In the capital, it's not enough to have one store offering a product or service on any given street. After all, the logic goes, if one outlet is successful, won't 15 shops be successful? Thus we have 'Ghost Street', where dozens of restaurants compete for the spicy crab crown. Need to stock up on tea leaves? Off to Tea Street, then, where block after block of shops offer block after block of tea. Furniture? The street across from Swedish giant Ikea houses knock-offs. A trip to Beijing's markets (silk, pearl and more) means wading through stalls of the exact same stuff - whether it be silk and pearls or 'North Face' products and Mao watches. And then, there is the Shichahai situation: Shichahai, or 'Hou Hai', was a quiet neighbourhood of two mini-lakes - where imperial officials once resided and temples dotted the shores. But the temples are, for the most part gone, replaced by shrines to hedonism: what was, not three years ago, home to a sprinkling of lakeside cafe-bars has become a neighbourhood that even cabbies - notoriously out of the nightlife loop - know as 'Hou Hai Bar Street'. The cycle was quick: a few quiet cafe-bars spawned a dozen copycats, all with the same Cafe del Mar CD playing on the stereo. The copycats spawned more, which spread to all shores of both lakes, and eventually, Cafe del Mar was replaced by live crooning karaoke-style, with speakers facing outwards - to create, as bar managers love to do, excitement. At last count, almost 100 cafe-bars crowded the neighbourhood. They may have different names, but actually very little distinguishes one from another. To be fair, something is working: with the temperatures rising and the dust-ridden winds subsiding, punters are turning up in droves. Perhaps it's the lack of originality that draws the people in: it doesn't matter where you go, you're going to have the same experience. In a hutong (alleyway) near Hou Hai, the Pass By Bar has been a standby since 1999 - a dog's age in Beijing bar-restaurant terms. It wasn't long before others moved in, but for much of the past five years, the Pass By bar was the only place to sip a coffee in the company of students from the nearby Central Academy of Drama (alumni include Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi). But, in true Beijing fashion, something happened. Dollar signs glazed the eyes of the vultures, and quickly, the alley was overflowing with knock-off cafes. And the business has become downright dirty: newcomers are unabashedly stealing ideas, contacts and customers from the old standbys. Suddenly a quiet hutong has become a gauntlet. Now I'm looking for Chill Out Street.