What It Is: If we're being reductive, which I am, it's a big fancy-looking club lounge.
Shanghai's first self-declared "superlounge" (plenty of "superclubs," but thus far no "superlounges") has a lot of DNA from the KOR that opened up in Taipei in 2016 by theLOOP Group.
It made waves in Taiwan as a "sophisticated" nightlife option, somewhere between the staid cocktail bars and thumping nightclubs that made up the city's scene at the time. Instead of EDM played at volumes that could demolish a brick wall, KOR's custom-built VOID sound system was used for hip-hop and soul with the midrange softened so you could still carry a conversation without shredding your vocal cords.
The food got a meticulous French look and feel, the cocktails got more attention than table packages, they had an excellent whiskey and cigar collection, and the whole thing looked incredible. By all accounts, a slick, beautiful space for slick, beautiful people.
It was packed to the fire exits before it even opened, and continues to be popular, I understand.
The one in Shanghai isn't looking to break that mold, at least looks-wise. It moved into the ex-Dozo space in the last days of 2019, but has only just (soft re-)opened last month.
It has the KOR trademarks: black, white and gold color scheme, a lot of strip lighting, smooth, modern lines and amphitheater seating built around a towering backbar. The sight-lines are spoiled a bit by the giant support columns, and it's too bad they couldn't find a way to use the space's floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the elevated road, but it's still a very nice, nice-looking place.
Feels like drinking in a spaceship.
The sound system is still VOID, it's still very gold, still customized to the space, and they continue to soften the midrange so that even with the bass rustling your jimmies, you can hold a conversation. They don't play EDM. That's a point in their favor. In the time we were there, it was mostly hip-hop, including some early Usher. Heady recollections of middle school dances. Trap was threatened as the evening progressed.
KOR Shanghai deviates from Taipei in that it opens way earlier: 3pm, currently, doing afternoon tea and then dinner from 5.30-9pm, before the lounge menu (and lighting) kicks in around 10pm. It's Chef Jenson Pei in the kitchen with super chef André Chiang (once of Le Jardin des Sens in France and Restaurant André) consulting: his contributions are marked with at little AC on the menu, and he's mostly on the late night snacks.
We tried the dinner set, which is seven dishes and a dessert for a not-unreasonable 380rmb.
Bold, bold flavors. They linger despite being only a couple of bites each. You're meant to eat either with your hands or these little clamps, since KOR Shanghai doesn't believe in knives and forks. Sometimes the plating gets in the way: don't drop the charred broccoli into the dried husks under it, or the leaf-wrapped halibut popsicle wrapped into the hay.
Add 200rmb for three paired cocktails (normally going for around 100rmb each), courtesy of Taiwanese bar manger Jacko Chang. They go down easily enough.
The Shangrella is large shot of tequila and White Rabbit syrup that comes in a shoe on a bed of candy-floss and skittles, a patently dumb froufrou cocktail gimmick that I can totally get behind at this discounted price, though would balk at for the usual 128rmb.
The KOR Bloody Mary is a wasabi flavored mouthful that'll hit you right in the sinuses, like a Kimchi pickleback. I didn't hate it!
The late night menu, which runs until 1-2am, goes from Kimchi Lotus Root chips for 38rmb all the way up to oysters with wasabi foam for 388rmb and Jamon Iberico. You know, lounge food. But super!
First Impression: If the formula sounds familiar, it's because it is. KOR Taipei might have blown minds in 2016 but it's 2020 (wish it wasn't) and Shanghai has seen a fair share of club lounges, including from one of KOR Shanghai's local partners, MUSE Group. Weird how The Nest always seems to pop up anytime a club lounge is mentioned.
I'll say that as a high-end club, it's not unreasonably priced. Cocktails start at 88rmb, you can get a bottle of Belvedere for 1,280rmb, a bit below average, and the table minimum spends start at 6,000rmb. So, here you go Shanghai. Here's a sophisticated new club lounge for you to pour bottles of Belvedere directly into each others' mouths. (Saw this in person.)
Is it amphitheater seating that makes it super? I think it's meant to be amphitheater seating. Capacity in the very high hundreds. So it's just like a regular club lounge, but bigger. And "sophisticated." And also doing afternoon tea and dinner, planning to add lunch, "kids and family welcome, office workers from nearby, etc." Not that expanding your operating hours and target demographic is necessarily a bad idea, especially during COVID, but the fact it seems like KOR is supposed to be for everyone in the city just muddles that "superlounge" label I'm already not very clear on.
It's hitting all the facets that are supposed to make a lounge successful: sophisticated late-night menu, fancy-looking cocktails, bold design, high-end sound system playing non-club bangers at friendly volumes. It's a shame KOR feels a little... unfocused?
When a place comes in declaring itself as a superlounge and looking like a rendering from 2049, you'd expect it to feel razor sharp, honed to a keen edge shoved right between the nightlife ribs.
Nothing at KOR is bad, much of it is good, but as a whole package, from the service to the menu to the cocktails to the presentation, it just feels a little unsteady. Some of that is probably down to having to relaunch after nearly three months lying fallow. It's definitely a lounge. It's definitely fancy.
I just wouldn't call it super.