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Big Developments: Sinan Mansions

I wandered Sinan Mansions yesterday. It is an immense redevelopment of 49 colonial mansions from the '20s and '30s into four projects: the Hotel Massenet; a commercial stretch of F&B and retail; l...
2010-08-04 12:09:00

I wandered Sinan Mansions yesterday. It is an immense redevelopment of 49 colonial mansions from the '20s and '30s into four projects: the Hotel Massenet; a commercial stretch of F&B and retail; luxury condos; and corporate villas. It's been ten years in the making, but, after a few false starts, will finally spring to life this fall. It took a while to satisfy the gov't planners, the relocated residents, and the architects who, I'm told, lifted each building off the ground, tore out the old foundation, and replaced it with a new one. They even deconstructed a building and rebuilt it, brick by brick, at a 90-degree angle to its original position. It's a former dormitory for missionaries of the nearby church, and it now sits around the corner from its first plot, facing Chongqing Lu. It will become the hotel's ballroom. This is it, with a bit of work still to be done:

Is Sinan Mansions a new Xintiandi? Eh, that term gets bandied about by every developer with a pile of grey bricks and a coffee shop. But the Sinan Mansions project is something. It has transformed a large swath of the French Concession from a neighborhood of stately mansions, garden residences, and villas scarred by 60 years of neglect into a gleaming tribute to wealth. An optimist might even see it as an example of the local gov't newfound appreciation of its colonial buildings. There is not an intact neighborhood like this anywhere else in the city. Now that it's been cleaned up, the houses can finally be returned to their original owners: The Rich.

This the project's birds-eye rendering. Everything but the background buildings are part of it:

You will never stay at the hotel, which is comprised of 14 mansions that rent for about 40,000rmb a night. They come with a personal butler, an attached garage (wealth needs privacy), several suites, mahjongg rooms, and, in some cases, terraces for in-house massage. Holy luxury. The only mansions that weren't renovated are two rather sparse buildings once home to Zhou Enlai. They remain a museum. Otherwise, the mansions/garden residences have been transformed into something like these:

The residences aren't relevant, insofar as regular people go. Neither are the corporate villas, which sit west of Sinan Lu, and are still being renovated.

But the F&B part is. It's the public face of the Sinan Mansions project, a plebe concession, even, where regular enough people can sit down at Coffee Tree, eat pizza at the new California Pizza Kitchen (the original franchisee shuttered; this one will be company-run, supposedly), or dabble in side-by-side projects from Shanghai's three F&B busybodies: Kelley Lee, Eduardo Vargas, and David Laris. They've all signed on for various projects.

Laris and Lee have both taken pebbled villas that face Fuxing Lu and look like -- but are not -- this:

This strolling area will be a mix of retail and F&B. It looks like mostly retail, actually. There's also a fancy gym, for condo residents and landed gentry who can afford the membership, and an events space.

Back to Lee and Laris. Lee is installing her third Boxing Cat Brewery. As she told me a while back, this Cat will be more focused on drinking, and the vibe will be more retro-warehouse than family-friendly hangout. A quick walk away from this under-construction Boxing Cat, toward Sinan Lu, and the buildings turn red and the plaza opens up.

There's a Deco-style three-story building there, in yellow and gray, with casement windows and a geometric facade. That's where Lee will install Alchemist, her "molecular" bar. She's got two floors. Vargas will take the space next to her for a vague project he's calling Chicha. He characterized it two months ago as a Peruvian bar with "fifty kinds of pisco, chicha morada, you know, little Peruvian snacks" but he plays it loose; by the time it opens it may or may not resemble that.

Finally, you've got Laris. The guy has more concepts than spaces, which, considering that Shanghai Talk tallied his current project total at 22, is saying a lot. His Sinan Mansions space will see something borrowed and something new. He's been incubating a few projects at the Expo Village, and now he'll take his chicken chain, The Funky Chicken, and his Mexican lounge, Yucca, from the Pudong greenhouse and plant them here. He's also borrowing The Fat Olive's wine and Greek/Med snacks, but shuffling the focus; The Fat Olive at Sinan Mansions will be much more focused on the food. It might stay open late night.

Concept #147-A will be up on the top floor. It's a 12-person private dining room. The working title is "The Last Supper." If I'm not biblically mistaken, that would make David Laris........ the chef. LarisCo, Inc. says that they're sketching out a format of two menus. One will be a ten-course tasting menu; the other will be decadent gluttony -- the opposite of a tasting menu -- called "The Royal Feast." It sounds positively Olde English: whole roasted birds, whole fish, joints of meat, minces, jellies, Armagnac from the age of Napoleon (is that even possible?).

He's really flirting with this Jesus/King thing. His Larisness himself will preside over the dinners, adding flourishes and gold dust, and miracles and land deeds to each course at a finishing kitchen within the dining room. San Pellegrino will be turned into Chateau Lafite. Your world will never be the same.

So, that's Sinan Mansions. All of these projects -- the hotel, the Boxing Cat Brewery, LarisCo -- project an October opening. If you absolutely can't wait, Hotel Massenet's French restaurant, Au Jardin Massenet, has secretly launched and is open to the public. I have seen the grey and cranberry decor but not a menu. More in October. Keep 'em peeled.