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[On The Radar]: Blue Note Opens With a Bang, Dead Poet With a Howl

A big name in jazz opens in Hongkou, while Blackbird launches a new cocktail bar/poetry anthology.
Last updated: 2019-09-18
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

Blue Note Jazz Club

Quick Take:Another international jazz club lands in Shanghai.

What It Is: A “blue note” is, cue Wikipedia, a note sung or played at a different pitch in jazz and blues. Blue Note, however, is a global network of jazz clubs that started in New York in 1981 and have now been franchised across Europe, Japan, Brazil, and China. (Unrelated to the seminal Blue Note record label.) Beijing has had one for a while. Shanghai has not. Until now.

The first one in Shanghai and the tenth worldwide opened in mid-September with a hell of a booking: Kamasi Washington and his all-star band, with TWO drummers, a singing bass phenom (Miles Mosley), a manic Japanese keys player, his father (!), and more. Heady, intense stuff for the large crowd up in Hongkou’s Citic Plaza.

Tickets for that started at 400rmb but that was a special occasion. For the rest of September, for example, tickets start at 100rmb for Sinne Eeg (September 26-27), 180rmb for Huntertones (September 21-22), 200rmb for Omar Sosa and Yilian Canizares Trio (September 28-29) and then 240rmb for the Kazumi Watanabe Jazz Guitar Trio (September 19-20). Add another 100rmb for drinks. See here for the monthly calendar.

First Impressions: They’ve spent a fortune on this place, mostly because it is 1,700 square meters. The main room sits 300 people at once. Unfortunately, not very much of that money made its way into the décor of what is essentially a big rectangular box with a blue curtain and a stage jammed into the middle. It feels a little… spare. What’s going to happen when it’s not a full house is anyone’s guess, but a lack of atmosphere might be one result. Call it ambitious!

Also, is there enough of a crowd of jazz fans in Shanghai to go around all these venues? I hope so! I really hope so! Because there is some fantastic music happening in Shanghai these days, even though it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves — I’ve been to embarrassingly empty venues more than once this year when an international troupe was performing.

And finally, Hongkou. Not really far away — just up Sichuan Bei Lu from the Bund, really — but Blue Note is going to have to overcome that psychological barrier some of us have if they want us to spend our weekends on the third to fifth floors of a shopping mall.

— Christopher St. Cavish

Dead Poet

Dead Poet Shanghai

Quick Take: Subtle, cozy and literate cocktail bar from the Blackbird people.

What It Is: There used to be a guy living upstairs from this newly opened cocktail bar at 158 Jinxian Lu. Real great neighborly type, according to the bartenders, always helped out, super friendly. Whenever anyone asked, he gave his profession as "poet." Hence "Dead Poet."

Great name! All the best poets are dead.

This is a cocktail bar from the people behind Blackbird, Bar No. 3 and Oha. People familiar with Bar No. 3 will recognize the sunken bar with the box hanging over it. The space is about evenly split between the open, living room style front bar and a series of isolated nooks, crannies and cubbies in the back for groups of three or four around tables. There's a terrace. Oha is actually an architectural and interior design firm, and it shows. Nice place. It feels... rustic modern Scandinavian? Is that a thing? If it is, it looks like this.

Dead Poet Shanghai
dead poet Shanghai

The cocktail list is a work of art. Literally. It's pressed on tissue-thin rice paper, the names of the drinks are hand-written, every page features a cocktail and a matching poem written by the team. Example:

Funky DogRemix (98rmb)

Questions lead to romance:
(in sequence)

What kind of music do you listen to?
Who is your favorite artist?
Do you drink?
Do you walk around the city at night?

What's in your dreams?
Would you like to read poetry to me?
Would you like me to read poetry to you?
Do you drink? (again)
Would you like me to undress you?
Would you mind undressing me?

Finest cocktail menu I've ever seen. 11/10. Genius! Poetry and booze! They'll sell you a copy for 80rmb.

Dead Poet Shanghai

The drinks are mostly familiars from other bars from the same group, mostly subtle sipping drinks, mostly avoiding bold flavors and unnecessary garnishes, though they get more and more robust and old-man-ish the further back in the book you go.

Dead Poet Shanghai

Also, the prices are all over the place. None of this "90rmb for classics, 110rmb for signatures," it's like "95, 98, 104, 112, π." Cheapest was 95rmb. Priciest was 120rmb.

Dead Poet Shanghai

First Impressions: Excellent bar. You feel refined just sitting in there. It's austere but not cold. It's atmospheric. It smells nice. It's... intimate. It's the sort of bar where, halfway through your second drink and nursing delusions of grandiloquence, you're thunderstruck by the enormity of the human condition, dissected and spread open on the page by just six words sharpened to a knifepoint and then you've got a napkin out and you're scribbling

Dark fear gripping
Tight about your neck with

wracking, sobbing, heaving,

fight or flight reflex



Ginsberg, pshaw, what a poser. This is easy!

Poetry and booze, a match that'd make Byron cream his shorts. Or Joyce. Or Bishop. Or Bukowski. Or Ginsberg. Poets do seem to end up drinking a lot. And dead!

— Alex Panayotopoulos