Beijing’s once hedonistic heart is now dancing to a new beat.
Why Now: The Dashilan district, once an eclectic enclave of Peking opera theaters, opium dens and brothels, was comprehensively cleaned up by the Communists in the ‘50s. After decades in the doldrums, Beijing’s original pleasure district is seeing renewal. Dashilan is now a compelling mix of the time-honored and the transformed, where alleyway mahjong parlors mingle with coffee roasters and galleries.
Where to Go: The Orchid hotel’s new boutique rooms in what’s believed to be the former mansion of a Ming dynasty general should be open by the time you read this. (If not, the original location isn’t far away.) Book a table at trendy Hunanese eatery The Southern Fish for stir-fries and stews infused with house-smoked bacon, Capital M for contemporary fine-dining with Tiananmen Square views or Siji Minfu for old Beijing-style noodles, Peking duck and sweet snacks such as wan dou huang, a cake made with white pea flour. Soloist Coffee sits along one of the most happening hutong alleyways and offers perfectly poured drinks and the best blueberry cheesecake east of New York. A few doors down, Ubi Gallery showcases contemporary Chinese ceramics and tells the history of Dashilan via old maps and postcards. But the best way to travel back in time is on a Bespoke Travel Company walking tour, which snoops along winding alleyways and inside long-forgotten pleasure houses.