We left Beijing and arrived in Nanjing via high-speed rail on a Sunday afternoon. Having one night in town before leaving for Shanghai, I set out to explore Nanjing’s nightlife wondering how it would differ from Beijing’s. In Beijing, our traveling party often explored historic Chinese neighborhoods, known as hutongs, in search of beer and good eats. On a trip to Sanlitun, a well-known bar street in Beijing, we found charming hookah lounges and high-end furnished bars entertained by singers and girls dancing in window fronts. The vibe in these settings could be characterized as low-key by American standards as patrons enjoyed calm, easy nights.
Energy-wise, Nanjing was a different story. My evening started in a lively night market known as Fuzimiao. With the sun down, patrons hustled and bustled through an ornately-lit combination of local vendors peddling the typical tourist fare and commercially branded storefronts ranging from athletic-ware to ice cream. Families shot group photos with selfie sticks and couples ducked into an array of Chinese restaurants. Perhaps it was just the uniqueness of the venue, but the nightlife in Nanjing already appeared to be more exuberant than that in Beijing. After a complete circle of the market, my evening migrated via taxi to 1912, a disco-club district near the city’s Presidential Palace.
Late-night, 1912 is a mix of easy-going lounges and big production clubs. But on this night, the lounges were nearly empty as everyone was packed into one of the district’s music-pumping clubs. As my fellow travelers and I are foreigners, we were ushered in off the street into any club with no cover charge, and given VIP coupons or free drinks. We hopped between five clubs which were largely the same setup. Multiple DJs mixed on an elevated central stage supported by a visual production of lasers and big-screen technology. Patrons enjoyed bottle service and giant bowls of fruit in comfortable booths that could accommodate parties of eight or so. Security guards were always present, standing firmly in a sea of activity. The crowd appeared to be in their early twenties and dressed in modern configurations of black and white, dresses and t-shirts, heels and blazers. Despite the amazing music and production quality, few people danced, but most seemed content to share laughs and good times with their small parties. Our night ended at the only club we found with a small dance floor. Locals invited us to dance with them and offered to share their bottles. One local leaned in and told me he spent four years in America and with a big smile said, “I love America!” I leaned back into him and said, “I love China!” We high-fived, hugged, and shared drinks with laughter.
In the midst of it all, I couldn’t help but think, this was Nanjing — a city living it up past midnight while Beijing slept the night away.