Inside northern Xining’s Huang He brewery, there is a small, mysterious room whose door is labeled “Night in Xining” in clear, if cryptic, English. While only a privileged few know what lies behind said door, don’t feel left out if you can’t get in: despite the room’s name, it does not contain all of Xining’s night activities (much less the nights themselves), and plenty outside of this room awaits those ready for a night out on the town.
Nights out in Xining are memorable largely because of the city’s lack of cosmopolitanism and simultaneous pretensions of being an international city. In many clubs or bars, you will be the center of attention. Expect people to invite you to share drinks and conversation. Also expect staring. Especially if you are dancing.
While famous Tibetan singers and performers are often in town and some Chinese bands stoop to visit this outpost, Xining offers quite little in the way of evening cultural attractions aside from government-operated “minority dancing” shows. Don’t expect a list of concerts, plays, movies, operas, and lectures to rival New York; in fact, don’t expect a list at all – most events are advertised through posters and word-of-mouth. Most Xining nightlife, instead, revolves around dinner, drinking, dancing, and KTV, or some combination thereof. As such, I will list a few bars and clubs below by location.
Xiadu Dajie 夏都大街: Near the yupster haven of Guojicun, the section of Xiadu Dajie between Nan Dajie and Nanxiaojie has become one of Xining’s premier bar areas. Expect high prices for Xining and slightly more foreigners than elsewhere (read: maybe one or two other non-locals). The go-to for many is Bill’s Bar 火柴人, whose friendly bartenders also serve good western food. There are a number of other bar/coffeehouse places nearby – just look around. For a long time, missionary-owned Greenhouse (no alcohol) is the expat favorite for coffee and pizza. But now, the opening of non-missionary-owned Tazza Coffee in 2012 has changed the coffee/bar landscape.
Wenhua Jie Bar Street 文化街酒吧街: Just off of Wenhua Jie in the heart of downtown is this multistory complex of bars surrounding a plaza and an ancient Confucius Temple. I must confess I’ve only been to the Blue Lotus (2nd floor, left side), but I’ve heard others recommended, so sample around. This is also close to the Daxin Jie Night Market 大新街夜市 if you want to do a bit of shopping along with your barhopping.
Xining West Gate Stadium Bars and Clubs 西宁西门体育馆: For some strange reason, stadiums and sports fields seem to be popular places for concentrations of clubs and bars in many of China’s major cities (Beijing’s Gongti area comes to mind). However, Xining takes it a step further, with a number of these institutions actually located inside the stadium building (albeit accessed through different entrances). Shop around by listening for the loudest music. There is also a pool hall in the basement accessed from the side of the stadium facing the river.
88 Jiuba 88酒吧: Though isolated from other such halls of debauchery, 88 remains one of Xining’s best dance clubs with a number of strange dance floors at different heights and androgynous club employees belting out Cantopop hits in between doses of techno. Expensive drinks. Located on the south side of Qiyi Lu 七一路 between Bei Dajie and Wuyi Lu (2nd floor, easily visible due to neon). Or just ask a taxi for “baba”.
Shengdi 圣地 (aka Donghu Binguan 东湖宾馆): Inside this behemoth of a white hotel overlooking People’s Park (descend to the hotel from the Xinghai Lu兴海路/Tongren Lu 同仁路 intersection) is a palace of a Tibetan nightclub which regularly attracts famous acts. Expect a sort of variety-show ambiance with a number of acts. Also expect to be dragged up on stage for Tibetan circle dancing (come prepared if possible; practice at Xinning Square or the Nanmen Tiyuguan in the warmer months).
Changjiang Lu 长江路 KTV palaces: Changjiang Lu hosts a number of the city’s top-end KTV places. But you don’t need a guide to find KTV – chances are you’ll see a place within thirty seconds of walking out the door.