“Going Underground” is a regular the Beijinger magazine column in which we explore the neighborhoods surrounding subway stations.

Gulou is home to the famous Kublai Khan timepiece, the Drum and Bell Towers, and with over 700 years of history, the area is filled with lively scenes of hutong life. Here you can experience examples of a largely erstwhile lao Beijing lifestyle before the hectic race towards modernization fully took hold. With old timers breaking holes in the ice lake to excavate fresh fish, and a labyrinth of shabby alleys and houses dating back to the turn of last century, the area is steeped in tradition.

The first place to visit is Beibinhe Park, north of the canal. Covering an area of over 66,000 square meters, there is plenty to do and see including a series of bizarre rock formations. Though tempting to climb, it wouldn’t be long until public security officials began asking questions. Pagodas and public courtyards abound humming with activity as people gather to perform morning exercise routines or gossip about the latest neighborhood happenings. One such pagoda sits on top of a rocky mound that if followed to its peak, has an amazing view of the Drum and Bell Towers against the slightly ominous backdrop of modern buildings slowly encroaching on this historic part of the city.

For Yunnan cuisine, head south towards the Drum Tower. On the east side of the street you will find a tidy little joint called Phoenix Yunnan (25 Jiu Guloudajie) serving all the provincial delicacies you know and love including grilled fish on lemongrass, homemade yogurt, and jasmine fried chicken. With a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients, this Yunnan restaurant oozes authenticity with a slight deviation in that they only serve Halal-compliant dishes.

Head southeast to Zajia Lab (Hong En Daoist Temple, Doufuchi Hutong), and on the second floor of the building you will find a great pool hall with a classic billiards vibe. Watch the locals show off their skills hustling lunch money from one another, or challenge them if you’re feeling confident. There are 17 tables available to rent out by the hour (RMB 10). A competitive but friendly atmosphere makes this an ideal spot to show off your game or brush up your skills.

Photos: Kipp Whittaker

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