high-rise communities in major cities. You wont find many foreigners here. These are low-key, low energy, but can still be a great place to grab a beer in a quiet social environment. During the time that I was living in China, this type of bar was the rarest that I encountered. I was lucky enough to have one of these establishments in the basement of my apartment building in Wangjing, Beijing. On any given night, I could walk down stairs and have a beer without being disturbed. If I felt like being social, I could usually make friends with Koreans who would usually end up pressuring me into taking shots of so-ju (Korean rice wine). Believe me – its low key.

The KTV – Ill never forget my first experience in a KTV. While exploring our city we had stumbled into this place having no idea what it was. Golden doors, marble floors, beautiful bar girls, and private rooms with luxurious couches. What the hell is this place? As we wandered past glass walls of wine bottle racks my associate and I formed opinions. Wait a minute…… this isn’t…..no…. this isn’t a brothel, is it? We weren’t sure. We decided to play it safe and bounce. We later learned in actuality what this place was. You rent rooms with your friends and spend the night drinking and singing karaoke. It makes so much sense! However not all KTVs exist without scandal. The world of KTVs range from super…. to super dirty. If extravagance isn’t your cup of tea, than try a “hole in the wall” KTV. Its still the same concept, but without the luxury or cleanliness. I can sense your getting excited. Great. You’re definitely a fellow adventure seeker.

Chinese Night Clubs – If you decide to visit clubs in first tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, you’re likely to find women who prey on single foreigner tourists. They will loure you in for a drink and tea scam you! Beware. However; visit a club in a second tier city; WHAM - The holy grail of Chinese nightlife. Who is the most interesting man in the world? You sir. The VIP has arrived. Anything goes. Do whatever you want; no one will stop you. Talk to anyone for a minute and drinks will magically appear in front of you. Dance on the bar, and people will swear you are Justin Bieber. The atmosphere is absolutely ridiculous. Live entertainment, loud music, wanna-be gangsters, ULTRA stimulation for the senses. A sensory overload for the adventure traveler. Several club chains that are sure to deliver a ridiculous time are Club 88 and Babyface.

Stay thirsty my friends……

Written by Matt


Matt founded Backpack In China in 2010 to help travelers make the best of their trips to China. Since that time he has been living and working in Florida, USA. Each summer he for vacations in China for several weeks.

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