The Christmas weekend saw the unofficial return of one of the most beloved bars in Shanghai - the infamous Cotton's
. A name familiar with expats and locals alike, it has reopened in a beautiful new location, exactly one year after it had to say goodbye. Loyal patrons and curious newcomers rocked up in their droves to rediscover the homely hideaway.
Cotton's is owned by a little lady with a big smile, who, incidentally, goes by the same name. Hailing from Hunan province, you immediately warm to Cotton and her brother, Mondy, the manager. Asked where she got her name, Cotton laughs, "It's a funny name that I picked up at school...I was always naughty."
She tells the tale of how Cotton's closed with a hint of sadness and disbelief, but you can see her excitement at the opening of the new one. Familiar to many expats, "It's a long story," tells Cotton. She was forced out of the bar under the pretence that the space would be reopening as a school. It was a sorry situation indeed, but with a decidedly happy ending, as the pair has succeeded in creating a stunning new bar.
You feel at home in Cotton's, with its big open fireplaces and cosy sofas. The rooms are elegantly decorated and colour co-ordinated - the 'green room' is done out in soothing hues of light green with triangular cushions to match, and the 'red room' boasts a lovely red chandelier and a big crackling fireplace. The building itself is a beautiful, old French villa, dating back to the 1930's, and Cotton is trying to make it a place where people 'hang out'. She muses, "There are so many restaurants and bars in Shanghai, they're too commercial. The unique thing is that we have tried to create a friendly environment, give it a personal touch. People can go there and meet their friends." Sometimes, apparently, without even having to phone them to check if they are there.
On the 'soft' openings, which took place over the weekend, Cotton recalls, "They were great, really great. A lot of people were out for Christmas, most of my friends were around, so about four hundred people showed up." She used the soft openings as a way to prepare the staff for the real deal, to make sure they knew the ropes.
But the real preparations have taken a lot longer, a year almost to the day of careful planning. Cotton knows what makes a good bar in this fickle city. "There are so many bars; you need to understand what the customer wants," she observes wisely. "It's simple: good service, good food, and good drinks." Cotton has hit the nail on the head this time - only she forgot to mention the great atmosphere, which is just perfect.
So what about the future and Cotton's? "I hope it can be around for a long time. Ten, twenty, even thirty years" laughs Cotton. And it would be no great surprise if it were. Cotton's really is a home away from home.
Matt & Flo Xmas Party Pictures | here