The reports of Beijing nightlife's death were greatly exaggerated.
The clock struck 2 a.m. on Wednesday, and Cinderella was still dancing and drinking the night away. In every bar district I visited Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — Sanlitun, Houhai and Chaoyang Park — revelers were enjoying what the city had to offer. That included everything from ubiquitous karaoke bars where groups rented out private rooms, to dive bars that featured cheesy Chinese lounge acts, to high-end, upscale lounges that charged more than 1,500 RMB ($218) for a bottle of Grey Goose.
For weeks leading up to the Olympics, reports had surfaced that officials would crack down and curtail the rambunctious partying Beijing — and the rest of China — is known for. Signs warning against drugs and prostitution were posted all around Sanlitun, an area known for those vices.
Officials reportedly hassled bar and club owners over their business licenses. Tables on the sidewalks were moved inside. Officials also said that bars and clubs would be shutting off the taps and music at 2 a.m., a curfew that was never honored before.
And perhaps worst of all, a report from the South China Morning Post claimed that officials had asked bar owners to ban black patrons. Although few in the mainstream media jumped on the story, the report circulated around the blogosphere and generated enough buzz that city officials had to release a statement denying the report.
The damage, however, was done. Many were already labeling the Games of the XXIX Olympiad the "No Fun Olympics" before the Opening Ceremony. And some spectators were questioning whether bars would really close at 2 a.m., the time when some night spots in Europe and Asia are just getting started. Last call is a foreign concept to them.
But all the concerns seemed to be much ado about nothing. All along Sanlitun bar street Tuesday night, people were sitting outside one of the dozens of bars, enjoying the (relatively) cool Beijing night as security volunteers and police stood nearby.
On the rooftop deck at Kokomo Bar and Restaurant, the salsa band played to a packed crowd as buckets and buckets of Corona moved swiftly from the bar. The owner, William Isler, stood in the corner, enjoying the scene — and the business. Isler, a Floridian who moved to Beijing three years ago to open Kokomo, said his Caribbean-themed bar had been packed throughout the weekend.
Had officials given him any trouble?
"No, not at all," he said.
How about the 2 a.m. curfew?
"We've been closing at five or six," Isler said. "I've been going to bed around seven. It's all about the money, right?"
Down below, the street looked like a busy anthill as partiers hopped from bar to bar.
At the Beach, an upscale patio bar that features real sand, women in high heels and showy dresses that showed, well, a lot, were sipping pricey cocktails. A line formed outside as a group of German fans waited to enter. If you didn't know it (or didn't hear the different languages being spoken), you'd swear you were in New York, Los Angeles or Miami.
Down the street at Suzie Wong's, one of the more famous and long-standing clubs in Beijing, partiers were shaking to salsa, hip-hop and techno. People didn't seem to mind that they had to pay the 100 RMB cover, a fortune in Beijing clubbing circles.
Back in Sanlitun, a group of Canadians, two from Calgary and two from Vancouver, had just left China Doll, an elaborate, glitzy club. The woman in the group was singing on the sidewalk as a policeman watched from the corner.
"We're having a great time," said one man in the group.
They were looking for the next bar. It was 2:15 a.m. Their night was just getting started.