On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile 2-3 new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.
Just drinks this week, thanks. Here's three new bars, Shanghai. To say the least...
Quick Take:The party luxury hotel brand from Marriott International finally opens in Shanghai. WET BAR is W Hotel's pool-plus-cocktail terrace bar angled towards that famous Shanghai skyline, the summer, the now, your entire social calendar.
What It Is: One hell of a place to take a selfie. That's for sure. After a few years of anticipation, luxury hotel party brand W Hotel has finally opened their Shanghai location. And they're going for it. Hard in the paint. In addition to their very own glittering tower at the north end of the Bund, they're perched on top of a coming mall expansion, and offering lounges, spas, meeting rooms, a speakeasy, a bistro, a Cantonese restaurant, and this, their pool-plus-cocktail lounge-plus events space, WET BAR. (Their capitals.) Unlike the traditional lux hotel, W Hotel's angle ("The W Hotel Slant") is to focus on youth-oriented happenings -- the event -- and have the rooms fill up after the fact. To those ends, they're focused on throwing parties associated with contemporary music, fashion, and youth culture trends with guests coming for the party first and then staying for the everything else because why would you ever leave? It's a formula they've replicated all over the world in Bangkok, Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, and now Shanghai.
Shanghai loves a good "event". Last weekend they previewed their ongoing "Heat Wave Summer Club" pool party series and around 700 people turned up in the course of the day (event photos here). Look for that pool ongoing pool party, one-off events, fashion brand showcases, and big-time international DJ appearances, including the after-parties for the upcoming Ultra Festival in September. You should be able to get the majority of your tickets for these events via SmartTicket. (My, that's convenient!)
Style-wise, WET BAR is fashion-damaged glam, art deco, futurism. Very chic. Very hip. Very "East meets West". Very "Old meets New". Very Shanghai filtered through the optics of a worldwide-established corporate brand. It's a gigantic open terrace (800 to 1000 capacity or so), angled around the swimming pool, facing the glittering, shimmering Pudong skyline. Which is, DAMN, still impressive to look at.
So. Prices. The majority of the events are ticketed events, in around the 100rmb-200rmb range. But yeah, it's The Bund, you're getting tables. The pool, in particular, is reserved for hotel and table guests. There's a lot of leeway in there and they're still tweaking prices on everything, but generally tables would run your about 400rmb-500rmb per person, depending on the package deal you get. A la carte drinks are around 85rmb to 98rmb, in fun and fruity flavors coming to you from a Hong Kong-experienced barman. 75rmb pints. 60rmb bottles.
First Impressions: Even among lux Bund destinations, this one's pretty lux. Open-air pool on a terrace in the clouds facing Pudong. Yeah. It should be interesting to see how their events program shakes things up down there as well.
Quick Take: Cocktail bar/cigar lounge occupying 2/3rds of a refurbished lanehouse, where you draw cards for the highest stakes imaginable; more drinks.
What It Is: Run by ex-Amber (that spot in Taixing 99 that used to be Daniel An's Starling) bartender Jack Li, the first floor is a cosy cocktail bar with nothing but fruity signature drinks on the menu (also a whiskey section about the length of a windsock).
The third floor is a cigar lounge, straight from what the 1980s IKEA Catalogue, Miami Edition probably looks like. Fumidors, patchwork armchairs, zebra-print tables, illuminated whiskey niches. It's a VIP lounge, but they're not that picky about entry. If you stumble in drunk with a bunch of buddies and demand to get the lounge, they'll probably say no. Engage in some small talk and ask politely if you can sit up there, they'll probably let you go. Or, you know, just call ahead and reserve the thing. It's Shanghai, that usually works.
The fourth floor holds a couple couches with windows on three sides and the ceiling, like it's the top of a lighthouse. The second floor holds the frosted door to an office. Something about a design studio.
So about those drinks. They're all in that 70-90rmb range you get if the man serving you is wearing a waistcoat. They're all "signature." Jack said the concept behind the list was appealing to a local drinker who wants something easy to sip; fruity, approachable, refreshing. He said if a foreigner walked in looking for a Negroni or a soup bowl of Campari, wasabi and salt packets (I'm paraphrasing here), he'd be happy to mix it.
Poker House's gimmick (every bar needs a gimmick, right?) is that they've got this deck of cards. Every time you buy a cocktail, you draw a card. The rules are esoteric. Also entirely in Chinese. They're working on a translated version. As far as I can tell, draw a card from the suit of the day and you get a free drink exactly one week later, if you come back with the card. Draw a King on a Saturday, and the whole table gets a round of free cocktails. Or save up the cards you get for a full house and get... something more. Bottle of whiskey. Get sixteen aces in a row and draw the foil edition King of Hearts and I guess you own the bar. Yahtzee. Absolutely don't quote me on any of these rules.
First Impressions: But what if people cheat and fake the cards, we ask. Jack says he's looking forward to the day they're popular enough for someone to go to that much effort. I liked the cocktails. They weren't trying to blow my mind with herbal infusions or an artful interpretation of a Sazerac or anything. They were sweet, tasted pretty good and looked nice. The atmosphere's chilled. The card game's a fun thing (if you understand the rules, which I didn't, but I did draw an ace and got a refill), though it's hard to tell if it'll take. Then again, everyone thought Pokemon was just a passing craze as well, Dad.
Quick Take: The quintessential Shanghai restaurant Yongfoo Elite has opened a speakeasy-style cocktail bar at the back end of their garden called Keep It Quiet. It's a place for Shanghai lifers to live forever.
What It Is: There might be no more emblematic a restaurant of Shanghai than Yongfoo Elite. This two-star Michelin restaurant ticks all the boxes. It's in a colonial villa in the heart of Xuhui. Dating back to the early 20th century, it served as the UK, Russia, and Vietnam consulates over the years. Repossessed during the CR -- classic -- the current owner has tricked it out in their personal antique collection, with nods to ancient China, art deco, Old Shanghai, and whatever else. A favorite of diplomats, artists, chancers, tycoons, tourists, and vagabonds, they even serve Shanghainese cuisine.
Walk though their garden, which abounds in fountains, foliage, antique furniture, and even a daybed -- basically, it looks like the French rubber plantation on the border of Cambodia in Apocalypse Now -- and you'll find "Keep It Quiet". Just walk towards the dreamy warble of Nico's voice emanating out inexplicably from behind the overgrowth.
"If people don't like my drinks, they can leave," says the bartender.
A 20-year-or-so French expat, he's spent time in bars in all over the world, including at Beijing's iconic live music venue Yugong Yishan. That was back in 2003. For the last 10 years he's been surfing in Hainan like he was on the run or he'd figured out life. He got called back to work this bar by his long-time friend, Wei Wei, the bar's manager, herself something of a Shanghai-famous figure in this city's art circles. And a published author as it turned out. In the course of the evening, she produced a self-published book of erotic literature printed entirely on pink paper for me to peruse. It includes a photo of some arty fellow shoving his penis through a photograph of someone's face. Love it! Wonderful stuff. This badly needs an English translation.
The French bartender himself has 17 books of poetry to his credit, they tell me. All unpublished. Magnificent. Not sure if they were lying about that. Actually, not sure what they were lying about with any of it. And I prefer it that way. The evening quickly spun out of control. This is not a cocktail bar. This is a place for ex-CIA agents living in exile. In the back of the Yongfoo Elite garden. Here's some drinks they gave me.
Heavy, heavy pours. None of that fancy garnishing stuff and egg foam whatever. The bartender doesn't go in for any of that shit, he tells me. Drinks were great though. Not sure he'd care either way to hear it. But there you go.
"Drink! Drink!" Says Wei Wei. "We've been here drunk to 4am every night since opening last week." Then she puts on a record of her own rock music she made in France. Good times.
First Impressions: An experience quite like any other, to be sure. It's like a Hotel California for characters in a Henry Miller novel. It's wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.