For the professional "lifestyle journalist", no aspect of the job is more relevant, necessary, and essential to the greater community than one's hamburger coverage. It's the big leagues. It's the big show. This is flying without a net. This is life unscripted. This is realer than real. For a lifestyle journalist, this is our "embedded with the troops in Kandahar"; this is our "uncovering corruption at the upper echelons of government"; this is our "speaking truth to power."
At SmartShanghai.com we take our hamburger journalism seriously. There is no room for error with us. There are no halfway measures here. We're ruthless. We've got to be. Or lives are lost. Families decimated. Regimes toppled. Not really but dinners could be ruined. Poor value experienced.
My friends, this is some Deepthroat-level serious journalism right here -- or "Deepintestines" or... "Deep and profound need to use the bathroom"... or something like that -- because, hey, we went to basically every dive bar in Shanghai to taste-test their hamburgers.
Read on for THE SCOOP, my friends. This is the SmSh Guide to Shanghai's Dive Bar Burgers.
RACK 'EM UP.
Yup, let's just get this one out of the way right off the bat. Perry's. I know it, you know it. I love it, you do too. With its thick wooden tables, rustic decor, dirt cheap booze prices, and crayon writing on the walls alerting you to Johannes from Sweden's every move, Perry's is the quintessential "backpacker bar", especially for me, carrying around as much psychological baggage as I do. With a soundtrack comprised purely of official Pitbull Soccer World Cup anthems and some of the most lethal bucket drinks in town, Perry's offers a mind-erasing night out, in the company of Shanghai's finest group of people you never ever want to exchange WeChat contacts with.
There's like 90 Perry's bars around town but I feel like we need more. We could always do with more.
Perry's offers a sneaky little double-patty number which I like to call The Tapeworm's Choice. No fuss, no muss, what we've got here is two all-... meat? patties on a bun with a lil' limp lettuce guy and a forlorn slice of tomato. Clocks in at a very thrifty 25rmb.
Suggested Drinks Pairing: Vodka Redbull Bucket. Two tickets to paradise (aka the Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan).
Can you smell the B.O. wafting off this thing? I bet you can. I sure did. Put your face right up to the screen and take a big whiff. It's pungent. Odorous. It's got stink lines, I'm telling you. It's just got this straight-up, knock-you-over B.O. scent like its flight got cancelled and it had to sleep in the airport. Shit smells like it's been sweated by New York detectives for 12 hours trying to get it to confess to murdering my appetite.
And it tastes...
Well, there's no other way to say it, it tastes like a cardboard Kleenex box marinated in butt-holes.
Well, well, well! This looks familiar! Oh, hai Ellen's. Definitely of the barfed-on Spanish galleon that Perry's built. Evidently, the real people, Perry, Helen, and Ellen are all related in real life. Seriously. It's like a family of super friends running Shanghai best bars. I wonder what their HQ is like. Oh, wait I know what it's like, it's got tiny flags of the world all over it and Bob Marley's "Jammin'" is played on an permanent endless loop like someone loaded it up in a space capsule and shot it out to the outer reaches of the galaxy.
Newly opened in a dingy office building off Huaihai Lu, if Perry's is a little too "Bund Life" for you, you'll find the atmosphere at Ellen's refreshingly "pretension-free" as they say in the lifestyle magazine biz.
Yes, it's a "lack of pretension" that's almost aggressive at Ellen's. They've got like a real aggressive streak with their lack of pretension. Look at the entrance:
Oh, you want to get into the bar through an actual door? Why don't you take your business elsewhere, YOUR MAJESTY. We don't go in for that pretentious "door" bullshit around these parts. You gotta climb up over a dirty mop and through a piece of broken cardboard if you want to break bread with us.
Seriously, my dudes, if you want to use an actual door to get into a bar these days, you should really check your privilege.
What we got here is a classic Leaning Tower of Pisa (Shitta) with bun, lettuce, tomato, onion, patty, cheese, cucumber, bun in that order, ascending upwards, reaching up to the heavens like Icarus and the sun. Crispy string fries to round out the taste spectrum and two playful packs of tomato paste applicable to either fries or burger to the diner's own preference.
Suggested Drinks Pairing: We recommend the Bucket of Vodka Redbull, which has been ingeniously deconstructed via trendy molecular mixology to replicate the exact taste of a bucket of Gin & Tonics. It's their signature cocktail. Magnifique.
It's a pretty confounding thing, I'll tell you that. It's constructed like somebody was told what a burger looks like once long ago but they've long since forgotten what's supposed to go where and they've arrived at what we see here by traversing a hazy gulf of forgetfulness. Look at the construction of this thing, fucking thing was like eating a tennis ball betwixt two Frisbees. It's like the Neapolitan ice cream of burgers because in one bite you get nothing but bun, mayo, and lettuce and the next is like meat and onion and that's it. Bogus. Didn't like hanging out with it. Not one bit.
Ahhhh, Win-Sco. Old faithful. The big green grinding machine. A bar oriented towards both impoverished foreign students on benders together with red-faced goons who actually own their own pool cues, at Windows Scoreboard you can just tell that the staff, they spend like 90% of their time reviewing last night's security camera footage to figure out who's culpable for the damage. That's like the major job description: Must have 20-20 vision for long hours reviewing security camera footage. They're all squinty eyed taking your order because they've just spent 4 hours staring at a flickering grey screen trying to figure out where in this writhing mass of bodies the first punch came from.
The thing about Windows Scoreboard is that they achieved perfection somewhere around 2008 and haven't changed a thing since. Why should they? Why meddle with perfection? On our trip down on a cold and rainy Tuesday they were still rocking the entire Offspring Smash album on speakers that would make the intercom PA system in a South African prison sound like a Funktion 1. The goons were all still at it, playing pool with their custom cues and a bunch of students were sidling up to the beer pong table just generally behaving like the leaders of tomorrow.
The burger at Windows Scoreboard is 15rmb. One five rmb. Friggin' 1952 prices. Comes with a Coke Float for a nickle extra. It's served up in a basket with no sides. But, no, you only get one packet of tomato paste with it. Don't waste it.
Suggested Drinks Pairing: Three shots of "Angel's Kiss". I don't know. It was funny to me at the time.
Classic as it ever was. Which is to say drier than Mars' balls. Drier than the testicles of the planet Mars. But who's complaining for 15rmb and for the opportunity to hear Matt's playlist in the year 2017. Let's just say that it tasted like the Foo Fighters and move on.
Oh, sweet another one of these. Great. Feel like I'm in Groundhog Day, reliving the worst day ever, but like instead of the alarm clock waking up Bill Murray in the movie, for me it's the fucking Black Eyed Peas coming on and somebody hands me a hookah. A Helen's by another name is a Perry's and it smells just as sweet. Same deal with the wooden tables and the little flags. Helen's was a little more bangin' when we went by, as evidenced by the faded Finnish progressive jam band stickers on the bathroom walls. They're gonna be huge.
On the menu...
...a shrimp burger. Well, that's something different. Big poppa's gonna take one of those and wash it down with a Helen's Legend and a Goose Island, please.
Hmmm. Getting some KFC vibes off this one. We've got a shrimp patty here, bisecting the tomato and the lettuce, which is something that KFC does. Someone's clearly been doing their research. Just combing through ancient tomes in deep, subterranian libraries to crack the mystery of the perfect burger construction.
Man. It takes a real death wish to order up a shrimp burger from a place like Helen's. We're playing for keeps here. This is no joke.
Suggested Drinks Pairing: Helen's Legend. Helen. What a legend.
Tasted like essence of the ocean breaded with someone's toe nails. Like krill, cartilage, and foot juice. The foot juice ran down into my beard. Rank. Rank, rank, rank. RANKADANK. I got two bites into this thing and had to chug my Helen's Legend.
Don't make me chug my Helen's Legend! I want to sip and enjoy!
The Shed, popular Aussie sports bar in Jing'an with tons of dusty sports memorabilia on the walls and tons of lusty gentlemen playing pool. I have a few friends who swear by The Shed. They're loyalists. And terrible people on the internet, incidentally. I gather The Shed is like the Bar Rouge for people who like posting wildly offensive opinions on the internet. It's the hot spot for those types. It's the don't see and don't be seen hotspot for anonymous internet message board commentators.
I like The Shed though. I really like it. I've got no problem with it. And I'm not just saying that because everyone in there looks like the guy from the movie Snatch who feeds people to pigs.
Ayyyyy, now we're talking. Aussie Cheeseburger. This is like five-star Michelin cuisine compared to everything else on this list. You sure The Shed is a dive bar? Feels like a Member's Only club to me, like pass me the truffle oil already. It's also the most expensive burger on this list by far. 60rmb for what you see here, with the option to switch the fries for salad! How about that! A choice!
Feel like I'm just coming out of the desert here. Might survive this yet.
Suggested Drinks Pairing: Oh wait. It is a dive bar. Drinks pairing is a Jaggerbomb. Which is actually like a pretty mild inconvenience to me compared to the ongoing nuclear assault that's being waged against my lower intestine.
Yep. It was okay. It was just okay. The meat was fair quality and it was juicy enough in the right way. Not much about it that makes it stand out, but at this point anonymity is just fine for me. Thank you for not ending my life, Shed burger.
Also, thanks for playing the Gin Blossoms when I was there, LOL. Nice to know where my older sister's cassette tape collection ended up.
I don't know where Maia's fits into the whole Perry's-Helen's axis of awesome, but I can tell you they've ratcheted up the formula a bit, which is to say it looks like Pirates of the Caribbean 2 going through a really messy divorce with Pirates of the Caribbean 3. I don't really know what that means -- the Jaggerbomb is kicking in. But, yeah, it looks like they got their pirate ship decor super cheap because it used to be part of a ride in a mid-Western state fair that ended up killing a bunch of teens.
This one's right across from Yuyintang, servicing the Jiaotong university and is, thus, completely full of university kids. Said university kids will invariably come up to you and start a conversation, which will invariable get to "How long have you been in Shanghai?"
When you tell them the answer, they give you this look back like, "wowwww... you are really fucking up!"
(They're not wrong.)
Suggested Drinks Pairing: The drink pictured above is a cocktail entitled "The 17-Year Old". Which is... just the kind of creepy I'm looking for in a cocktail selection. (It was Malibu and Sprite.)
It looked good. It smelled good. It was a decent size and construction. I had high hopes. I took a big bite out of it. Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong. I reached into my mouth and yanked out a big piece of mop string stuck between my molars.
C's! Love me some C's. You know C's. It's C's! Graffiti on the walls, tons of people getting crunk seven days a week, nothing but quality booze flowing freely of out that bar in the middle. In the Shanghai grand scheme of things, C's Bar is where basically every Shanghai-based DJ got their start in the game, a fact that should have the bar management up in front of an international tribunal at The Hague for crimes against humanity.
Fun C's fact: If you look above the bar you'll see about 12 really demonic and evil-looking dolls suspended from the ceiling. Those dolls are actually holding the souls of all the waitstaff who work at the bar. They're waiting for someone to come along and free them from their curse so they can take a night off.
Yes! C's has a food menu. Among the nuts (and bolts) section of the food section on the menu is a C's Burger, very reasonably priced at 30rmb. You'll find it along with a range of new cocktail creations.
Actually, on our trip to C's we got really lucky because we saw them about to make the burgers for the night, getting an inside peek at an essential stage in their culinary process:
BwaHahha. Just kidding. YES that IS a horse in C's bar but I don't think they're making the burgers out of it. I don't know how the horse got there. This picture was forwarded to me. Anonymously. I don't have the answers you seek. I only know about the burgers at the end of their creation.
They look like this:
Suggested Drinks Pairing: This one's on the menu as the "C's Special C's" and is literally a shot of Bacardi rum in a beer. I'm not joking. I give it five stars. (I'm joking about that.)
Take a knee, Shanghai. I shit you not, I swear to the heavens, the C's bar burger is really good. This is a good burger. For real. It's definitely, definitely not a bad burger. By any means. Meat was fine, bun was fine, veggie and cheese were more than fine. Shocker. It's good! It's great! Waaaaaugh!
Sigh. I feel a certain vindication here, my friends. At the end of this long journey. Here's the take-away: C's burger is pretty decent. And cheap! We can rest on that. We've won the day. Another probing lifestyle journalism article in the books. Let the truths we've uncovered here ring out in the streets of Shanghai!