SHANGHAI | 20 Dec, 2020
乾杯 – The Bar Scene of Shanghai
There are two distinct bar areas in Shanghai where bars and more general entertainment venues tend to cluster. Further below is the bar scene of Shanghai.
Cheers (乾杯) or Ganbei as they say in Shanghai, and they say it often in this city of 26 million citizens. As a modern city of China, it represents the outward-looking face of this fast-changing society, which is increasingly cosmopolitan, whilst being strongly defined by the extensive history.
In the first part of the 20th Century, Shanghai was the most famous or notorious, depending on your point of view, city in Asia for drinking and partying. It was dominated by foreigners and rivaled Paris and New York as the place to drink, to visit opium dens, gamble and more. However, the advent of Chairman Mao saw that culture removed almost overnight, by decree and then strictly enforced for many decades. Even in the 1990s as the opening up of China began, then there was still a reticence to the bar and nightlife environment and culture.
However, today the scene is as buzzy as any leading city in the world. The ‘expat’ community still plays a large part in leading the bar culture, with one or two hailing back to the vivacious 1930’s Shanghai scene.
The western apps of Google, Instagram, Facebook do not work in China, so be sure to download
Express VPN, especially for the maps. It is easy to get lost in Shanghai and finding your way around, especially after one or two drinks can lead you into parts of the city that you might prefer not to be. At the same time, it is also advisable to download WeChat – the WhatsApp of China for the people that you are with or the people that you meet along the way.
Weather is also likely to guide your Shanghai bar experience. If you are visiting in Spring or Summer then you will find a very pleasantly warm, April May, June followed by hot rainy and long summer, which may lead you to seek somewhere outside to drink. Whereas Autumn whilst comfortable may be cool and winter is most definitely cold and will tend to insist that drinks are taken inside rather than out.
Drinking culture means that if someone chinks your glass then you cannot refuse to drink. It will be taken as rude if you don’t share the opportunity!
Many bars are open until 2 am, although a few are open later.
Which leads neatly to a few bar suggestions.
Firstly, and so as to allow freedom of movement, there are two distinct bar areas in Shanghai where bars and more general entertainment venues tend to cluster. For the visiting foreigner, this is of course very useful and convenient. Equally, it is not to say that these are the only areas – there are others.
Hongmei Entertainment Street – whilst this is open and clearly available for any group of people, it is a favorite for foreigners, having been designed originally as an expat area. There are a whole host of restaurants, cafes, sports bars and nightlife. A typical bar in Shanghai may well be open until 2 pm. There are others that stay open later too.
The Bund – This area is a centerpiece and showcase of modern China. As so many cities have done it focusses on the waterfront area in the central district of Shanghai. The name makes reference to the buildings and wharves which harp back to colonial times when Shanghai was a powerful and rich center of foreign trade and it operated as a legally protected port. Remodeled and reopened in 2010 for the China Expo. Take in the historic buildings and visit any number of bars along the way.
Sir Ellys – Rooftop Bar offering stunning views of Shanghai, this is quite the destination bar and boasts a 270-degree view of the Yangtze River, as well as the pride of place on The Bund.
M1NT – A multi-award-winning club and bar, offering a variety of experiences in one venue. Stunning views, funky music, cool furniture and a specialty in organic cocktails, which is open daily from 6 pm.
NEST – Located on the Bund, and very much a bar as opposed to a club, it revels in its laid-back atmosphere. They specialize in vodka-based cocktails, not surprisingly as Grey Goose Vodka is one of the partners here. A great place to start the evening.
Bar Rouge – One of the modern stalwarts of Shanghai bar culture, having opened as long ago as 2004, and as such sets a standard for Shanghai bar culture. The French influence is unmistakable, hailing from the original French quarter and renovated in 2019 with much pazzaz. It boasts one of the longest rooftop bars in the city and of course Champagne celebrations are ritual!
Paramount Party room – Another throwback to the heyday of the 1930s and 1940s, beautifully restored to become a modern version of the Art Deco centerpiece of Shanghai. However, you won’t find bad behavior going on here – smart casual dress, no beer served, it is reserved for the ‘sophisticates’ of Shanghai society or visitors who aspire to that.
Paulaner Brauhaus – ‘A Taste of Munich’ in Shanghai, continuing the international theme in four different sites in Shanghai, demonstrating its success in nearly 25 years Bavarian-style partying in the city. Their grandiose outlets feature the expected German food dishes and lots of open-air seating to make the most of Spring, Summer and early Autumn seasons.
Oscar’s Pub – Away from the glamour of high faluting bars and dazzling venues a more down to earth experience is Oscar’s. A great place to watch sports, have Guinness and feel like a local pub. You can play darts, shoot pool and have ‘pub food’.
Union Trading Company – showcasing local talent and cocktail showmanship Yao Lu and celeb chef Austin Hu have been trading their innovative barrel-aged whiskey cocktails, irresistible tachos since 2014. What’s great is that this is a local’s bar, and provides more of the real Shanghai experience tinged with the cosmopolitan influence.
Boxing Cat Brewery – a qwerky, but well in tune brewery bar, which brews all types of beer – German lagers, British ales, new American craft ales and in the process has become a mainstay of Shanghai bars. The ‘pub grub’ is definitely a notch or two above the standard.
Logan’s Punch – relaxed interior design with exposed brickwork, pendant lightbulbs and rustic décor, this bar is conveniently located without having the heavy-duty of being on the main drag. It is definitely one of those hideaway places, which not everyone knows about, so great to surprise friends and even locals!
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors, and buyers.