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Fear and Loathing In Yangpu

Riding the drunk train north to Fudan University to party at eight cheap bars and rekindle a love with Shanghai. Star Wars pubs and empty arcades...
2014-11-07 17:41:32

Lately I feel like I've lost my shadow. Life in the crazy East has become normal. Tame, even. I miss the golden years circa 2007 when every cab ride was a wild adventure and Windows and C's were the coolest bars in the world. Those were the days of Chuansha dance clubs with farmer techno and bouncy dancefloors. A raw time when partying was undiluted by 90rmb cocktails, name cards, pop-ups, or "soft openings." The cushion between college and responsible young adulthood -- I miss it, god dammit.

So I gathered two friends to go find some soul in Yangpu District in north Shanghai. We rode Line 10 to Jiangwan Stadium, withdrew 500rmb, and walked to Daxue Lu. Shit got messy.

The first bit of Daxue Lu resembles a gentrified American main street. Here we begin at the Chinese Taco Bell – Togo Taco.

This was a good start. Their food would have been considered groundbreaking for Shanghai in 2007, but most importantly it's cheap and functional for this night of drinking. They sling sets of tacos from 30rmb. Tried the supreme tacos with steak, about a head of lettuce, and that guac sour cream drizzle for 50rmb, but the burrito (40-55rmb) seems the way to go here.

The margarita for 30rmb was too sweet but not unpleasant. What you really come here for are the jumbo-sized tequilas shots for 10rmb.

Just a few doors down, craft beer shop Cheers In has a spot on Daxue Lu too. Solid selection at store prices plus some tables posted up outside. But that's not what we're after tonight.

Most misleading bar name ever. No happy hour. 68rmb cocktails. No.

Pancake Day -- same menu as Mr. Pancake House but maybe they give a fuck here.

You looks friendly.

That cat told us to go to Agogo. Turns out that's a Star Wars-themed biker cowboy Americana bar. It's like a shanzhai Hard Rock Cafe that emerged out of someone's K hole. Droids are allowed in here.

DEY CALL ME 2 COMPUTERZ CAUSE I GOT 2 COMPUTEZZZ. She hyped it up with some deep house torrents while families enjoyed pasta served by cowgirl waitresses.

Don't even think about requesting a song.

Agogo's Mint Julep (40rmb) tastes like toothpaste. Serves me damn right for ordering that in a Star Wars cowboy bar with zebra heads on the walls. Staff are on a different planet here too. Was pretty busy though, full of middle class locals and middle-aged laowai. They do burgers and pizzas too, mostly around 70-80rmb. Those sounded like downtown prices so we bailed.

It started to rain and we came upon some gang graffiti. That's when we knew we were heading in the right direction. Got to find some soul...

Clearly out of the gentrified zone now, but no time for love Dr. Jones.

On the other side of the tracks, a ma la tang train restaurant. Place looks wild. First time I've ever seen ma la tang on a conveyor belt. Will return.

As we got deeper into the hood, the streetlights disappeared. Some street cats were slinking around outside the Korean BBQ dens. Then we came upon this little Last House On The Left number.

Looks like a place where demons host networking events. An Ayi beckoned us in and said we could bring our road beers too.

Narrow Gate bar is like Perry's meets The Apartment in the pit in Mortal Kombat. Jim Bean white is 15rmb a glass and tastes legit. Feels like a place you might just disappear in, if not for the watchful clan of History Friends protecting you.

Some next level Feng Shui shit up in here.

Narrow Gate is like a portal to someplace you don't ever want to go. This spot had what we were looking for but it felt unwise to hang around too late, so we dipped.

In classic fashion, we were out of the hood in ten minutes but still found hood elements like people hawking homemade french fries and noodles on their bikes near this little shopping/restaurant area.

Reoccurring theme here.

The biggest and brightest Family Mart I've ever seen. Guarded by the force. Time for a street beer re-up. You may be able to access Facebook in America, but you can't legally drink a beer on the street.

Finally, we reached the Chinese Ivy League – the north gate of Fudan Daxue.

Spent five minutes trying to find the Helen's address on the 2G phone network then was like "fuck phones", walked across the street, and Helen's was RIGHT THERE.

Helen's Bar is the World Cup of diversity, cheap regret, and study abroad crunk. They invented "Free Cigarettes Day". Popular all around China and also known as Perry's/Ellen's/Demarcia, this branch has been here for at least six years. The place was packed with college students and 20-somethings playing drinking games and not caring that the playlists suck. Perry's is a pretension free zone. There is something pure about this place. The spirit of 2007 still burns here.

Tried their house grape draft beer. Tasted like a commercial for diabetes testing supplies. Crushed that and a couple rounds of 15rmb Qingdao drafts.

It was time to dance like my man Nick Cage in Wild At Heart, so we took a quick cab to this new club called Propaganda. They've been in Beijing for like ten years and I heard they go hard up there.

The DJ was keeping the vibe hot with a pumpin' mix of Gangnam Style, but it was still a bit tame on a Wednesday. Drinks are like 20-30rmb and they gave us some free tickets. Kind of Windows-esque vibes.

Propaganda sits in the basement of an old-school mall that also has a KTV and a little Korean spot with decent beers and snacks but no kimchi pancakes so we bailed and hit the arcade.

...And there is nothing more depressing than an arcade with all the machines turned off.

But you can win a gun and a rice cooker.

It had already been a solid night. We found some soul, and felt pretty sauced though not belligerent. Could have called it quits then. Then we saw this sign for NEO BAR on the first floor of the mall. The place looked suspect. Anything could have been behind that door, like a room full of gangster uncles playing that sketchy fishing game.

Turns out Neo was the best bar of the night, and it's run by our old friend Neo who we hadn't seen in years. Guess he's been too busy running a rock bar in Yangpu. Place is rad. Cheap drinks, good music.

Nothing fancy here, just a bunch of local students/graduate dudes hanging out and drinking while listening to some well-picked 60s and 70s rock. One graduate student told us the drinks at Homeless bar suck and that we had came to the right place.

Sometimes student bands play there too. They serve some smooth German draft beer for 25rmb a pint. Crushed two pints of that then Neo brought out a bottle of Jager...

The night ended fast around 12.30am. Neo had been generous, and we were in bad shape. The cab home was not a fun experience. But whatever, I got my shadow back and we only spent like 500rmb total. The unpredictable, wild side of Shanghai still exists -- I just had to look a bit outside of the city center. That said, Yangpu District's area is eight times larger than Jing'an and I'd bet there's even crazier places up there.

So overall...

Even though the next day I was feeling like...

Northsiiiiiiiiiiide! They've got some soul up there.

All photos by Brandon McGhee