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There Is (Still) a Revolving Restaurant in the Pearl Tower

Ten years later, we re-revisit the buffet over Lujiazui.
Last updated: 2020-03-16
Photos: Brandon McGhee

Does one move with or against the rotation?

It's been ten eventful years since we checked in with Lujiazui's weirdest erection and its 267 meter tall star attraction: the all-you-can-eat buffet in the Pearl Tower’s revolving restaurant bead. In that time, a thousand restaurants, ten thousand, have come and gone. In that time, Shanghai has built its highest building yet, dwarfing the pink and grey TV Tower that was once Shanghai's connection to the future.

And oh has the The Oriental Pearl Sky Revolving Restaurant futurized since last we went! Gone are the pink table cloths, fake marble counters and grand piano. The restaurant has steamrolled its two-star hotel decor like it was Laoximen and replaced it with sleek black glass and neon lighting.

And nutcrackers, I guess?

On a recent evening, the common seats were packed. (The VIP section, cordoned with glass cabinets holding watches, sat empty.) Even with two dinner services per night, reservations sell out quickly as tourists and families queue for dishes built to withstand two hours of heat lamps without a noticeable decline in quality.

Fried rice and chicken nuggets. Scallops and Peking duck. Salad and noodles. Tater tots! Yes. Tater tots. All the ingredients for culinary abomination.

What have I wrought

They have an ice-cream carousel. Wheels within wheels.

And it all moves.

Assuming you go on a clear day, that is. On a cloudy day, it feels like eating in a bathosphere in the Marianas Trench. Without a reference point out the window, you'll be returning with a plate of fresh fruit, spicy Thai octopus and chicken nuggets only to find that your table and companions have vanished.

What fey enchanted realm is this?

They have spun away.

Perhaps the greatest change in the decade since SmSh first visited was in the fellow diners. There was no pushing for the seafood. Ladles were handled with care for the white shirts of others. Everyone formed orderly lines. The ticket price (418rmb directly through the Pearl Tower WeChat account: dfmz1118) includes two hours of free-flow beer but no one got loud. At the end of the two-hour allotted dinner service, there were leftover tiger prawns and sashimi.

Has time tamed our voracious appetite? Or is Shanghai now rich enough that we no longer need to clog our airways with tiger prawns anytime we see them?

I could perhaps have crammed a few more in there, because by the time I got out — a lengthy ordeal involving several elevators, more queues, and a foray through everything the building desperately throws out to keep you a bit longer — I felt hungry again.

In the dizziness of the mid-90s, this must truly have seemed the height of hospitality. Crack open a lobster claw as the world gently parades past your table.

There is still an underdog appeal to it. In the shadow of its taller, shinier neighbors, a spinning dinner in a pink ball has a dated charm to it, from the time when the future had yet to be built but dammit, you were going to feast now. Twenty-five years on, it's become a weird little bit of prosperity theater, playing out in the sky over our heads.

Today the revolving restaurant has a shiny new veneer, but the tired, uncaring looks on everyone working there betrays its reality; it's an act of obligation repeated twice a night every night of the year. Of all the things Shanghai has torn down, the Pearl Tower will never be one of them. It's an infinitely rotating tourist trap, spinning into the future forever.