by

June 27, 2011

If you get off the light railway at Kaifaqu Station, you come right out onto a city within a city. A lot of the buildings here look as though they have icing on top of them and are melting away at the edges. You may think circus music should be playing through the air, but club music, hip-hop, and rock come from behind doors. Around corners are huge statues of animals, multicolored and at times creepy. Totem poles appear to hold up parts of some overhead rooms. On one wall is a mural of the characters from the old Cookie Crisp cereal box. There is even, at the northwest edge of all this, a three-story slide that looks tempting but appears to rust even as you look at it and is therefore in no condition to be slid down. You’ve reached Five Color City (Wu Cai Chéng), a several-block area well-known to DDA residents not only for its weird structures but also for its nightlife.

During the day, FCC feels deserted, like a beachfront carnival in the fall perhaps, only without the beach. Teenagers often play soccer on the pavement of the eastern side. By afternoon, they’re roller-skating. Some are singing karaoke next to the rink. There are bumper cars and sometimes a few other small rides. At all times of the day taxis will whip through the narrow streets at incredible speeds so you have to be careful.

It would take too long to review all the bars and clubs in FCC, of which there are so many I’ve never been to, much less counted. I’m just going to mention my favorites. When it comes to drinks, they’re about the same in every place. Your standards are something like 15 or 20 RMB for a Tsingtao and starting at 25 for a cocktail, all depending on your tastes, of course. If you’re in a big group and all share a common poison, I recommend buying a bottle. Then again, there have been nights out, especially early on in my experiences of FCC, when getting a few convenience-store beers and then walking around to examine all the weird architecture was fun, if bizarre, in itself.

Because of its relaxed atmosphere, the first stop of the evening is Obsidian. Happy hour is from 7 to 8 p.m., during which time you buy a drink and get the second free. There’s seating outside during the summer months. The ceiling-to-floor windows provide a nice breeze through the bar. Usually an hour here, two maybe, is good.

Coco’s is next. On some nights, this could be the only stop you make in Five Color. This is the bar you go to when you want to have a Friday-night blowout. Coco, the owner, and her staff love to dance and will let you play your own music. There’s even a stage with a pole if you feel so inclined to perform. I’ve been there on nights when patrons and staff alike danced on the bar.

Across the road from Coco’s is the Nagging Wife, which has recently been gaining popularity. It certainly has the best snacks: not only peanuts but often also dried fruit and spicy tofu. An open computer lets you pick the music from the bar’s decent selection. Many people have saved their playlists and enjoy a game of darts as they listen to their favorite songs.

One or two doors down is the best new bar, Happy Hour. It has a foosball table downstairs and a pool table upstairs. This is another, so far, relaxed place, nice when you just want to sit and have a few.

A lot of people end their night one of two ways. The first way is Club Focus. If you’ve ever been to Alice Bar downtown, you can picture Focus. A live Filipino band usually plays, and in between sets, dancers perform on poles on top of the bar. Every once in a while, a bartender will cover the bar in alcohol and then light it on fire. Focus is good if you like really loud music and don’t expect to hear anything anybody’s saying.

However, I much prefer to end my nights in Rainbow, a small bar near Obsidian. The staff there is friendly, and it’s a good place to practice your busted Chinese. After you’ve been there a few times, the bartenders will probably let you connect your iPod to their system. The bar’s as quiet or as loud as you want it to be, and there have been quite a few nights I saw the light of dawn through the door.

Five Color City’s also a great place to eat. You have, of course, your ubiquitous street food. The best, if your stomach can handle it, can be found near Focus. Look for red chairs.

But there are two restaurants I especially want to recommend. The first of these is the Japanese place to the right of Obsidian (it doesn’t have an English name; look for a sliding door). The pork spare ribs here fall right off the bone. Try them with plenty of cold sake.

The other place, near Coco’s, is Isogin, another Japanese place and one of my favorite restaurants in all of DDA. The sushi is awesome and inexpensive. Isogin is open very late and is a good place to stop to curb the hunger that comes from a long night out.

What makes Five Color City attractive is the feeling that you can either hide out there or be part of a big crowd. Don’t like the scene at one place? Well, you’ve got several others to choose from, and new bars seem to pop up every other month or so. FCC has made barhopping easy, and it’s also a great place to meet other expats. Because there’s so much to do, so many holes in the multicolored walls, it’s a fun little city to wander through.

by

June 27, 2011

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