Like everything in this city, Shanghai’s LGBTQ+ nightlife scene is perpetually in flux. A constantly evolving community, it shrinks or expands to fit the space it has been allowed.
For every venture that dissolves thanks to drama or the powers that be, there is another beloved spot that’s stood the test of time, or an intriguing new idea from a newcomer. This makes the city’s current LGBTQ+ offerings more diverse, inclusive and fabulous than ever.
So while this list is very much just a snapshot of a moment in time, and any of these bars and parties could disappear without warning, I’ve tried to provide all the tools you might need to embark on your own gay odyssey into the sordid, fierce, resilient world of Shanghai LGBTQ+ nightlife.
The one, the only – Lucca 390 is the first name in Shanghai gay nightlife and the place that any newbie queer to the city should hit up first. It’s the most reliable option on any given weekend, with a music policy of techno and gay pop anthems from Britney through Gaga and either drag performances or gogo dancers every Friday and Saturday night. The 120rmb cover price gets you entry and two drink tickets.
The dance floor is perpetually stuffed to the gills, so that the party always spills outside – walk past Lucca at 3am on a Saturday and you’ll find a panoply of cigarette smoke, WeChat QR scan exchanges and tea being split left and right.
Lucca began life back in 2012 under the name 390, before a brush with the brass led Jack, the down-to-earth owner of this larger-than-life bar, to reopen as Lucca, after a town he loves in Tuscany. The club recently debuted Lucca 390+, a sprawling second floor with two bars, a roomier dance floor and sultry red lighting.
Lucca also occasionally holds community events during the week, and somehow retains a welcoming aura without too much of the meat market vibe that can plague mainstream gay nightclubs. Just enough. Its position at the pinnacle of Shanghai’s gay nightlife scene is hard-fought and well-deserved.
One of my missions in life is spreading the Good Word about Roxie and how lucky Shanghai’s queer women are to have it. The worldwide decline in lesbian bars has been well-documented, and it can be hard for queer women to feel like they have a reliable place to go, even in major cities with a flourishing gay nightlife scene.
Enter Roxie – originally a struggling 1950’s rockabilly bar Hepcat, until owner/Shanghai lesbian royalty Ting Ting changed the name and started encouraging patrons to hang their bras from the ceiling. Four years later, Roxie is an institution.
Unapologetically sexual in its promotional materials and events, with pole dancers, traffic light parties and singles nights, Roxie embodies a proud, debauched, campy hedonism that’s the norm at gay bars like Lucca but rarely, if ever, found at their lesbian equivalent.
There’s usually no cover, drinks are relatively cheap (simple mixes 50rmb) and more than relatively strong, and the whole place has a gritty air of authenticity, welcoming to everybody but fully committed to being a bar for queer women.
In the fall of 2019, the friendly gayborhood bar formerly known as Happiness42 rebranded under the name HUNT, after the party promoters who now own it. This felt like a natural progression, as HUNT’s resident power couple D and R have been curating events at the bar for quite a while.
Originally under the same ownership as Lucca, Happiness42 was meant to be another bumping nightclub when it first opened in 2016, but neighbor noise complaints changed its trajectory toward becoming Lucca’s more chilled-out little sister, with a focus on community building and queer cultural events.
HUNT, meanwhile began life as a party promotion company back in 2011 and is one of Shanghai’s most established gay promoters, curating an eclectic roster of events that now have a permanent home at the bar. From RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties (All Stars 5 set to screen Saturday nights this summer) to Drag Bingo to free beer nights every Wednesday (yes, really) and Bear night the last Friday of the month, the bar always has something cooking, and we highly recommend following their WeChat to keep tabs on the schedule.
Every weekend they also offer a 180rmb weekend free flow that includes free entry to Lucca, making it the unofficial pre-game spot for the club, which is a three-minute walk away if you take the alley shortcut.
We’ve always had a soft spot for the community vibe of Happiness42, and combining forces with HUNT’s diverse, ambitious event planning makes this an exciting gayborhood space that’s very quickly coming into its own.
Follow them on WeChat: HUNTShanghai.
Part of the very earliest generation of LGBTQ+ bars in Shanghai, Asia Blue is the city’s oldest gay bar still currently in operation. Owner Andy debuted the first version of Asia Blue back in 2000, when Shanghai nightlife was a very different animal and opening a bar catered to gay men was a trailblazing endeavor. Asia Blue recently relocated due to rent issues (it’s always rent issues), and its new location has popped up right next-door to Lucca’s new second-floor space, Lucca 390+.
The joyfully campy décor features mint green walls, porcelain replicas of Michelangelo’s David and a “private KTV room” on the raised loft space. Andy, who sports oversized statement eyeglasses and smokes a pipe worthy of Sherlock Holmes, adds plenty of character to the spot on his own.
The second floor area that connects Asia Blue and Lucca 390+ is a confusing path of long hallways and half-finished construction that gets even more confusing after a few whiskey sodas, but once Asia Blue is more established, I can see it being a welcome respite from Lucca’s heaving dance floor on the weekends as well as a solid pre-game spot.
In the iconic words of Hannah Gadsby, “where are the quiet gays supposed to go?”
Rice Bar, it turns out, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. This low-key neighborhood staple is situated squarely in the gayborhood, a ten minute walk from Lucca. This where the relaxed lounge constituency of queers hold court in its welcoming upstairs space, ideal for chatting with friends or a date night. There are comfy booths, downtempo jazz and lo-fi pop on the stereo and a respectable selection of whiskey and cocktails around 70rmb.
Owner Takuya hails from Jiangsu province and is fluent in Japanese, so the bar is especially popular with gay Japanese expats. Rice Bar regularly participates in community events like ShanghaiPRIDE’s annual Halloween pub crawl, but its greatest appeal is its unassuming and friendly neighborhood bar atmosphere in the club-saturated world of LGBTQ+ nightlife.
Another option for more low-key lounge drinking is Moon Bar. The vibe is a mix of casual neighborhood bar and sci-fi cocktail spot with lounge seating, otherworldly blue light, and—in case there’s any confusion about the bar’s orientation—neon rainbow strip lights that adorn the ceilings and wind up a staircase to a tiny second floor space. With 70rmb simple mixes and classic cocktails, it’s a solid spot for either a chill drink or a Lucca pregame with a bit of neon-lit ambiance.
Interesting fact; Moon Bar sits directly atop the skeletal remains of the legendary Shanghai Studio — a beloved underground labyrinth of a nightclub under the same ownership as Lucca that was endlessly plagued by problems with authorities before shuttering a few years ago. Legend has it that Shanghai Studio still throws one-night-only parties on very rare occasions. You didn’t hear it from us.
Once a traveling party series, the organizers of Sao (Chinese slang for slutty) have settled into Haus, a new nightclub in a North Jing’an basement. The space is roomy and visually stimulating, with a complex laser light system that ripples across the smoky dance floor and a giant rainbow logo from Absolut across the bar. With a music policy of pop and mainstream electronic music, there are occasional drag queen performances and a few recurring special events, including fetish nights and Kpop nights.
Haus is overflowing some weekends and completely empty on others, which may be because they are replicating Lucca’s admittedly rather exorbitant cover price of 120rmb, but do not yet have the reputation to back it up (though you can get in for half price if you buy in advance on their WeChat account: Unicornshanghai).
As the newest club in 2020 they have a lot to live up to, with one of the organizers themselves telling me, “Lucca is no. 1, we want to be no. 2.” However, the club’s great design allows for lots of potential, and Shanghai is long overdue for an intriguing new LGBTQ+ nightspot. With a few tweaks and a reduced cover charge, Haus will have all the ingredients to be the next big thing.
Medusa is the filthy first lady of underground queer parties in Shanghai at the moment. Founded by DJ and vocalist Michael Cignarale with DJ Mau Mau and held monthly at Elevator, it's a raunchy, joyful dance party that’s unapologetically inclusive and referential to dance music’s long history in queer pockets of the US.
Their visual material is especially strong: Cignarale’s sparkly pink-and-purple posters are some of the most iconic and immediately recognizable of any Shanghai party, and they boast a strong WeChat hype game that makes liberal use of Drag Race and Pose stickers, plus the playful hodgepodge of visuals at the parties themselves from VJs NY and 解读（丸）. Showing up in drag grants you free entry (otherwise 80rmb) and there’s often a special guest drag performer.
Since it launched as a small local night in 2016, Medusa has hosted some notable queer DJs from abroad and collaborated on several balls with Shanghai’s House of Kawakubo, where young Shanghai queers had the chance to put their vogueing and runway skills on display. Now an established name in Shanghai nightlife, Medusa retains her status as the city’s best glitter-soaked queer history lesson.
Follow them on WeChat: Medusa Realness.
Plastic. began life after internal conflict led to the dissolution of another big party organization that burst onto the scene in 2016. One of its founders, Jing, went on to launch plastic., which similarly provides an alternative to hook-up focused gay club nights, but with a smaller, friendlier feel (and no cover charge!).
Plastic. spent the first part of 2019 establishing itself before going on a somewhat dramatic hiatus, returning this past November by dropping an illustrated poster themed after Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” They’ve been going strong ever since. The parties are slated to happen at least twice a month at venues around the city, including Curfew and Italo.
Photo credit: He Huang
The plastic. vibe is low key and chatty, with a music policy of established and beloved gay anthems from a rich array of pop divas. Entry is free, and there’s generally some kind of discounted drinks deal until 11pm, making for a fun and accessible neighborhood party.
Follow them on WeChat: PLASTICSH.
HTTP has arrived to fill a longtime void in the queer female perspective in underground nightlife in Shanghai. Held monthly at Elevator, the party’s commitment to inclusivity is embedded right in its name – the letters stand for Half (Chinese slang for a lesbian who is neither butch or femme), Tomboy (Chinese equivalent of butch), Trans and Po (Chinese equivalent of femme, from laopo or wife).
Founder and self-described “queer raver” OFFSKII was inspired to create “a queer night that continually allows the artists full autonomy of the genres they want to play,” and that philosophy is very much apparent, as sets can vary throughout the night from poppy anthems to dark industrial. With sets from DJs like Huan Huan, Yinan, Cocoonics and Everlast Phantom with VJ Mengki’s 3D visuals, this range makes for a dynamic dance floor, along with some playful decorations, like inflatable seashell love seats, that change up the vibe of Elevator just enough to feel like a special occasion.
Photo credit: NOTH
With offshoot community events like collaborations with DOC’s Barbershop’s Lez Cut Club and an interview series on Shanghai Community Radio, HTTP makes for a promising new event on the monthly calendar.
Check Elevator’s WeChat (Elevator上海) or HTTP’s Instagram (HTTP_Shanghai) to stay in the loop on the latest parties.
Calories by Bonbon
Billed as a “monthly pop music party” at The Cut Rooftop, Calories is the most nightlife-centric event from promoters Bonbon, who were once also part of Snap!, but now tend toward lifestyle-oriented daytime events like markets and fitness classes.
Interestingly, there are almost no references or signifiers of any kind in their promo material that could classify Calories as an LGBTQ+ party – Jeffrey, who launched Bonbon along with co-founders Jacky & Yelin, describes it as a “community for all global citizens to fully embrace their identities” – but Bonbon has a built-in audience of gay men who faithfully attend their events. Because of this, there’s something about the parties that can feel a bit generic, but even so, Bonbon clearly has a lot of love for the community, partnering with nonprofit SCMC for World Aids Day in 2019.
Photo credit: Calories
Entry is always free, and the parties are fun and energetic once they get busy, especially in the summer months when The Cut’s spacious terrace is open for breaking a sweat under the night sky.
Follow them on WeChat: Nihao Bonbon.
Long-running party series Angel Shanghai are currently on hiatus, because their home base club of LG shuttered in the fall of 2019. However, as one of the oldest gay party promoters in Shanghai, Angel has survived many a fallen club – Shanghai gays of a certain vintage may remember their home base at ICON a few years ago, and their regular nights at Obama club before that.
Though they are currently without a home, fans of good old-fashioned sweaty club nights should follow their WeChat to stay in the know about their inevitable return to a brick-and-mortar space.
Follow them on WeChat: Angel同志地图 (Angel tongzhi ditu).
For those who appreciate dancefloor realness with a side of culture, seek out CINEMQ’s monthly Thursday night party, which offers screenings of queer shorts from China and around the world. All are subtitled in English and Chinese, often by the organizers themselves – for English speakers, this means you’re sometimes catching queer Chinese films that aren’t available with English subtitles anywhere else. When the screenings end around 10pm, seats are removed and the dance party begins – underground queer house and club music similar to Medusa.
Photo credit: Will Dai
It's always free entry and has been held at ALL and Specters, but more often than not you’ll find this inclusive and lovingly-curated party at Elevator, which is the most consistently queer-friendly of Shanghai’s underground nightclubs.
Follow them on WeChat: CINEMQ.
Always your best bet when it comes to partying for a good cause, ShanghaiPRIDE has been lighting the city up rainbow for a week every June since 2009, overcoming no small number of setbacks to continue celebrating love in all its forms. Every year the festival hosts at least two major nightlife events: the Pink Party, a huge jubilant bash with lots of live performances, and the Ladies’ Party for queer women (this year, the Ladies’ Party goes down on June 18, the Pink Party on June 20).
In addition to the June festival, ShanghaiPRIDE also hosts and co-hosts various events throughout the year, from Lucca 390’s annual drag competition every November to a Halloween Pub Crawl to a series of pre-Pride events every spring, so check their WeChat to stay in the loop.
Follow them on WeChat: 上海骄傲节 (Shanghai jiao ao jie).
Looking for more LGBTQ nightlife? Check out our directory for more events, venues and articles like this.