We've got two new venues from a couple of Shanghai repeat offenders this week: new underground club All and a new Peruvian / Spanish place Colca.
...And then some place with light-up ping pong tables called Duo Sports Bar. Just to keep us young.
What It Is: Taking everyone by surprise with a quick opening last weekend, ALL is the new club from most of the concerns behind celebrated underground basement club of myth, lore, and legend, The Shelter. It's the same owners / bar management and former Shelter co-manager Gaz Williams is heading up the music direction, mixing Shanghai-based DJs and producers with international guests, mostly of his own booking. They're open six days a week (closed Monday) as a lounge with no DJs Tuesday to Thursday, until 2am. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday they're doing events and are open until 5am.
With a capacity that's slightly smaller than The Shelter (maybe around 350), ALL, on the second floor of 17 Xiangyang Bei Lu (not a basement), is split into two rooms, 50-50 between bar and lounge area and dance floor. The darker, grey, black, and dead-tech concrete tones of ALL recall The Shelter, but the club has a cleaner and sharper sort of feel. It's pretty... chic. Designed by Shanghai-based video/installation artist, literary critic, and space druid Kim Laughton, the space makes use of appropriated construction and factory elements: steel grating, exposed piping, textured industrial plastic material over the walls. The custom designed minimalist lounge furniture and esoteric "ALL" logo complete the look: It's some austere, art-damaged shit.
Dance floor is rectangle shaped, oriented towards a slightly raised DJ stage and big video screen, giving the events a "concert" sort of feel. On the two or three visits we've made to the club, the sound system was most adequate. Speaking to music policy, think of the final phase of The Shelter, which is essentially where they're picking up from. ALL's approach is less eclectic than The Shelter as a whole -- less straight-ahead, tried-and-true genres like house and hip hop and more next wave UK bass offshoots, darker techno, and experimental nights. It's niche. It's "underground".
But who cares about that, let's talk about drinks. In addition to the standard cocktails (65rmb-75rmb), they've got a highball machine, which is most excellent. It's basically just a machine that makes really tasty whisky sodas. They've got 4 varieties on offer, priced between 40rmb and 55mrb. The cocktails are fine but the highballs are really fine. You're just going to be drinking those.
First Impressions: I really like it. I think they did a great job. I think it manages to carry over the better elements of The Shelter -- a program of challenging music, an ethos that champions original, locally produced art, and vibes that make one feel like one is on the edge of some very important cultural things -- but they've upgraded the environment of it to be more inviting and livable. You can have conversations in the lounge area. You can sit at the bar. I like both of those things.
You've still got the cool music but you've got a nicer environment to enjoy it in, is what I'm saying.
In the end, I think The Shelter's core audience of cooler-than-thou scene kids will be satisfied and they might even win some new converts to the cause with this nicer, more mature venue.
What It Is: Colca is serial restaurateur Eduardo Vargas trying the business strategy of "honesty" with this latest restaurant. He's cooking the food of his heritage: Peruvian.
It's a nice place. Seating about 150 or so, a central patio area is housed by a cocktail bar on the one side, a private banquet table on the other, and the main dining area in a few larger rooms on the one end. Decor is sort of South American via "Shanghai chic" -- earthier, wood and tan tones mixed with shifting neon accents in a few places. Paintings on the walls recall Zhang Xiaogang.
Mode d'emploi: Cocktails at the bar before and / or after dinner with your sit-down meal the main event. Going to hit you with the cocktails first before the requisite barrage of food porn pictures. Colca's head barman did time with Cross Yu at Muse on the Bund before making his way to Colca, and the drinks are thus suitably elaborate and involved. The drinks program has heavy emphasis on Pisco bases, a Peruvian brandy which offers a lighter but rich flavor. Drinks are bright and summery. Ideal for those classic Shanghai summer nights with a cool, relaxing breeze and a twinkling canopy of stars overhead.
L to R: Machu Pichu (78rmb), Condor Sour (78rmb), Angel's Love (78rmb), Jungle Punch (78rmb)
The food. The menu breaks down in seafood / shellfish, fish, and meat dishes, with guests mixing and matching lots of sharing options over a few different courses. Style is Spanish and South American, filtered through Chef Eduardo Vargas' own winding road through the cuisines of the world. Earthier, "home cooking" sort of elements are mixed in with molecular "fine dining" sort of techniques, sometimes in the same dish. The featured items are his renditions of Peruvian dishes -- ceviche in particular. Lots of Peruvian ingredients throughout: corn, tubers, chilis, beans, fruits, and potatoes.
Scallop-Chia Tiradito - chia sauce + red chili + crispy nuts + avocado - 98rmb
Brandada - cod fish puree + crispy kokotxas + apple air - 88rmb
Ceviche de Colca - "quick cook" seafood + citrus tiger's milk + sweet potato + corn - 98rmb
Codfish and Baby Squid - white beans + yucca + black ink sauce + chupe sauce - 128rmb
Prawn Chili - homemade cheese + spicy siracha + shellfish sauce - 128rmb
Chocolate ravioli - crispy ravioli + orange-chili chocolate - 58rmb; Lemongrass parfait - tropical fruit salsa + coconut anglaise - 58rmb
It's fusion cuisine. Busy, busy fusion cuisine. Executed with a lot of style and personality. Lots of complimenting flavors and tones, and a lot of variety from broader, satisfying, hearty meat and seafood mains to brighter, almost tropical, salad and fruit dishes.
First Impressions: Gotta give it up to an old warhorse like Vargas. Cycling through his almost 20 (!) restaurant projects in Shanghai since 2002, not many people have had as heavy a hand in shaping Shanghai's "Western food" landscape as he's had. Respect for that. My first impressions of Colca: The restaurant space is quite nice; the patio is lovely; the food is interesting and unique; the price points are fair; the location is fine; and the cocktails are singular and tasty.
Of course, the cliche is apt -- only time will tell -- but I think Vargas might have a check in his "win" column with Colca.
What It Is: Duo (pronounced like it's Pinyin) is sort of a sports bar. But it's... so much more.
Duo is what a movie producer from the '80s thought "game bars" will look like in 2020. Break it down. The main room has neon strip lighting and illuminated panels everywhere. Bicycles are set into the bar. A couple florescent beer-pong tables and a table for slap cup (far superior game) take up the center. There's a further back room with another beer pong table and a dart board. More neon strip lighting. More illuminated panels. It's like the club scene from John Wick.
The drinks are.... yeah, I guess. A couple of signature cocktails, like the Cigar Gentleman (98rmb). It's an herbalier Old Fashioned and boasts "cigar" as an ingredient. There was a roll of cinnamon in it. The DUO (78rmb) comes with a burning sugar cube balanced on a slice of passion fruit on top of a fucking tiki cup.
Okay, games: They've got space beer pong and space slap cup, but you have to buy drinks off their special Game Package Deals menu to play. The beer pong cups are filled with water, to keep things sanitary, so you've got your drinks on the side. Not in slap cup though, because again, the far superior game. Darts as well, lit up like Pudong. No pool, though. No pool on an illuminated table with spacepoolballs.
The Game Package Deals are 3-liter beer towers of Asahi (280rmb, that's like paying 31rmb for a 33cl bottle) or Vedett Extra White (400rmb), beer bottles (must order 3, mix'n'match from about 8 choices, like one Tsing Tao for 40rmb or one Delerium Tremens for 65rmb), or 1.5-liter punch jugs (160rmb for Vodka, Havana Club and Olmeca, or 280rmb for Hennessy). You can also play with champagne or sparkling wine, if you're kind of a dick.
First Impressions: I wanted to hate everything in here. Neon lit beer pong tables. Beer towers served by mixologists in a waistcoat. Tiki cup. Jesus Christ. Feels like it's designed for a guy from the future who nonetheless uses "dude" as punctuation. Like a space Van Wilder.
Instead, three rounds into slap cup, I was having fun. It's a fun game. It's strategic. It's social. It's frenetic. It's fun to play it on an illuminated table. Plus the staff was super attentive. They were helping to pick up errant space ping pong balls, dutifully refilling beer glass and unobtrusively wiping down tables between rounds.
I have no idea what this place wants to be. Hey guys, put up some Street Fighter and Joust cabinets in the corners and only play synthwave. Go full '80s retro on this, it'd be awesome. But yeah: Go play slap cup at Duo. Fuck beer pong, slap cup forever.