What It Is: Coming from a handful of Shanghai hospitality veterans (one in particular was heavily involved with making the Puli a thing), Havana Chino Latino is a lounge-bar-club in the same building as Le Baron. Sprawled across the fifth floor, it references a travel brochure version of Havana; pastel colors, kitchen tiles on the columns, window shutters, fruity drinks, 50s paraphernalia and a giant, specially commissioned portrait of the Havana Cigar Lady. Havana's right there in the name! Seems almost criminal not to include a cigar lounge, city ordinances be damned. They might have put it in the sixth floor complex instead, which is still in the process of being put together but is meant to cater to a more exclusive clientele.
The "Chino Latino" refers to a hodgepodge mixing pot aesthetic of Southeast/East Asian and Latin American cultural elements. It's most obvious on the food menu; Nori Tacos (48rmb), Honey Miso Glazed Cod (128rmb), Salmon Sashimi "Tiradito" "Nikkei" Style (68rmb). Their sliders have Iberico pork and teriyaki chicken an inch part. You might've seen more ambitious takes on the same cuisine at places like Ekeko or SakeMate.
It's very decent lounge food: it looks good in photos, it's not a hassle to eat, it tastes good and it's not so up itself that it distracts from the drinking and the chit-chat. The Papita Rellena was a stand out. Just the thing to soak up like eight or nine mojitos from the not one but two bars, pouring out mostly sweet, fruity and uncondescending drinks for around 68-78rmb a pop.
The drinks are designed to be "upgraded" with different levels of booze. Get your standard with Havana Club 3 year, upgrade it for an additional 20rmb to 7 year, upgrade it further to their in-house barrel aged liquor, up and up. What's at the top? I don't know, I haven't made it that far. Maybe one of the 2.5k rmb bottles of Abuelo rum they keep on the top shelf for you dandy high rollers out there.
They share elevators with Le Baron but appear to have come to an arrangement with the imposing gentlemen on the door downstairs. Might catch some of the overflow, even!
First Impressions: The weather is back to being miserable, wet and cold, so a little gleeful kitschy Buena Vista Social Club vibe is invigorating. Bringing a little rosiness back into the tips of my ears and nose. Like the culture it takes its name from, Chino Latino is best described with references to other things. Think a classier La Bodeguita Del Medio filtered through the ubiquitous Shanghai club lounge filter, or a Liquid Laundry for people who like rum more than craft beer and Latin pop classics more than what they're playing at LL these days. I like it.
What It Is: The return of Eddy Yang to running a bar, most notably. He seemed to be taking a little break after the slow, torturous death of Tailor Bar, but standing behind a new bar top, he doesn't seem to have gained many grey hairs. Carson Xie (Nest) is lending his stature (he's pretty tall) to this little shindig, which occupies a top-floor bay in a redone office block on Shaanxi Bei Lu. The dining room half looks like a greenhouse. The cocktail bar half looks like a bachelor pad inside a sea shell. It even has a balcony, from which you could fling peanuts at the good people smoking outside Inferno.
The kitchen is churning out surprisingly good food for a place that could easily just lean on drinks. The Hazelnut Butter Fried Frog (90rmb) is delightful and presented in a mercifully non-biological way. The seared foie gras char siu (180rmb), which comes with pork neck and little crepes, is probably the most French-meets-Asian thing on the menu, or possibly any menu, ever.
But yeah, you're here for drinks. They're good drinks. They're drinks for terminal cases of booze nerd-dom, armchair bartenders, featuring all kinds of clarified things and double infusions and syrups and whatnot, all firmly in my favorite drinks category, the "dainty sip followed by pensive harrumph." Here! A Pickled Bloodless Mary; pickled cabbage and bloody mary spice mixed with vodka-black pepper & Chinese stomach medicine infusion. Here, a ruby red port reduction with whisky and a slice of Iberico pork on top. Here, a beetroot and mezcal thing perched on a glass stem so long you could use it as a catheter. Here! A drink in a glass mouse where you suck the tail. Suck the tail, Shanghai!
It's advanced stuff. If that's not your game, they have a literal wall of booze, much of it salvaged from Eddy's old places, that'll tickle just about any fancy you can muster. Chameleon comes in several colors but they're all boozy.
First Impressions: I like it a lot. Eddy's got thoughtful but not self-serious take on cocktail bars, and (hot take!) I think Carson's pretty good at making drinks too. Chameleon feels modest and comfortable, the drinks are thought-provoking, if that thought is "mm, yessss, interesting," I don't have to go downstairs to have a cigarette and it's 80-90rmb for the signature drinks, so a moderately serious drinking session will cost you less than a day's salary! A classy cocktail living room to get absolutely shitwrecked in, before stumbling down for an absinthe mercy kill at A&D.
What It Is: A trendy, dark, very dark, cocktail bar and restaurant in Fengsheng Li. The lounge setup focuses on the large central bar and the kitchen visible through the glass behind it. The whole place is designed to showcase Cross Yu's bartendological skills and a kitchen team that's busily preparing fusion-whatever-Western cuisine. By which we mean heavily charred and/or just black.
Moody! Goth! Carbon-heavy!
The cuisine is seemingly defined by how dark and grilled it can get. It's not Dark Cuisine, the hei an liao li trend that may or may not be an actual thing in China, but the mix of sprinkling, coating and seasoning ingredients with black foodstuffs does produce some confusing and/or delightful results. The Umami Bomb Baby Napa Cabbage looks awful, but tastes great. The brisket looks succulent and melts like beeswax, but lacked... I dunno, seasoning? Any bite that didn't include the charred outer edge was a little meek. The scallops come looking as if they've been dipped in black paint.
Still, this is predominantly a cocktail bar, headed up by Cross Yu, who just recently won bartender of the year at the Drink Magazine Bar Awards. As you'd expect from such a conceptually-driven spot, the menu is varied and ambitious, with milk punches, re-distilled stuff and fat-washes. Also as you'd expect, every drink is exceedingly well-executed. All of the sixteen-some cocktails go for a flat 88rmb. Wallet pillaging is nicest when it's consistent, and conducted by a man carrying a trophy.
First Impressions: Back when I heard about it, I made an off-hand comment about this being the activated charcoal bar. The name seemed gimmicky, and so did the whole place at first glance (and second, and third), but there's only one black drink here, and it's made with squid ink. So goth! Like most goths, once you get past the corpse face, it's very approachable, very pleasant. The rest of the drinks are, predictably, super well executed. I especially liked the Butter High because I haven't had an interesting highball in a while, but might be too buttery for some.
Feels high-concept. Feels fancy. Definitely moody. But for the moment, it feels better on paper than it does in real life. Perhaps more "conceptual" than soulful.