• Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The City of Beijing

Beijing – Power and Play
November 15, 2011
By , Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Temple of Heaven

A city that knows how to balance power with play, Beijing is a formidable opponent. In addition to its dominant place in the world’s economy, Beijing is a force on the travel circuit. An epicenter of culture and history-in-the-making, China was always a lifetime trip – and even more so now.

No Bed Bugs in Beijing

It’s hard to believe that a proper hotel in Beijing was ever a challenge to find, with all the current luxury options. Beijing features top hotels for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere. For more traditional tastes, you can’t go wrong with The Peninsula, St. Regis, and the Ritz-Carlton (Chaoyang District). The Peninsula is near all the tourist sites, while the St. Regis is an expat haven on Embassy Row – and the place to use those hard-earned Starwood points. The Ritz Chaoyang, with some of the finest rooms in the entire chain, sits right in the middle of prime shopping territory. 

Ritz-Carlton

Our preferred Galavante abodes trend towards the chic and modern, like The Opposite House, Park Hyatt, and the new Yi House Art Hotel in the 798 District.  These are the kinds of hotels that bring the party to you. The Opposite House has the most desirable location, in the center of Sanlutin, which is filled with bars, shopping, and restaurants. The theme at this ultra-modern boutique hotel is open spaces – including your commode – so plan on getting very comfortable with your plus-one. 

The Park Hyatt has it all going on: beautiful rooms with master’s views of the city, impeccable service, a soothing spa, high-end restaurants, relaxed lounges, and the hot nightclub Xiu Bar.

Yi House Art Hotel, while further afield, is a hub of Beijing’s art scene. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth paying a visit to dine in Yi’s restaurant, one of the hottest spots in town.

Sensory Overload

Forbidden City

This is not a provincial town. Beijing is a dazzling modern metropolis where even the older neighborhoods are quickly succumbing to luxury high rises that pierce the sky. As for sights: You’ll be on sensory overload with visits to the awe-inspiring Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall of China, and the Forbidden City, which is forbidden no more. To visit the Great Wall of China, head early in the morning to the Mutianyu area, which has fewer crowds and, in our opinion, the most beautiful section of the wall. It’s an intense hike, so bring the right shoes and try not to indulge too much the night before. We realize that’s a near-impossible feat if you follow our itinerary, but you’ve been forewarned. 

To see it all, we suggest you map out the sights you want to hit and hire a driver for the day through Beijing Limousine where the drivers speak English and are also adept at navigating the traffic. Note that to visit the Great Wall, it’s a must to hire a car. If you’re going to be traveling with a group of five or more in a van or mini-bus, make sure to send your itinerary beforehand to the car company so the non-English-speaking drivers will know the drill.

In addition to the big sights, don’t miss the creative 798 District, which has taken the art world by storm; and the traditional quarter of Liulichang, the ancient China of your imagination. In the old NanluoguxiangHutong neighborhood, an entire community still shares a communal bathroom, though this will soon change with the ongoing development of Beijing. Here you’ll find small crafts shops, traditional massage parlors, and 12SQM Bar, one of city’s smallest bars.

Summer PalaceThe gorgeous Summer Palace, another favorite excursion, is a bit further afield but well worth the ride – and a pleasant break from the intense Beijing pollution. The Amanresorts has a beautiful property in the Summer Palace, where you can arrange to have lunch. 

Retail Therapy

In Beijing, shopping is part of the cultural experience. The Panjiayuan Market is crammed with old antique markets where the brave make a weekend pilgrimage at the crack of dawn to seek out old Chinese treasures. Stock up on silk goods, cashmere sweaters, and precious gifts at the Silk Market. Did you buy too much?  Don’t worry; here you can also purchase a suitcase to take all your goodies home.   The place to go for custom-made threads is Yaxu Market, where Kevin at Susan Tailor makes Brooks Brothers-quality suits and traditional Chinese dresses.

Panjiayuan Market

The off-the-beaten-path shopping area of Ritan Park features vintage fur coats, Lanvin dresses that fell off the truck, and other retro pieces. Negotiate hard to get the best deals, and be willing to walk away to achieve the greatest success. 

Not Your Chinese Takeout

Two words: Peking duck. The original Dadong is still the best for feasting on perfectly crispy duck alongside the traditional pancakes, scallions, and hoisen sauce. Dadong also has an extensive menu of hairy crab in season and blue lobster. For a more stylish vibe, head to Duck de Chine, which is near the main sights. One thing’s for sure: You can never have too much Peking duck.

Lei Gardens serves excellent Cantonese cuisine, from lo mein and steamed fish to dim sum. The Hong Kong Lei is Michelin-rated, and it’s just as good in Beijing. 

Sometimes, you just want a low-key evening, without all the Birkins and Loubutins.

For that, head to Niao Ting for yakatori and Manzo for Japanese, both of which are packed every night, so reservations are a must. If you’re a big hitter – and have the connections – ask the concierge to hook you up at the unique People’s Great Hall, where the government conducts business by day and the moneyed set rubs elbows at night – and everyone enjoys the top-notch Chinese feast.

Green T serves beautifully presented Chinese cuisine amid an ultra-minimalist decor. Everything from the fish to the dumplings are prepared with the magic green tea. The restaurant caters to groups: Meals are served family-style and with so many unique items on the menu, you’ll want to sample from each other’s plates.

The Chinese have mastered international cuisine, which is a favorite with the droves of expats and self-made billionaire locals. The Chinese national football team, business folks, and generally beautiful people congregate at Alla Osteria for their Italian food fix and, just as importantly, to get tipsy on one of the better selections of Italian wine in the city. 

The Sanlutin neighborhood is hot, hot, hot these days, with some of the trendiest bars and restaurants in Beijing, like the stylish tapas joint Mosto. Kill your hangover with the champagne brunch at St. Regis, where you can gorge on everything from sushi and dim sum to Italian and traditional breakfast goodies.

In the mood for good old American grub? Sink your teeth into a juicy burger and fries at Chef Too. The Chinese are so good at copying that it almost tastes better than the real thing.

Party Like a Billionaire

The Chinese have quickly adapted to aperitif hour, and there’s no better place to partake than at the appropriately named Aperitivo. Everyone’s favorite wine bar is Enoterra, and for cocktails in the sky, head to the rooftop lounge Acqua.

The Chinese have always liked their hard liquor, but at Q Bar it’s softened a bit in the form of elegant cocktails. The Park Hyatt’s Xiu is a little less in vogue now than when it first opened, but it stills shows off the Beijing scene. The lounge Mesh at The Opposite House draws the after-dark crowd with its relaxed vibe.

The Ferrari has replaced the rickshaw as the preferred mode of transport for the Beijing elite. The hottest clubs – Capital Club and Chang An Club – make New York City’s velvet ropes look like a breeze. It gets even more elite at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. How do you gain access as a mere mortal? This is where you’ll need to turn to Quintessentially concierge services or a very high-end hotel concierge. Flattery (and a big tip) always helps grease the wheels.

But, reserve your late night for the naughtier side of Beijing, mainly in the form of Chocolate. Like its name, this cavernous club is a sinfully sweet experience, with a different sort of power play of its own.