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SmartShanghai's Special Dispatch From: A Very Busy Beer Bar

Bars and restaurants around the city are inching their way out of quarantine, but the Special Period isn't over yet.
By Feb 25, 2020 Dining


It's 7pm on a Thursday evening, and [REDACTED] is rammed. In some places, groups of seven or eight pack in around tables meant for four. An employee in a mask asks a couple who just walked in to come back later — nowhere to sit. The kitchen has run out of burgers. People are on dates — love in the time of Covid-19.

This is not supposed to be happening.

The venues that were open for dine-in last week were lucky to have a dozen customers. This place had, rough estimate, 80? They know the risk they’re running. When I tried to snap a picture, a staff member blocked me. I sympathize. The hard-working people at [REDACTED] worry I’m going to out them.

I wouldn't do that.

Life for F&B businesses during the Special Period has been fairly consistent until just the past few days: everyone closed. Of course, there have been exceptions and venues testing the limits, only to fall afoul of people in uniforms and have to close anyway. An avian bar was greenlit to open by someone and then, when the neighbors complained about the crowd, closed a few hours later. A prohibition-themed bar in Xuhui—for once an appropriate look—got away with dark lighting and a one-meter space between customers before they too got a visit. At another event, authorities showed up after someone posted a video on WeChat Moments of a group of foreigners (mostly), drinking without masks on.

Why is it all foreigners, anyway? My theory is most expats are starved for social connection. Not that anyone was willing to admit that to me when I, a total stranger, ambushed them in the smoking area and tried to strike up a conversation. Your theory may differ.

Back to [REDACTED]. In this last week of February, the city has seemed to shift from these cat & mouse games with the authorities to a more consistent opening across the board, with some variations between districts, like 8pm curfews and a limit on how many people are allowed in. At a different bar over the weekend, some authority figures told my group of six that we were allowed at one table, but couldn’t sit across from each other.

Saturday seemed to be the turning point. The weather was clear and bright, and at least Xintiandi’s air of anxiety was overcome by an urgent need to sit around the fountain and soak up some sun for once. Hundreds of people flocked to a certain big-name French restaurant. The mask remained on The Boxing Cat statue.

Since then, dozens of venues we’ve contacted have re-opened with limited hours. The newspaper reports proudly that traffic jams are back again. Thank God the traffic jams are back. The quarantine seems to have expanded its reach to parts of Italy. We hope they’ll be okay. If our experience of the past month is anything to go by, being at home isn’t the worst thing in the world, and judging by the declining numbers of new cases, it’s almost possible to be maybe, potentially, just a little bit (cautiously) optimistic maybe. Maybe?

So life has begun to return to Shanghai. Kind of. Fits and starts. Shutting down a city was never going to be an exercise in perfectionism and consistency, and re-opening one is probably going to be, well, complicated. But the trend is moving in the right direction: it’s possible to eat a grass-fed cheeseburger in the Beef & Liberty dining room again, or a lemon tart at Mr & Mrs Bund. The Beer Lady is back! And blessedly, blessedly empty.

Moving in the right direction for all but one. In the last few hours, [REDACTED] has decided to close until March.



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  • 3 months ago xandeer

    great pictures!

  • 3 months ago the other alex

    @xandeer thanks, not too obvious, I hope?

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