It’s not difficult to understand why Shuangjing neighborhood – located in the south of Beijing’s Chaoyang district – is often labelled as the “back garden of the CBD.”
For a visual representation, just stand on almost any Shuangjing street and look north; in the foreground, you’ll see the greenery and high-rise residential buildings of Shuangjing. Meanwhile, in the background, you’ll see the China CITIC (China Zun) Building, as well as other icons of the CBD skyline.
The China CITIC Tower, as seen from Huangmu Chang Road. Image via That's/Alistair Baker-Brian
The neighborhood encompasses shopping malls, the Today Art Museum, numerous eateries and bars, a jungle of apartment blocks and everything else in between.
The Today Art Museum. Image via That's/Alistair Baker-Brian
While it lies around only 3 kilometers from the Beijing CBD, Shuangjing certainly doesn’t have the same hustle-and-bustle feel as its busier neighbor – hence why we think the “back garden” label is pretty accurate.
It wasn’t always this way.
Before 2002, it was less of a back garden and more of an industrial base. Walk along Baiziwan Road and you’ll come across some old railway tracks – industrial remnants of days gone by – as well as the still operational railway line which runs parallel to the road.
Old railway tracks on Baiziwan Road. Image via That's/Alistair Baker-Brian
A train passes by on the Beijing-Harbin Line with the Beijing CBD in the background. Image via That's/Alistair Baker-Brian
An investment in Shuangjing from Fuli Real Estate would help transform the neighborhood for good. The company poured RMB3.2 billion into Fuli Cheng – an area on the west side of the east third ring road which includes Fuli Shopping Center, as well as numerous residential communities.
At that time, it represented the most expensive public bid for land since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, as reported by Beijing Daily.
Someone who knows Shuangjing better than most is Canadian expat Trevor Metz. He co-founded Plan B – a Shuangjing eatery and watering hole offering what Metz describes as “honest” Western food at reasonable prices.
Metz also runs Confidential – a Shuangjing cocktail bar which opened in 2021.
While chatting with us online, Metz even says he’s “used to Shuangjing being the forgotten area.” One can’t help but see his point; the area doesn’t quite have the same iconic status as places like Guomao, 798 Art District, certain hutong, etc., especially when it comes to dining, leisure and nightlife.
With our curiosity sparked, we thought it would be a great time to head to Plan B, not least because the venue is celebrating its 10th anniversary year, but also to find out more about a supposedly “forgotten” area of the capital.
On a sunny August day over food and RMB25 pints of Tiger beer (more on that later), we asked Metz about memorable moments at Plan B over the past 10 years, how he’s navigated the venue through recent tough times, and whether Shuangjing really has been “forgotten.”
What would you say is the concept behind Plan B? What makes it stand out from other bars?
Plan B is a bit of an enigma. I would say it’s a bit of a dive bar. We haven’t remodeled in years – I’d say about eight and a half. And, it needs it. I know that.
But, it’s such uncertain times right now. We’ve lost so much over the past year with restrictions and government regulations.
It’s been difficult to invest in new infrastructure. We’re thinking about it now though, because things seem to be going in the right direction. We’re probably going to have a facelift here in the not-too-distant future.
Plan B is mainly about good quality food with good quality ingredients. And, it’s really honest food. That’s what sets us apart from most Western places in the area.
I’m constantly trying out new recipes. I have more failures than successes. But, there’s not one single item on the menu that I’m not proud of.
We’re also reasonably priced – good drinks and quality products at a good price.
What would you say are some of the most memorable moments at Plan B over the last 10 years?
We used to do the Shuangjing block parties. We would get around 5,000 people on the street with around 50-60 vendors. Those days are clearly over. We can’t do these events the way we used to.
One of my favorite events was with a good friend called James Oliver. We used to do the Shuangjing Showdown in our backyard here. We did outdoor boxing and MMA. The event attracted a lot of people, and everybody would have a great time.
There are also the everyday memories. We are like a family here. This is a place you come where everybody really does know your name. We make sure our wait staff learn people’s names. We have a lot of regulars here, because people like to be known. We’re mates more than anything.
What did you do this year to celebrate the 10-year anniversary?
For the entire month of September, we went back to 2012 prices on our original products, which included Tiger beer (RMB25 per pint) and Plan B Burger and fries (RMB50).
A Plan B burger. Image via Plan B/Trevor Metz
We also had a party – a BBQ in the backyard. We had beers and burgers for free for a couple of hours, just to say thank you for all the years that our customers have been supporting us.
Customers enjoying Plan B's 10th anniversary celebrations. Image via Plan B/Trevor Metz
That was a fantastic day. We’re hoping we can have more days like that, if restrictions allow.
How are coping with the shrinking expat customer base in China?
What’s funny is that when we’re open, our sales are better than they ever have been. That’s because we have more Chinese customers than we’ve ever had before.
We don’t have as many expats. However, the Chinese customers that come here know the difference between honest and traditional Western food compared with what they used to get when we first opened 10 years ago.
They’ve travelled. A lot of them have been educated abroad. They understand what a real fish and chips is supposed to taste like. They know what honest burgers are. They don’t want the Chinese facsimile of those dishes.
That’s why we’ve never changed. We’ve never tried to “appeal to Chinese.” I think that’s a trap that a lot of Western restaurants fall into. As long as we keep things as traditional and as honest as possible, the Chinese appreciate that. They know what they’re getting.
It’s like going to a North American Chinese food restaurant. Some of it might good. But, the really good Chinese food is the traditional stuff that you get in China.
What was Shuangjing like 10 years ago?
A girl I was with years ago, who I ended up marrying, convinced me to come over to Shuangjing because Fulicheng had just been built. Pingguoyuan had just been built, but it was all brand spanking new.
A lot of the roads were still dirt roads or they just ended at dead ends. The changes that I’ve seen in this neighbourhood are like night and day.
I was talking to an old Beijinger about Shuangjing. She told me that they always thought Shuangjing was the absolute sticks – the backend of the whole city where nobody would go.
Now, it’s basically part of the CBD.
Do you really think Shuangjing is a “forgotten area” of Beijing?
I actually do think that. I think Shuangjing has a lot to offer for people who live in Sanlitun or in other more populated areas.
Even some people who live in the CBD consider this to be a “long way” to go, despite being only a 10-minute bicycle ride from Guomao.
I feel like this area has always been a little bit under-appreciated, except by the people who live here. People who live here love living here.
When people do come here, they tend to say, “oh. This is actually quite nice.”
The people that come here tend to keep coming here. That’s why our customer base is so loyal.
People who live in Shuangjing tend to stay in Shuangjing. If necessary, they might move for work. But, people who do move away from the area often tell me that they wish they had stayed.
[Cover image via That's/Alistair Baker-Brian]