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[Lookback]: The Drunk's Guide to 2019

The year in bars, clubs and other nighttime hideaways.
2019-12-24 08:58:18
Another year, another round of dialysis. This year we covered something like 70 bars, clubs and places to get our drank on. We got our drank on quite a bit. And we were only able to cover a fraction of what happened out there in the city. Here's just a short highlight reel.

Where The Cocktails Matter

The drinkosphere continues to remain segregated between spirits and beer. In the former category, it's been a pretty good year for big groups launching second or even third or fourth cocktail venues, really flaunting the truism that opening even one bar in Shanghai is suicide.

There's optimism in the air! Or glue fumes!

Dead Poet

Oha, the people behind Bar No. 3, expanded to an impressive... what, fifth? sixth? location with Dead Poet, a low-key cocktail lounge on Jinxian Lu with a cocktail menu they literally sell as a work of art.

Cross Yu of E.P.I.C. opened his first big project in a little while. Charcohol, a trendy restaurant bar in a city full of trendy restaurant bars, is betting on his reputation for doing "epic shit" and putting activated charcoal in his drinks.

chameleon Shanghai

Eddy Yang's Chameleon

Eddy Yang recovered relatively quickly from the end of Tailor Bar along with the entire hotel it was in. Before the year was out, he was back with Chameleon, a joint project with Carson Xie.

Others have had a bumpier ride. Donghu Lu club Monkey Champagne closed down last year, then reopened in the less-than-stellar Julu 758, before leaving that abruptly and ending up at Monkey, in the compact space over Diner on Wuyuan Lu.

The Rooster finds an avian friend

Shaanxi Bei Lu's favorite The Rooster finally opened a follow-up. It's called Perch, it's like three blocks away, and it trades in wine and cocktails to its predecessor's beer and Fernet shots.

More bird-related bar names

Yao Lu and Austin Hu made nu-Tiki a thing with Birds of Paradise, an ode to to the frou-frou tropical drinks movement, with little umbrellas on top and a minimum of two rums in every exceedingly boozy drink.

The handsome bar at Arch

Having spent a year fine-tuning Atelier, Daniel An opened his second bar on what he says was a whim. Arch is his dream team-up with booze tinkerer Vincenzo, serving high-school lab reports in a glass, with a menu of house-made pastas that frankly has no business being this good.

Jiashan Market saw its first development in a while, with Peking Inn answering the question "what if the bad guy from Enter the Dragon opened a cocktail bar." The menu is from Chris Xi of Blackstone Magic Bar and tackles that age-old question: can, or perhaps should, we put baijiu in a cocktail.

Peking Inn's Desert Storm pairs Tibetan qingkejiu with agave nectar

Funka Del Sur decided to ditch the South American gimmick and rebrand to just Funkadeli, while the group's Fumin Lu outpost added an upstairs Milanese retro-italo lounge called, uh... Italo, trading in mostly red, mostly bitter cocktails.

The old development on Huashan Lu that used to house a Sproutworks gave rise to Suzu Bar, a comparatively laidback take on the typical Japanese cocktail bar: they'll still stir your martini with pain-staking precision, but they might crack a joke while they're doing it.

The Roku Gin Martini at Suzu

Another opening that made ripples for a few weeks was Mary & Magnate, which we didn't get a chance to write about, but which had decent low ABV cocktails, a trend I'm a-okay with so long as I can still get a full-strength drink without having to move to another floor.

Muse Group, some of the the people behind Cannery and The Nest, were quick to snatch up a spot in the new Xintiandi Plaza, putting the circular High on Rye over their mall bakery Rye & Co.

High on Rye

2019 was the year Shanghai was blessed with that rarest breed: an actual speakeasy. The one-man Bar.Permanently sits behind an unmarked door in a dark corridor in a non-descript commodities building in Yu Gardens. It feels distinctly not-long-for-this-world, possibly due to its business model of "only serve customers who go out of their way to find it," so hit it while you can.

Speaking of speakeasies not long for this world, Dry Goods on Taiyuan Lu kicked the bucket in January 2019. Luckily, there are plenty more speakeasies that are still around.

Where The Beer Matters

The US-China tit-for-tat may have resulted in some real headaches for importers, but the beer must flow. And flow it does! There are now dozens if not hundreds of bottle shops throughout the city, and it seems like every cocktail bar I visit has a couple bottles of Stone or even Shanghai Love somewhere in the cooler. I couldn't possibly cover it all. Here's just a selection of stuff I though was worth mentioning.

B-eer not eer. The pijiu ayi

Pour out an IPA for the original Beer Lady on Fahuazhen Lu, which closed in July. Sad times. End of an era. No one told the Beer Lady, though, because she's been spreading like hives: new locations on Yinxian Lu and Caoyang Lu have joined the empire. She also doing a many-thousand square meter projects out in the suburbs. She doesn't stop!

AB InBev, which had a bit of a rough time of it last year and saw the closing of Lil' Laundry earlier this year, returned with not two but threeeeee new venues, proving that nothing's impossible with a giant multinational corporation backing you. They opened Boxing Cat Brewery's flagship in Xintiandi, a spiffy reverse-tap beerhouse on Dingxi Lu, and, weirdly, a spot inside a hotel on Wuding Lu that I constantly forget exists. Don't think I'm the only one.

The Cat fights its way into Xintiandi

La Bodeguita Del Medio turned into Bohemia, bringing the splendors of proper Czech Pilsner Urquell to the city and mostly getting it right with the robust, satisfying pub grub that's meant to help absorb it in your gut.

A cold pint of Pilsner Urquell at Bohemia

While Brew Bear has been on a rip lately, Beer Plus has shrunk to a shadow of its former size, with the latest closing being its snake-snack-serving People's Square joint back in August.

Where The Gram Matters

Is that a glass milk carton?

The distressing habit of bars built for the 'gram rather than anything else continued unabated this year. Grand champions of looking good and serving absolute garbage, Barflow, have opened a hotpot joint. I haven't been. Maybe it's real good, but twice bitten, thrice "I'll pass, thanks."

ERMA Pub on Hengshan Lu

Cypher, on Xiangyang Nan Lu, decided a Willy Wonka tunnel hidden behind a mirror was what Shanghai's bar scene was missing, but forgot to come up with anything decent to put on the drinks menu. ERMAPUB on Hengshan Lu answered the question "what would've happened if a Ming Dynasty inn survived into the modern age." It doesn't seem like anyway was asking, though.

Perhaps the biggest news in the world of photogenesis is LVMH's club-restaurant-bar-lounge multi-hypenate Ce La Vi, which adds two more balconies to the coveted #bundview hashtag, as well as some dark and distinctly rouge backdrops for food and drinks. Unlike the rest of the entries in this section, it doesn't suck.

Just some of the available outdoor seating at Ce La Vi

Where The Party Lives

We finally updated our Most Popular Nightclubs article, based purely on the metrics, and it seems like we might have to do it again because there have already been some major developments.

In just one paragraph, there was the nutso shell game in the latter half of the year that saw Fusion close, M2 rebrand to Wann Club and the storied MYST space become Beehive, as the club owners try to stay one step ahead of the game. We saw Elevator get replaced by "Vault" then Fallout. Elevator itself it replaced Harley's, although we hear that's coming back. Take a breather, Shanghai!

Tiandi - Heaven and Earth

The Mansion crew returned with the far more genteel 3NTRY. Some ASL folks continued the Andaz Hotel's reinvention by adding a gastrolounge called Tiandi to the XTD environs. Meanwhile, Daniel An opened Don Club in the building that houses ALL, mostly because, as far as we can tell, the man famed for fancy cocktail bars has gotten bored of fancy cocktail bars.

Biggest news this year, however, was the opening of Space Plus, the super-sized megaclub occupying a concrete spaceship just a little off the beaten path in Lujiazui, and just the latest in what's supposed to be a country-wide chain of similarly sized super clubs.

Behold, Shanghai's biggest nightclub

Starbucks Is Coming For Our Evenings

This was the year Starbucks in China decided that it wanted some of that sweet, sweet booze money they see us spending. It started with Bar Mixato on the Bund, a suprisingly competent cocktail bar with the Starbucks Reserve trappings. Just recently, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery got its own Bar Mixato, run by this year's Chivas Champion and ex-Highline bartender. It opens at seven in the morning. Seven a.m. espresso martinis are a thing!

Zhangyuan Reappears

The abandoned square off Wujiang Lu saw the first survivors of its shut-down reopen out there in city in the last half of the year. Bartender Oji found a second-floor spot just across the compound in Fengsheng Li to reopen his fancy, somber and menu-less Japanese bar, while Logan's Punch 2: the Punchening opened on Wuding.

Blue Note Jazz Club & JZ Butting Heads

The room at Blue Note

This year saw the arrival of Blue Note Jazz Club, opening a cavernous 1,700sqm spot in Hongkou as a challenge to JZ and newcomer Jazz at Lincoln Center. JZ hasn't taken it lying down, planning to open the 1,000sqm JZ Live in January on the other side of town. It includes workshops, recording studios, stores and two separate performance spaces. Hoping next year brings some big jazz names to town.

The General Developments

Shanghai's nightlife doesn't really follow a neat story line. Don't let these end-of-year attempts to categorize it fool you, it's chaos out there. Here are a handful of bits that don't really fall into a narrative:

Sake sake sake

Japanese sake bar Dassai opened up a glorified storefront for its high-end product.

Part of Shanghai Brewery split off to form Shanghai Brew House, which has opened two spots this year (I think, again, it's chaos out there).

Pistolera reopened on Laowaijie, the stretch of Minhang real estate that twists, turns, reforms and never truly seems to die.

The Spot had its corner spot taken away by the landlord, splitting into two separate Spots. Despite one being a bit more sports bar-y and the other being more of a jazz bar, patrons are now saddled with the agonizing choice of two Spots about a block and a half from each other.

And Looking Ahead

Of course, we're not done just because it's a new decade. We're going into the roaring 20's, baby! Again! It went so well last time! If there was ever a decade for Shanghai's nightlife to sink into the river under the weight of Gatsby font, this is it!

Thankfully, so far, not a flapper party in sight. Chino Latino is looking like a promising rum bar slash lounge under Le Baron. TBD is on the verge of opening as Geo Valdivieso's first shot at flying (mostly) solo. Guinness has opened its Gatehouse a stone's throw from Jing'an Temple, while right across the street, KOR Shanghai is going into the ground-floor of Wheelock Square as a self-declared "super lounge."

And that's just what's happening in late December, early January.

Aaaand The Ones That Didn't Make It

Perhaps the most dramatic closings were the sudden shutdowns of Dr. Beer and Dr. Wine in March. Investor fallout got so bad that apparently they took axes and power tools to the furniture and brewing tanks. Just a few days ago, the owner of DADA confirmed that they'd be closing early in January, after ten years. Nightlife! It's a barrel of laughs.

No one opens a bar in Shanghai because they want a quiet life. The reality is that it's a sector under a magnifying glass, as susceptible to unscrupulous landlords, staffing and supply chain issues and licensing problems as any other industry, with the added stress of drunk customers. Nightlife people, thank you for your patience, your resilience, your humor and your generosity when it comes to lubing Shanghai's wheels.

Here's our roll call for 2019. It'll probably grow as news of more closings comes in. But we're still seeing a net positive, Shanghai! Still plenty of places to get a drink. That's good, right? Right?

Ugh. I need a drink.