No longer just Shanghai's little sister, and hot on the heels of Hong Kong after dark, Xiamen is now a happening place too. Cosmopolitan Xiamen has a shining armor - or a glittering night gown if you prefer. Whichever way you look at it, whether you feel the brand new Xiamen is feminine or masculine, one thing is for sure, the LED lightings have given a bright new look to its city nightlines and nightlife.
Xiamen nightlife in terms of Western popular culture is only a recent phenomenon. Ten years ago, when Beijing Beer Street was bustling with westerners and local Beijingers alike, Xiamen was experiencing little or no nightclub fever at all. Only a few night venues were scattered around the CBD areas. Popular Asian culture, such as KTV bars and nightclubs, was visible, but still only a handful dance clubs could be seen. However, turn the clock back twenty years, and mainland China would still be experiencing nearly complete darkness when it came to nightlife. For the past twenty years though, as far as nightlife and fun is concerned, Xiamen and the rest of mainland China have definitely come a long way.
Young dancers on dance poles and stages are common scenes in most Xiamen disco clubs
The Dark History of China’s Nightlife
China seems to be a country often in conflict with its past. The cultural divide between the old style of life and the modern world is apparent throughout the usually conservative country, and the glaring contrast is the rollicking Chinese nightlife, where one can drink and dance and sing in bars, some of which are next door to ancient and austere looking temples. To older Chinese people, the nightlife phenomenon is as new as the Reform and Opening generation that pursue it. These young, well-paid white collar workers regard a night on the town as their hard-earned reward for a long, high-pressured working day.
It is only in the past hundred years, however, that the enjoyment of nightlife has become accepted in China. In ancient times, going out after dark was actively discouraged in order to instill temperate habits in the populace and keep them from harm. But ever since China came in contact with Western culture and its influence, the ongoing evolution from an agricultural to an industrial society altered the traditional Chinese concept of night. Shanghai, an adventurers’ paradise in the 1920s and 1930s, quickly adapted to nightlife, becoming the "SleeplessCity."
There is no real center to Shanghai nightlife. It sprawls in the same direction as the city does - with small pockets rising up every once in while. Many of the most popular bars and clubs are pretty hard to miss, but the best way to find something to do after dark is to consult the English media or a trusted Shanghai resident. The closer you are to The Bund, the more drinks and admission prices skyrocket, so beware. The best clubs are of course near here. The enigmatically named ‘Real Love’ is Shanghai’s nightlife hot spot, for now anyways. These things have a tendency to change.
Since the reform and opening policy, life in China has become varied and colorful. Surveys show that fifty percent of the daily spending of people in Shanghai goes to nightlife, while residents of Guangzhou and Shenzhen spend even more. In Beijing, an increasing number of new consumers spend their leisure time in traditional bars and eateries around ShichahaiLake, and shops, restaurants and entertainment venues have considerably extended their business hours to meet the demands of their younger clientele.
Young erotic dancers are popular among Xiamen disco clubs
Compared to people in the south of China, the inhabitants of Beijing are more conservative. Most of them, the married in particular, prefer to stay at home watching TV or chatting with friends, which is why the streets are quite often deserted after nine o'clock at night, around the time most of the stores close. But don't despair, for you can always find places to spend your evenings if you are not tired after the day's sightseeing. Almost every four- or five-star hotel has facilities for entertainment. Besides hotels, nightlife venues are mostly in the city center. You can enjoy the Peking Opera, acrobatics, dramas, local ballad singing, song and dance performances, attend a music concert, or drop in at a roadside disco. It's best to stick to places that have been recommended by other tourists or Chinese friends, though.
Currently, the city is witnessing a mushrooming of foreign theme pubs, new exotic bars and locally run clubs. Foreign pubs, bars, cafes and dance clubs attract foreign residents and tourists as well as young Chinese. The admission fee is usually around 50-80 yuan and beer is priced at 15-20 yuan.
In Beijing, there is the "New Bar Street" and the "Old Bar Street". The New Bar Street runs along the edges of BeihaiPark (northwest of the Forbidden City). These bars are where the hip young locals go for a night out on the town, whereas the Old Bar Street is a bit more for the tourist clientele. The New Bar Street is a wonderful place to stroll around on a warm summer evening with gorgeous views around Beihai.
You should visit the Hard Rock Cafe at least once while you are in Beijing. Many expatriates as well as locals are on hand every night. They serve good, western-style food, and the entertainment is great. Almost every night starting around 10 p.m. a live band will perform 70s music and the dance floor will be full. The bands are usually from other countries (such as Austrailia) and are excellent.
Another good place to experience Chinese nightlife is an area in Beijing called Sanlutin, also known as “Bar Street.” As you can probably guess, there's a theme to this section of the city. The two main streets are Sanlutin Lu and Sanlutin Nanlu – the former is set up for tourists, the latter for locals and ex-pats. No matter which you prefer, there are plenty of options – a crawl down either one of these streets (or up one and down the other, for more experienced drinkers) will provide enough beer to hold you over until closing time.
A recent Internet survey on Beijing summer nightlife showed that sixty percent of people’s leisure spending goes to drinks. The same survey showed that seventy percent of people take part in Beijing's summer nightlife and that sixty percent party till past midnight each weekend. Also evident was that entertainment venues are generally geared to young singles and mainly comprise pubs, clubs and karaoke bars.
Xiamen Night Glitters
Xiamen night is glittering with LED lights
These are just two of the main cities known for their nightlife. As of 2007, most of the major cities in China, such as Chengdu and Qingdao, have at least a few places for people to choose from, and in Xiamen, the fun has also just begun.
Many areas in Xiamen have popular bars, discos, late night cafes, and clubs that are crowded with both Chinese and young expats. Popular night spots in Xiamen are concentrated in a few areas. The Bailuzhou area is one of the few old night spots in Xiamen; Binlang Road Bar Street offers a variety of options, while HaiwanPark is a newcomer. Some others are scattered around Xiamen CDB.
Many of these entertainment areas in Xiamen are specializing, attracting a particular set of customers. The patrons of these establishments have their own favorites regarding music, but also know where they’d like to drink a cup of latte in a western-style coffee-house on a late evening, meet new expatriates, travellers and locals in one of the bars, or dance their sore feet away after midnight. Xiamen has a little bit of everything.
From the famous coffee house The Coffee Club to the almost equally popular Javaroma on the cappuccino strip along the bank of YuandangLake in Dongdu, fast cars, flashy gentlemen and sexy ladies are a regular scene. For obvious reasons, they make their first stop here before they move off into the thick of the city’s nightlife. Nearby, Elite, Labomba, and True Love are already warming up for the after midnight rush.
For some patrons who are more traditional or mellow, London Bar, the Oriental, or 1972 are the picks of the night. Standing next to the bar or sitting around a small coffee table, they drink their stress away while sharing the happenings of the day or the events of the recent weeks with their friends.
Not far from these areas, just around the corner in fact, the HaiwanPark night entertainment area is ballooning with after dark fun. The latest additions to Xiamen’s growing appetite for Western night culture are the Me&You2 Bar and Bar Blanc. Both have become popular hangouts for expats, the trendy locals and hard partiers. KK and Honey Club are another two examples of the latest additions to this entertainment area.
Like many cities, Xiamen also has its fair share of squalid night spots. As you walk into some dingy KTV bars or night venues with rather dubious looking girls lurking in the shadows, you may feel that you're selling your soul to the devil. Fortunately, these places only survive in the back street areas in relatively poorer parts of Xiamen.
But a bar nestled on the more respectable Binlang Road Bar strip, and Jiangtou night spot aims to change all this by freeing your soul with good company and a homey atmosphere. Granway Coffee’s affable manager Evan says he wants to create a bar and coffee lounge that's essentially a home away from home. And in many ways it is. Customers often take over the music system, choosing from the eclectic selection of CDs, DVDs, while its home theater can be used for free as part of the services.
Fillipino singers and bands are popular in western pubs and disco in Xiamen
Some of the More Popular Discos and Bars for expats and foreign tourists
Trendiest and hottest bar in Xiamen. Located in the trendy district of Dongdu, it is 100 metres to the right of Sofitel Hotel. This place is frequented by the trendy locals and is definitely not a mediocre bar to while the night away.
Address: YuemingBuilding, 14 Jianye Road, Xiamen
This dance club, featuring both a live band, the Filipino Residence Band, and an in-house DJ, is the club in Xiamen with most expat customers. Party-goers can groove to the hip-hop beat the band plays or the fast techno music played during a set break.
3) La Bomba 辣蹦吧
Address: YuemingBuilding, 14 Jianye Road, Xiamen
This is a very busy disco, with non-stop hot music, non-stop dancing, where you can party the whole night through.
4) Soul Bar
Address: 188 Hubindong Road
Trendy setting resembles a human factory, with old machineries placed amidst halls and front entrance, creating a feel of ruggedness but combine with refined lighting and bar equipments. A small dance area placed with raised single person stages for singer and performer. Live music and singing performances set up DJ latest techno music. VIP ladies cards and other specials for special groups.
5) Balabala 芭啦芭啦
Address: 188 Hubindong Road
6) 一代佳人KTV Bar & Night Club
Address: 29 Houjiangdai Road
With a 15,000m2 floor area, a 5-star décor, over 100 KTV rooms, and a big stage for large group performances, Night Club is definitely not small when it comes to nightlife merriment.
Meet strangers and make them your friends in this venue. With a special note pad provided on each table, you can write messages and have them delivered by the waitress/waiter to ‘strangers’ you wish to meet. It makes the first move less hard for the shy ones. The place is usually packed from 9 pm onwards. On special days or holidays, seats need to be pre-booked to ensure vacancies.
10) KK DISCO
Address: Haiwan Park
11) Tienlai Bar 天籁吧 Phone: 5851458
Oldest bar in Xiamen, established in 1996 – a time when hardly any bars were around. Yet now, Tienlai still stands strong while most of the old pubs have already long disappeared.
12) Bar Blanc
Address: Haiwan Park
The immediate neighbor of Me&You2, painted white, with a dainty ambience, this newcomer in Haiwan Park is fast becoming an favorite with both the expats and locals. The bar offers special discounts on drinks and free finger food on specific nights of the week. You can choose to stay under the covered portion of the bar or opt to say in front of it where it’s open and at times breezy, giving you a relaxing feel.
13) ME&YOU 2
Address: Haiwan Park
The immediate neighbor of Bar Blanc, Me&You2 offers a darker appearance. Its mixed clientele are often seen at the bar-counter watching ESPN on the tube or whatever else is on. Some will be intently listening to the Filipino band, while others, well, will simply be gulping down their favorite Tsingtao beer.
14) London Bar 伦敦吧
Address: Guanren Lu (behind Marco Polo Hotel) 官任路
A real London pub right here in Xiamen, China 是一家纯正的英国酒吧.
15) Vincent Van Gogh 文森梵谷
98, Houdixi Lu, Xiamen(West Gate of Jinbang Park)
A pub and a cultural art centre, with wines, books, CDs and snacks
16) Single Royal Bar 单身贵族酒吧
Binlang Bar strip 酒吧街南湖苑
Sports bar with a big screen
17) Shanghai Night 夜上海.不见不散
Address: 53 Binlang Bar strip 槟榔路53号
18) Night Cat Bar 夜猫酒吧
Address: Nanhu Luxury Apartment, 103-105 Hubinnan Road, Xiamen
Soft music and elegant atmosphere - no loud music or loud noise. Couples in pairs sipping red wine. A cocktail bar offering over thirty different cocktails.
Nightlife and the Beach
Xiamen nightlife and beach culture are finally setting in. Though the beach and nightlife have not quite mixed in Xiamen yet, there is a trend towards this. In recent times a number of entertainment centers have been established in various parts of the city next to the water.
Certainly Xiamen has the weather, the long beaches and the growing nightlife to become a party town. Following the pattern of beaches like Miami Beach, Patong Beach and Bondi Beach, can the local culture aided by Xiamen’s ex-pat population turn our beaches into another party strip under the night sky? It isn’t that hard to imagine and certainly not impossible to achieve.
Xiamen is fast becoming an exciting cosmopolitan city. Locals, expatriates and tourists are enjoying the glamour the city brings and the exciting nightlife plays a big, if not major, role in this. Beijing’s and Shanghai’s influences on Xiamen nightlife are undeniably evident, and it’s only a matter of time before Xiamen totally measures up to the levels of these cities’ nightlife. With the unstoppable rise of Xiamen’s nightlife fever, the only question really is how long before people will flock from many other Chinese cities for a taste of Xiamen’s totally unique nightlife experience. Certainly, a lot more is yet to come – and we’ll be looking forward to it.