Entering Bling, one of the city's newest nightclubs, was like walking into a cultural vortex. Hip-hop blared deafeningly from the speakers. Partiers imbibed on bottles of vodka or whiskey from their tables overlooking the dance floor. Attractive women in high heels and short dresses sipped colorful cocktails. A faux Bentley was used as a DJ stand and, in Tawny Kitaen-like fashion, as a creative dance prop.
The nightclub near Chaoyang Park had been rushed to completion last week to capitalize on Olympic traffic. But I had been there a few days before the Opening Ceremony and it looked like it was weeks from opening. Welcome to the new China, where a flashy, glitzy nightclub like Bling can seemingly spring up overnight.
Articles about China's emergence from its dark ages have been written ad nauseam. But how fun is it to read article after article about China's economics, architecture, transportation or politics? If someone wants to experience how much China — especially its youth — has changed, just hit the nightlife scene, not just in Beijing but in cities all along the coast and in the interior.
The U.S. has not only exported its movies, products and materialism, it's also exported the club culture.
"There are always new bars. It's totally new to us," said Luke Jiao, one of my guides Saturday night. Jiao, 24, is a teacher and a consultant for one of the many English schools in the city.
In the past, Jiao said young people like himself and his friends would rarely go out bar- or club-hopping. A night out meant a long dinner, bottles of Tsingtao beer and a nightcap in an all-night karaoke bar. Not anymore. A lively Saturday night (or even Monday night — there are enough people in China to make weekends irrelevant) means beats from Kanye West, Jay-Z and Soulja Boy.
"I like bars because I like to dance," said Jiao, whose favorite entertainer is Justin Timberlake (he has a JT ring tone).
Saturday night, Jiao and his friends took me along for a night in Beijing. We got started at midnight, still early in BPT (Beijing Partying Time). We first went to Alfa in the Sanlitun district, a bar where you slipped off your shoes to sit on cushy seats and pillows. The water fountain provided ambiance and feng shui.
Then, we hopped over to Richy by the Workers' Stadium, a club popular with the Chinese crowd. It was packed, with barely any room to move. Whiskey, the preferred drink among Chinese clubbers, was flowing like water. At 2:00 a.m., still going strong (most of us, at least), it was off to Bling.
China has eagerly accepted the partying culture and taken it to another level. Just like building projects like the Three Gorges Dam and the CCTV building, everything has to be bigger, better, sleeker, louder, more ostentatious.
"It's just a whole different scale ... the scale is much larger than clubs in the United States," said Alan Wong, a club and restaurant magnate in Beijing.
Bling, which sits atop a 24-hour sports bar, celebrates the, well, bling of hip-hop culture and music. There's a reason why the Bentley sits in the middle of the dance floor. In the same shopping mall, you can party like Samantha and her crew at Sex In Da City or experience a slice of Bavaria with Beijing flair at the Tsingtao Bear Palace (waitresses even wear Bavarian dresses).
Down the street in Chaoyang Park stands the three-story Suzy Wong's, where clubbers can dance to salsa or hip-hop or reggaetton in decor done up like an 19th-century opium den. Next door, at Wong's upscale Beach, which features real sand and beach showers (unfortunately not in use when I was there), hipsters lounge under canopies on the rooftop deck as the DJ spins from his outpost a story above. With so much competition, bar and club owners had to work hard for partiers to party hard at their establishment.
Bling was still going strong at 4:00 a.m., but I was not. There was talk of going to Ghost Street, a street lined with all-night restaurants, for delectable and alcohol-soaking dumplings. After some debate, we all decided to call it a night. Inside Bling, the Bentley was still getting good use, hand marks imprinted on its hood. Music echoed onto the sidewalk as we left to find a taxi. Dawn would greet many of the other clubgoers.