Temple Bar – Beijing, China
206 Gulou E St, Dongcheng, Beijing, China
In the heart of Beijing’s coolest district for all things music is the hottest bar in the city. Tucked away down a short alley in Gulou 鼓楼, just north of the famous “Nan Luo Gu Xiang 南锣故乡,” is the venue everyone’s been talking about since 2011. It positively vibrates every weekend with its relentless, pulsating crowds and is known by the expats as “Temple Bar.”
Also known by its Chinese name, “Tan 坛,” Temple Bar has filled a much-needed niche in the live music world of Beijing. It is the only bar with the unique capacity of 260 sweaty people who don’t mind rubbing elbows on the dance floor. This makes it smaller than the large rock rooms in the city—some of which require rental fees and hold between 700-1500 people—and larger than the smaller folks rooms that hold an average maximum of about 150 people when stuffed beyond capacity.
Yet, despite this claustrophobic image, even a modest crowd of 100 people can make a show at Temple Bar feel like a warm one. That’s because it has the only corner stage in the city that can hold a full band, which gives the room a panoramic feeling of musical inclusivity. In short, you can’t go anywhere in the bar’s main space without whatever is happening on the the stage being part of your evening. This is thanks, in part, to fantastic sight lines, including the venue’s raised floor at the bar for those not interested in sitting or dancing but who still want a view of the band. Rather than the box-style venue so common in this Chinese rock world, Temple Bar’s corner stage is a fresh set-up for Beijing.
Speaking of style, the venue was opened by three artists who are each eclectic creators themselves: a photographer, a visual artist, and a musician. They’ve seen to it that Temple Bar hasn’t been pigeonholed into a single stylistic musical category. Having hosted everything from traditional folk to experimental jazz, they continue to push their audiences to embrace whatever sounds are presented to them on whatever night they decide to arrive. There are no rules at Temple Bar.
Probably the most important niche this venue fills in Beijing is their strict policy against charging a door cover. This ensures a consistent ebb and flow of curious crowds. No other music venue in town offers this perk to music goers and thus, they have guaranteed traffic, especially on the weekends. In turn, the venue can afford to provide a set fee for the bands so that no one goes home unpaid.
Last year, the bar began to serve food as well as drinks. A simple Western-style pub fare of burgers and chips has been very well received by the late-night partygoers. The kitchen remains open until at least 3am and sometimes as late as 4am every night. No other live music bar in the city comes with a midnight snack.
Finally, one of the three owners of Temple Bar is an ex-pat from France. This may not seem significant, but his presence in the bar has made it possible to have a truly diverse crowd of both foreigners and locals, something often cited as a problem for venues in the city. In Temple Bar’s inclusive environment, everyone feels comfortable. Menus and price boards as well as all of their monthly promotional material are fully bilingual, (English and Chinese) and staff are friendly and often able to take orders in English. Bands from overseas are often invited to Temple Bar to jam in an “after party” environment and considering the exposure the venue provides, they’d be crazy to decline.
As an artist who has performed on its stage, I must admit that the stage sound isn’t fantastic thanks to the room’s irregular ceilings and cement dance floor, but the vibe in the room most certainly makes up for it. And, as a regular in the crowd, I can also attest to the front of house’s ability to get the music under one’s feet. China rarely seems to have dancing crowds in smaller venues, so I speak from experience when I tell you that making the crowd jump at Temple Bar—or being among the jumpers—is a great thrill. When that’s accomplished, the last thing that matters is a subpar monitor mix.
In comparison to the monstrous population of this city, the Beijing music scene is still a small one. Temple Bar is currently its epicenter. On any given night, some of the stars of the scene or the city’s leading musicians are camped at its long tables with beers in hand. This is the place to be to really get to know who’s who in China’s capital city rock scene. Sooner or later, all other gigs finished elsewhere, we all seem to end up at Temple Bar.
It’s the place to be.
Review written by Ember Swift
Check out the venue website here: http://templebarlivehouse.com/