Brick piles have been spotted yet again in a popular Beijing alley, leaving owners of its street level businesses to sweat. This time it's Sanlitun Houjie, the alley directly north of Taikoo Li, running alongside the Tongli Mansion complex and 3.3 Mall, better known as “Dirty Bar Street,” among some of the city's more seasoned expats.
Last month identical brick piles were left at the nearby Sanlitun Lu and Xingfucun, which were followed by hastily built walls and the closures of many of those streets' businesses like BBC, Anchor, Cheers, and Turkish Doner. A similar situation has left popular Andingmen and Bexinqiao-adjacent hutongs like Fangjia and Bexinqiao Santiao, among others, in a tenuous state.
The same fate seems to be awaiting this Taikoo Li strip of bars and shops. When we stopped by this morning, the brick piles had completely blocked off the entrance to Luga's Mexican restaurant on the street's southwest corner, and it appeared to be empty inside. General Manager Cliff Yasay says the construction has lead he and his team to close up and look “for another place around that area," before adding that they hope to reopen in that new location in two month’s time.
Luga’s immediate neighbor, DVD Shop No. 45, also had a fat stack of bricks sitting in front of it. Hu Sheng Xuan, the DVD store’s owner, told us his front entrance will be completely bricked off starting Monday (April 24), but that patrons will still be able to come inside and buy movies from the back entrance. He described the situation as “tai mafan le,” and that it would be very bad for business, but added with a bit of optimism that he is at least lucky enough to be one of the few business owners on the street to be able to remain in operation after the wall goes up on Monday.
Gao, the owner of adjacent liquor shop, is not so fortunate. She’ll close her business permanently on Monday as the bricklayers begin their work, and says she has no intention of trying to open another shop nearby, before lamenting the area’s rapid rent increases. She agreed with Hu’s assessment that most of the businesses on the west side of the strip would be put out of commission by the new gentrification, and added that the authorities told her opposite side – which houses Biteapitta, Kokomo, and other stalwarts – will be unaffected. Biteapitta owner Avi Shabtai, meanwhile, says he has yet to receive any warning from the authorities about closures on his side of the street, leading us to think that those businesses are safe, at least for the time being (and hopefully for much longer than that).
A few meters north of Gao’s shop sits what was Nail Salon Tarot, which is now empty but has a sign out front in Chinese and English informing patrons that they are moving to the nearby 3.3 Mall's fourth floor (we had no luck reaching their owners). Beside it, an official municipal sign has been erected warning about the construction.
The bars and businesses north of that nail salon, like Cocktail Box, Maltail, Mash, and Youth Club, had no brick piles nearby that we could see. This leads us to wonder if they will be spared, while the less polished bars and shops south bear the brunt of the gentrification, though we are still working to confirm that (Hu says they will remain open, but we have no official word either way).
Meanwhile, on Sanlitun Nanjie (the strip around the corner to the south west of dirty bar street, running parallel to Gongti Beilu), we saw a few more brick piles on the side walk right next to Taikoo Li, making us wonder if the strip of businesses there (a tattoo parlor, a fruit seller, a sex shop, some hole in the wall restaurants, and other small operations) are at risk. We asked the owner of the fruit shop, but he said he didn't know and refused to comment on the record (the other businesses didn't appear to be open yet for the day). Those brick piles were close enough to the intersection to make us also wonder if they are leftovers from the dirty bar street refurbishment, but we weren't able to confirm either way.
Many expats will likely be irked by news of yet another Beijing street being bricked up. Yet, the trendiest of Beijingers will likely argue that much of the worst gentrification has already come to pass, because hip businesses like BBC and innovative Fangjia Hutong venues have already suffered. Indeed, chic Beijingers might be indifferent, if not downright welcoming, of the refurbishment of the Taikoo Li-adjacent alley, perhaps in the hopes that its notoriously skeezy reputation disappears with it.
Anyone who enjoys the lively strip's offerings, however, will hopefully be able to get their fix in 3.3 Mall at Nail Salon Tarot's new location, or at DVD Shop No. 45's back entrance for cheap pirated movies. Meanwhile, we'll all of us will continue to wait with more than a bit of trepidation for yet another smattering of Beijing streetside businesses to fall under the construction of these gentrifying walls.
More stories by this author here.
Photos: Kyle Mullin, courtesy of Mike Wester