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[On the Radar]: Blackstone Magic Bar, Tribe, Mr. Banh Mi

The three new ones this week. A couple of new options for sandwich people and a little bit o' magic in Found 158.
Last updated: 2017-03-09
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.

Blackstone Magic Bar

Quick Take: Blackstone Magic Bar is one-half cocktail bar, one-half close-up magic show, holding regular, weekly performances and short prestidigitation demonstrations at the bar whenever they feel like it.

What It Is: The gang behind Blackstone Magic Bar want to bring magic into China. Naturally, they've realized that pairing any concept with alcohol is liable to increase its chances of success in China, so to that effect, they've opened a single place down in Found 158 that's made up of two halves. The first half is the Blackstone Magic Bar, a small cocktail bar decked out in chandeliers, black shiny countertops and red velvet curtains. They've got classic cocktails like your Whisky Sours, Mojitos, Long Island Ice Teas and so on for 80rmb a pop. They've also got a "Signature Cocktail" list full of molecular goodies designed by Chris Xi. There's some cool stuff on there.

The Bird In A Cage (85rmb) is a classy jello-shot made with grass vodka and lychee puree, served inside an egg. Magic. There's the Red Hot Mama (160rmb) which is a pair of lip stick... sticks made with gin, chili and Moscato, a box full of powder made from Pernod and rose water, and a spray bottle with more gin and Moscato, served alongside a glass of champagne. Amaze your friends and coworkers as you eat your make-up set.

The second half of the concept is behind the velvet curtains. It's a three-tiered amphitheater with space for about 30 people. It's nice. Red fold-down chairs, great acoustics, a little table to put your cocktail on. Mind the supports or you'll accidentally collapse the damn thing and send the cocktail into your lap. This is where Blackstone LIVE happens, a close-up magic show from a rotating crew of magicians who present the works; sleight-of-hand, misdirection, fancy card tricks, light audience participation, music cues, dramatic lighting.

Shows are currently on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm SHARP. They don't let you in after the curtain's close, ticket or no ticket. You can book seats via their WeChat channel (blackstonemagicbar) or online at their website. Regular tickets are 240rmb with a classic cocktail or 300rmb for a VIP ticket (includes a signature cocktail). There're plans for more shows, but if you can't get a ticket, don't worry; the team of illusionists do short demonstrations at the bar, disappearing coins and making lemons and limes and stuff appear out of cups and whatnot.

First Impressions: The bar portion is hit-and-miss for me. I enjoyed the Bird in the Cage, partly because it was good, partly because I was standing at a table eating a cocktail out of an egg. The Classic Force (95rmb) was a girly pile of sweet foam covering a nice drink, but the mezcal-based fruit thing they call Mexican Joe (95rmb) was not my favorite. It felt like swallowing eggwhite with tequila, an experience I normally reserve for hangover cures. Solid Whiskey Sour, though.

They have a 10% service charge on drinks, though. So add like 10rmb to every price you see on the menu.

Bird in the Cage (85rmb)

Classic Force (95rmb)

But the magic is real. The "Lost in Magic" show I saw by founder Anson Chen was straight-up amazing, with Isaac Lam's sound and lighting making the little space come alive with atmosphere. It was great. You hear "close-up magic" and maybe you think Criss Angel or David Blaine, but this is not that. If this is the kind of quality we can expect, I'm on board, though I'm already a magic fan. I want a wand and a deck of cards involved when someone's lying directly to my face. For 240rmb including a solid drink, I'd happily come back maybe once every month or two to catch the new routines. Bring a friend. Bring a date. For gimmick skeptics, I'd say give it a shot, if only because there's nothing else like it Shanghai at the moment.

-Alex Panayotopoulos


Quick Take: A Beijing-tested vegan-friendly healthy organic eats chain moves to Shanghai. Here's your newest option for power bowls, warps, and more.

What It Is: With already four venues up and running in Beijing, Tribe is organic food and drinks doing all three square meals in the day plus bracing and fruity cocktails on top. Lots of healthy, fresh, leafy, crisp, rejuvenating, hydrating, detoxifying, exfoliating foods and juices -- big salads, noodle dishes, "brain bowls", wraps and salads, smoothies, juices, and more, making use of beetroot, kale, arugula, nuts and grains, avocado, mushrooms, quinoa, and an assortment of food stuffs raked up off the forest floor. "Rabbit food", as they say. Rabbit food made by elves. Rabbit food made by elves in active wear. Rabbit food made by elves in active wear that they've featured in TED Talks. (Or something.)

Taking it a step further than the standard healthy eats chains in Shanghai, Tribe has a "Glossary of Goodness" section on the menu, which codifies each dish according to a series of healthful indicators: "Healthy heart"; "High protein"; "Sugar free"; "High in fiber"; "Vitamin load!"; "Metabolism booster"; "Gluten free"; and more.

Long and short of it is here is a new option for vegetarians and vegans in Shanghai. Meat is on offer, ferrrsure, but they've got the option to vegan-ify most of it on there, and the menu as a whole is a pretty far-reaching and varied set of offerings. Lots of fairly involved and singular meals here. Should be great for vegetarians / vegans who find themselves eating in the same patterns out of necessity. It's something new.

Dining space is a cafe / daytime laptop seating on the ground floor, a small patio out front, and a nicer dinner-type environment upstairs.

Tender Is the Tandoori Chicken Salad Wrap (78rmb)

Beetlovers Vegan Beet Burger (68rmb)

Too Darned Hot Stone Bowl (88rmb)

First Impressions: If you're looking for another healthy eating alternative option, definitely the menu at Tribe is worth exploring. Food's great. And pretty singular. It feels a little on the expensive side -- ehhhhh, 68rmb for a beet burger, I dunno -- but I guess you're paying for quality and peace of mind. And the fact that if you only eat here you're probably going to live forever.

Another thing: The cocktails are nice too.

-Morgan Short

Mr. Banh Mi

Quick Take:From the makers of Cyclo, here's Vietnamese sandwiches and rolls on the go.

What It Is: Assuming a prime piece of expat circuit real estate sharing a wall with "The Avocado Lady," here's a sandwich stand dealing in those Vietnamese sandwiches that everyone in the world loves. Meat on a baguette, doused in sriracha sauce to taste. A simple counter-top operation, you're looking at two sizes for sammiches: small for 35rmb and large for 45rmb. They've got about half a dozen varieties including BBQ pork, Xa Xiu pork, BBQ pork meat ball, BBQ chicken, chicken apple, beef, pate with ham, and BBQ fish ball. In addition to the Banh Mi's they also serve the standard rolls (shrimp & pork; vegetarian spring rolls, and both those options fried) 25rmb for two; 45rmb for four. Rounding it out they've got a few drinks, Vietnamese coffee, and tapioca for dessert.

What you see is what you get: The Man pictured above serving up sandwiches. "God Level", it says on his hat. Opened for just a few days, apparently it's already doing more business than the new Cyclo the same concerns just opened in Found 158.

BBQ pork in the back; BBQ fish ball in the front (45rmb)

Shrimp and Pork rolls (25rmb)

Mango Tapioca (35rmb)

First Impressions: I'm missing the headcheese and the requisite Ba Muoi Ba that's supposed to be going along with these but yeah, good sandwiches, man. The bread is great, with the authentically tweaked ends and all. I enjoyed myself, listening to the owner's trap music, eating tasty, cost effective sandwiches (about 10-15rmb cheaper than Saigon Mama I think), and watching all the expats freaking out over avocados next door. Good for people living in the area for sure, if you're not health-conscious enough for Little Catch and are looking for a little switch up from Brothers Kebab.

-Morgan Short