Beijing: Gay and Lesbian
The Forbidden City
If you’re looking for a gay friendly city in China, then Shanghai is probably further ahead than Beijing, having said that, the capital city's once non-existent gay scene is slowly but surely developing legs. Everyone you meet in Beijing will tell you how much the city has changed in recent years. While not as radical as the space-age transformation of Shanghai, solemn Beijing is slowly re-furbishing its historical and cultural assets as it upgrades its infrastructure.
That said, Beijing is not a place for abundant nightlife or a quickie holiday romance. Educated gays tend to socialize in small circles of friends, visiting bars and saunas only occasionally and in groups.
The current go-to club on the gay Beijing scene is a cushy, dance club and cocktail bar called Destination, which pulls in a mix of trendy young Chinese residents, corporate mavericks from points afar, and hip ex-pats. Weekdays can be a little quiet here, but Destination kicks into high gear Wednesday (for its popular midweek celebration), Friday, and Saturday nights.
You'll find several gay-friendly restaurants within a 15-minute walk of Destination, including romantic Mare (Spanish Tapas) and cosy Alameda (a fashionable bistro serving fusion Asia-meets-Brazil fare).
Just about any of the see-and-be-seen restaurants along the entertainment strips near Worker's Stadium, such as Sanlitun Bar Street, have at least a nominal gay scene - the neighbourhood is known as the Chaoyang District. Of course, Western culture - and franchises - continues to make inroads throughout Beijing, and it's no shock that the Starbucks near Sanlitun Bar Street is also a popular social spot for upwardly mobile types, including plenty of gays and lesbians.
Never-the-less, a number of gay venues have found a steady clientele and signs indicate that the emerging middle class will shortly experience an explosion of lifestyle opportunities that accompanies growing economic power around the country.
Gay culture is still very much on the down low, but you're unlikely to encounter hostility or unfriendliness based on your sexual orientation. Still, it's wise to avoid obvious displays of public affection with your same-gender friends or partners.
If you're planning a trip of around two weeks or more, you might consider tacking on a few days in Hong Kong, which has one of the most vibrant gay scenes in Asia.
Beijing has no gay-specific accommodations; however, the major international chains are all quite gay-friendly, especially the Ritz-Carlton, a sleek and contemporary property in west Beijing's newly developed Financial Street District. This isn't the most charming of neighbourhoods, as it's mostly a haven of banks and office towers, but the staff at the Ritz is top-notch and can help you get anywhere you're going. The facilities - including a spa and two restaurants, Qi (Chinese) and Cepe (mod-Italian) - are simply not to be missed. The Ritz is also developing a second property, in the bustling Chaoyang District, to open in late 2007.
Closer to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Chaoyang District, the outstanding Grand Hyatt Beijing has sumptuous and contemporary rooms as well as arguably the best restaurant (called Made in China) in the city to sample authentic Peking duck and "beggar's chicken." The gay-friendly Hyatt chain is also busily readying a new Beijing property, the ultra-luxe Park Hyatt, which will open in the Chaoyang District later in 2007. If you're looking to save a little money but still enjoy a comfortable room and a super-central Chaoyang District location, try the Comfort Inn & Suites Beijing, a reliable and well-run option with extremely low rates.