The Pass By Bar, a Home away from Home

By staff reporter ZHOU LIN

Almost 800 years ago in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), a street running north to south in the hub of the capital city, Beijing, linked eight hutong stretching from east to west, resembling from above a crawling centipede. Its name was Nanluoguxiang. Now located in the city’s Dongcheng District, the traditional alley, approximately 800 meters long, has become a fashionable destination for tourists and locals alike, and the Pass By Bar situated at the southern entrance of the hutong attracts visitors from all over the world keen to seek out a home away from home.


 The Pass By Bar.

Dwelling for Passers-by in Beijing

Xiaobianr, meaning braid in Chinese, is the nickname of Jin Xin, the host of the Pass By Bar. He is known in the city for his love of outdoor activities and the braid he once wore makes him an unforgettable figure. Unlike the braids men had during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), xiaobianr was not a symbol of submission or obedience; instead, it represented his free spirit and affinity with the arts. Even though he no longer wears his hair in a braid, he still goes by his nickname and the Pass By Bar in Nanluoguxiang remains ever popular. 

At the end of 1997 when Xiaobianr came to Beijing, he was living in a less than 13 square meter room on Nanluoguxiang. He found a job as a group leader for an outdoor club and settled into life in Beijing. Fascinated by beer culture, traveling and making friends, he came up with the idea of opening a travel-themed restaurant.

There is a story behind every tiny detail of the Pass By Bar: the antique wooden plaques, the sunlit courtyard, the bookshelf-lined wall filled with Lonely Planet volumes, and the photos Xiaobianr has taken on his travels. When the Pass By Bar first opened in July 1999, it covered less than 40 square meters and was kitted out with what was essentially recycled rubbish. The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” could have been written with Xiaobianr in mind. He would scour construction sites buying “leftovers” from builders and creating them into works of art to adorn the Pass By Bar walls. He enjoyed this creative process, and in his eyes, the transformation was like watching his own child growing up.

As for the name, Pass By Bar, Xiao-bianr recalled that it came to him on a cycling trip in Tibet. Riding swiftly past a small fruit stall, he came into eye contact with the peddler. Without any conversation between them, he passed by. It suddenly dawned on him that most people are just passers-by of other people’s lives.  So he named his new bar the Pass By, a transient but memorable dwelling for people on their way.

For Xiaobianr, the bar is not a business. He said, “In other people’s eyes, it might seem like a private business, but to me, it is part of my personal life. I make friends here including my staff. In fact, one of my employees has been working in the bar for about 14 years and I have seen him get married and have a baby. We were friends first, but now we are like family.”


An Outlet for an Artistic Imagination

Haiyan, Xiaobianr’s wife, a patient listener, is always willing to offer advice. Like many women, she is a queen of multi-tasking: During the interview with China Today, we saw her greet customers, discuss plans for upcoming events at the bar, remind her husband to have dinner, and check up on her son at home, all handled in an orderly way, with an air of composure.

1   2