On our unyielding quest for money, fame, status, wealth, precious gems, expensive automobiles, and X-Box’eses, SmartShanghai tends to concentrate on covering the big events, the big new restaurants, the big dance clubs. Yeah, you’re welcome. In "My Local”, we’re straying away from that focus to highlight great neighborhood bars that aren’t necessarily new, don’t splash out on hyped-up events — or really any events at all — and simply exist in the real world of Shanghai, just as nice places to go and have a drink with some friends.
Area:Probably the last place on Jianguo Lu that you'd expect to find a good bar. Pocho sidles up right next to that wet market at the intersection with Taiyuan Lu. It's surrounded by baozi stands, low-end hair salons and peddlers of light bulbs and plumbing fixtures. By day, you point it out by the dude out front selling Beijing-style braised pig parts.
What is it:A self-styled "social club," a neighborhood pub with Latin leanings. The name "Pocho" itself bears some explanation. Apparently it's quite a versatile term. Mexicans often ascribe it to their culturally assimilated brethren north of the border. These are Mexican-Americans who speak little, if any, Spanish and have taken on American airs.
At the same time, it has also been used to describe white bread Americans who speak Spanish and try to pose as Mexicans. It derives its original meaning from a word used to describe rotten fruit, which, needless to say, has made it a traditionally pejorative word. But in recent years, "pocho" has been appropriated by many Mexican-Americans. The term has since been defanged. Today it's more widely understood to mean a Mexican-American who feels equally at home in either culture.
I'm guessing that Jake, one of the owners and a Texan of Mexican extraction, is going for the more recent connotation of the term.
It certainly fits with the theme of the place. The cocktail menu straddles the Rio Grande with drinks named after great American super heroes like the The Flash and The Incredible Hulk as well as Mexican classics like the the Chavela and the Batanga. Somewhere in between are eclectic mixes that incorporate flavors like ginger beer, watermelon and bell pepper with 100% blue agave tequila. It's supplemented with a small menu of Mexican snacks supplied by Gabriela Fernandez, formerly of Mi Tierra and Maya, currently of La Coyota.
Why it’s good:The people. I got sucked in on my first visit. The motley crew of long-time expats and locals who run the place make you feel like a regular the second you up pull up a barstool. What was originally supposed to be a quick nip on the way home turned into a four-hour rap session with Louis, a New Yorker and one of the partners in the business. Topics included his gig as the token laowai guy on a Yangtze River cruise ship and the dissertation that he wrote about Chinese sign language for his PhD in Linguistics. Chinese fucking sign language! All the while, Jake is swapping stories about growing up in Texas and his experiences in the Marine Corps, sampling tequilas and bourbons with me.
Atmosphere:Convivial, fun and familiar. It's housed in a tall, narrow building, making space tight and interaction with your fellow punters is inevitable. It's eminently conducive to making new friends. By the end of the night you'll probably be doing shots and having a laugh with the person sitting next to you. If the first floor fills up, there are two more floors for spillover. They're up a precipitous spiral staircase, so mind your booze consumption should you find yourself up there.
Prices:Cocktail prices are pretty standard. Expect to pay anywhere between 50 and 65rmb for signature drinks. Standard mixers are 45. Tequilas have a thee-tier pricing system: blancos are 50 a shot, reposados are 60, añejos 70. Beers start at 30 for a Tsingtao and cap off at 45 for Dos Equis or Hoegaarden. Snacks go for anywhere between 35 and 50rmb.
Ordering Recommendations:Go for the Mexican cocktails. They're unique compared to offerings elsewhere in town and, more importantly, dosed with deceptively generous amounts of tequila. For the indecisive, I recommend the Chavela. It's the best of both worlds—a choice of Dos Equis lager or amber with tequila and lime juice in a big-ass glass with a salted rim. For the curious, there is the Batanga. Take a rum and coke, sub the rum with tequila, throw in some lime juice, salt the rim...
For the hung-over, there is the Michelada—beer, lime juice, tomato juice, Tapatio chili sauce and a dash of fish sauce. It's Mexico's answer to the bloody Mary, and probably the best I've tried in town. You'll have to ask for this one; it's not on the menu.
You really can't go wrong with any of the snacks. The quesadillas with molé are quite tasty.
Sometimes they even serve that paragon of Texas comfort cuisine Frito pie. I haven't tried it yet, but I get a warm feeling just knowing that this is available in Shanghai.
For a listing of Pocho Social Club click here.