Once the musical heart of Nanluogu Xiang, the cozy 69 Café played its last melancholic tune last summer. A beacon for local indie and folk artists since its opening in 2009, the venue was both an artist and audience favorite for years and upon the announcement of its shuttering, the community bemoaned yet another blow to the city's arts scene. But with every passing comes life, and it wasn’t long until 69 found a new home in the mean streets of Wudaokou late last year, looking to capitalize on the youthful patrons of Beijing's debauched university district. And while the new space doesn’t come close to capturing the homey ramshackle atmosphere of the original, it’s a fine addition (and arguably a vital one) to the budding Haidian live music milieu.

Run by long-time music promoter and man-about-town Xiao Zhan, who operates the similarly themed Mogu Space in Xizhimen (he also ran the longstanding record store Rockland over in Houhai, which also perished last year), the new 69 Café is an extension of Xiao Zhen’s creed – low-key, music-oriented spaces that provide an outlet for both rugged and aspiring indie and folk acts and the fans that engulf them.

While the original space paid homage to the spirit of Woodstock and the idealism and creativity that shaped that year of rock and roll, the new space takes a more realistic approach to operating as a business, as evident in both its layout and surroundings.

Located behind the Shengxi No. 8 Shopping Center just north of the Line 15 Loudaokou Subway Station, in order to find the new 69 you must venture through the erection of an IKEA-styled warehouse (which I’m guessing, based on the celebratory wine bottles management where sharing among each other, will be opened quite soon) – a part of the Juran Space complex – which will contain everything from restaurants, bars, to bookstores and coffee shops and according to Zhen will be fully operational by the end of March. After walking past the ‘French Style’ home furnishings, you’ll be greeted by a bare-bones dance studio that doubles as our newly revamped 69 Café. Gone are the cozy lived-in couches, the mellow lighting, and the walls busy with rock and roll royalty. Instead, we get fold-out chairs, a pristine wooden floor, and wall-to-wall mirrors. Yes, the hippy days of the vintage 69 Café seem to be gone. Are the glory days of 69 Café truly at an end? Far from it.

While it’s easy to bash any new venue that’s still finding its feet, along with the entire complex itself, 69 Café still delivers where it counts: The music. Xiao Zhen clearly has an eye on the bigger picture here – and that is expanding to new areas and giving other parts of Beijing a much-needed hub for intimate live gigs. Haidian, particularly the greater Wudaoku area, where universities abound, has been in much need of a music venue (besides 13 Club which has miraculously survived just about everything). 69 Café looks to provide such an outlet for growing audiences and artists. While bookings largely cater to the more folk and acoustic-edged indie arena, the venue isn’t afraid to mix it up with offbeat electronica and experimental evenings. The stage is a step up in size compared to its predecessor – and could easily welcome a full five-piece band. Finally, considering the number of bands and artists Xiao Zhen and company have helped foster over the past decade, they’ll have no problem filling up the stage any given weekend.

Once you get past the sleek squeaky-clean shell of the new space, very much like the hippies of 1969 who were forced to get their act together, you’ll find the good-natured music-loving soul underneath. We're also sure that in good time, when the entire complex is erected and operating smoothly, they’ll be back to their old slightly bedraggled selves. Till then, 69 Café continues to fight the good fight, and for that, we salute them.

69 Café
Daily midday-1am. 1/F, 8 Queqing Lu, Haidian District
海淀区学清路甲8号一层E区驹然空间内{圣熙8号购物中心后面广场东侧} 六道口地铁站北200米

Photos: Will Griffith

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