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"Shanghai Famous" is a weekly SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.
My name is Colin Tait and I’m the group bar manager for Shake and Heyday. I’m from Scotland and have been in Shanghai for nearly two years. I came here straight from a two year stint in Bangkok (minus a short stay in Africa) to join the opening team at Shake. I live in Changning, close to Donghua University. There're a lot of exchange and language students, but I find it a good area to live in. I have my own space, which might not be possible further in and it’s not far from anything. Very important, that. A late-night commute would put me in a perpetual bad mood.
I love that there is always something new to try in the city. A new restaurant, bar, gym, gadget, a show, mini-festival, whatever. Never lacks surprises. But you can still find space to retreat inside your bubble if necessary. OK, so the language barrier can be a little frustrating, but that’s my own problem. The rising rent also sucks. But these are first world problems. Life in Shanghai is pretty sweet.
Recently, my favorite restaurant is the refurbished Le Bouchon. I love anything with a ton of cream and butter. For an everyday sort of thing, the Ramen Shop on Shaanxi Nan Lu is my regular go-to before work. So's the sausage roll at the Shed, when it’s available. For drinks, Tour, around the corner from Shake, is a pretty solid cocktail bar, plus it’s a good crowd. That and the malls! You can find everything in a mall these days. There’s an underground mall in People’s Square that has a massive arcade. Street Fighter 2 all day long! [Ed's Note: Street Fighter 2 all day, baby].
Bartending can drive you a little crazy if you don’t look after yourself. It can fill you with a lot of adrenalin and lead to overindulgence when your shift's done. That can turn into one big cycle of abuse. Or partying. Depends on how you want to look at it. I've been guilty of this. But I’ve been taking boxing lessons at Golden Gloves recently instead. My level's proper garbage but I love the workout, and getting to hit something helps with the week's frustrations. I recently found a local climbing wall too.
Shanghai has a wealth of talent in F&B. That's great, but it also opens the door to a lot of so-so places along the way, a lot of ill thought-out concepts and “failures to launch.” I don't think a lot of new bars consider the fundamentals of running a business. Proper costing, utilization of space against guest spend, gimmicks against taste and productivity, wage budgets, proper P&L and forecasting what the guest wants against what the bartender wants. It's especially true with bartenders. We're in the rockstar phase. Some young guy gets a little bit of fame, someone chucks them a bit of money and boom, cocktail bar number 299 opens in Shanghai. The harsh realities of life follow close behind.
But bartenders are getting better. A lot of the education comes from the spirit brands, but some brands only extend the educational aspect to bars that stocks that brand, or only focus on the bars that are popular. I think it'd make more sense to open it up to the wider bartending community. The more bartenders know about a brand, the more bartenders are likely to use it. Guest bartenders from abroad can be a great resource too, but bartenders might not get much from an event that charges over 90rmb a drink. How many local bartenders are going to that? But it's still a business for everyone at the end of the day.
I would love to see more neighborhood bars opening up and I think there will be an extension of the large format bar. The beauty of Shanghai is that there are so many people, so there's room for anything. The execution just needs to be there.
Other guests aren't so great, of course. Worst guest for me was around ten years ago. I had to cut off a customer, and he threatened to come back and nail my hands to the bar. Needless to say I didn't take it seriously. To my surprise he turns up around an hour later with a hammer. Presumably the nails were somewhere on his person; I didn’t ask, one quick call and he got himself a free stay with the local constabulary.
Oh, and there was that gypsy riot. That’s a good story, but it has to be told in person.
Am I going to live in Shanghai forever? You never know. I’ve been fortunate to live and travel to a lot of different places over the last few years and for now Shanghai tops the bill. One thing I can say for sure is I don’t see myself ever leaving Asia.