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Gulou: Beijing’s Hipster Nabe

Brooklyn by way of Beijing. That's the vibe in the once down-at-the-heels Gulou neighborhood around the city's famous Drum and Bell Towers near Houhai Lake. This hipster hang is a maze of hutongs (narrow car-free alleyways) with vintage boutiques, restaurants, cafes and sceney bars. Andrew Skwarek rounds up five don't-miss spots

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Great Leap Brewing

Opened in 2010 by Cleveland native Carl Setzer, this watering hole was Beijing’s first microbrewery, and its hard-to-find location down a winding hutong hasn’t stopped in-the-know expats from flocking here for craft suds. Great Leap Brewing sources all of its ingredients (green tea, cinnamon, honey, peppercorn, etc.) from China; head here on a warm summer day and sidle up to the wooden bar to try one of the 12 beers on tap (we liked Pale Ale #6 and Honey Ma Gold), or take your beer outside to the stone courtyard.

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Beiluo Bread Bar

Beiluo Bread Bar is a low-key hangout where locals come and set up shop at one of the hightop tables, typing away on their laptop while sipping a Vedett Belgium draft. Popular with the German expat crowd, the café-style eatery is well known for its java and homemade pasta (you can’t go wrong ordering it with salmon, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and pesto). There’s free WiFi, so it’s easy to catch up on work, but chessboards and cold brews mean it’s even easier to while away an afternoon here with friends.

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Mr. Shi’s Dumplings

Ranked 31 out of 9,390 restaurants in Beijing on TripAdvisor, this spot is a don’t-miss, and word on the street is out (glass tabletops cover currency from all over the world), so expect it to be busy. Save this restaurant for a laidback, casual dinner and order the cheese, pork and eggplant dumplings or the basil, cheese, chicken and corn. And for dessert, definitely order a chocolate and strawberry dumpling (or two).

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El Nido

With chalkboard paint walls and a few communal tables out front, El Nido [59 Fangjia Hutong] continues to win awards for its cheap drinks and well-edited beer selection. Bottled beer runs the gamut from Brooklyn Lager to Leffe Blonde. There’s no bar food here per se, but you can order a few small plates (think cheese and meat platters or a salami sandwich) while you hang out with friends and listen to American classics such as Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum.

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Mai Bar

This unpretentious bar is tucked down a hutong, and it’s the type of place you could walk by three times and not even know it’s there. The dimly lit Mai Bar [40 Beiluoguxiang Hutong] has exposed wooden beams and three shelves of liquor; stop in for a quiet night or pre-dinner drink with soft lounge music. Try the Breathless in Beijing (Old Fitzgerald bourbon, homemade Guinness syrup, bitters and absinthe) and the rosemary mojito (Havana rum, rosemary, lime juice, simple syrup and soda).

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