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On The Radar: The New JZ, ARCADE, and Shanghai's Largest Gay Club?

New live music venues and a large new "gay" club inside INS that's a little different from what you'd expect.
2024-03-27 15:00:00
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

JZ Club is now in its 3rd incarnation, two new alternative live music places and a huge new "gay" club inside INS. Read on for what's new in town.

JZ Club (Hengshan 8)

For those worried that their romantic evening of jazz would be ruined by hordes of club goers exuding over one another with their adolescence in Found 158, fear not, cause the new JZ Club has arrived. Located in the freshly opened Hengshan 8 - a posh little expanse built next to the main intersection of Hengshan and Wulumuqi (where the old Shanghai American School campus once stood) - it's an upgrade in every sense of the word.

With a wide spacious stage that could easily fit a 20-piece band (if need be) and a room that can fit around 250 people, tables and all, the first thing that strikes you about their new digs is just how open it feels. There is not a seat in the house that doesn't have a bad vantage point, especially if you're lucky enough to be in one of their second floor VIP rooms - each one designed with its own theme based on a music genre (Bebop/Blues/Swing).

The bar, which has invited on cocktail concoctor Colin Tait (of Shake fame) stretches the entire run of the room, and a full-kitchen will soon be put to good use, with Italian fare expected to be on the menu. Even the lighting seems to have gotten a facelift - with its performers bathed in soft yellow spotlight while the blue lights keep the vibes mellow, perfectly complimenting the vivid reds of the interior of the building. And despite it's spaciousness, It's intimate in the best possible way - allowing the audience to focus on what's arguably JZ Club's strongest suit - the music.

With a robust roster of local homegrown talent, JZ Clubs has always had its finger on the pulse of the jazz scene in China - so don't expect that to change any time soon - with regular shows going day every single day of the week - a feat that needs special applause. What the venue will do is introduce more sessions during the weekends, as well as premier guests hosted in a series called Masters. These will feature some of the best in the scene globally - such as Dominic Miller, the legendary guitarist for Phil Collins, The Pretenders, World Party, and more - who'll they'll be hosting next month.

They even have a radio booth on site, which they'll utilize for special live broadcasts for those who can't make it out of the house. Simply put, the new JZ Club has all the right vibes - a full realization of what the jazz scene should look and feel like here in Shanghai.

- Will

ARCADE

Quaint art gallery by day, buzzing music conclave by night - ARCADE is one of the latest spaces looking to inject some fresh life into the music scene. A stark contrast from the more refined and professional venues around town - the Gubei spot isn't trying to become your new go-to spot for riotous head-banging or pogoing - instead acting as a musical refuge for those looking for something a bit more intimate.

Located under an office building alongside a stretch of Japanese whiskey speakeasies, the space, run by a couple of spirited young art patrons (under Rightway Art and Culture Company) and which can easily hold over fifty people, gives off house party vibes in the best possible way.

When visiting earlier this month attendees of all ages lounged in beanbag chairs or at tables off to the side, while a band serenaded the crowd, even utilizing the grand piano. An artfully hand-drawn menu displays some of the cocktail concoctions in store - from Rusty Nail and Salty Dog - priced at 58rmb and for those in the mood for something a bit more basic they've got liter canned beer for just 35rmb. The areas in the back are filled with an odd assortment of board games, dart boards, and art books - an indication that the space is open to meet-ups of all ilk. The walls are lined with the work of local artists, rotated out regularly. And while it's clear they're still finding their footing, they're eager to give a spotlight to up-and-coming acts - from experimental musical sessions to budding indie acts - with regular jam nights every Tuesday.

No pretensions, no gimmicks - and with the right amount of love - Arcade has serious potential - the perfect alternative for a cozier night on the town, particularly for those living in the Gubei and Hongqiao area.

- Will

Beach No. 11

It's a disheartening truth that new livehouses more often than not, pop up in malls - a sad reminder that capitalism has no taste. Besides relying on the business of the mall, these spaces often lend themselves to a certain sterile quality. But not Beach No. 11 - located in the self-proclaimed "first Art Mall in Mainland China". Found only after snaking through a food court, into a basement parking garage following with befuddlement the guidance of spray-painted signs - getting to Beach No. 11 is the first sign that the venue doesn't want the taint of the mammoth mall above them affecting their image. Once you reach you hit the surfboards you've hit the subterranean space - a dingy, sand-covered, palm tree-decorated oasis that's both tacky and rugged enough to get my approval.

While the space has been around for nearly a year, they've only just started to utilize it regularly - using the space for Tarot Card sessions, music workshops, rope bondage shows, and on the weekend, both rock gigs and club nights. A bit of ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks' - but that ain't exactly a dig.

Drink-wise - you've got your standards - Corona of course (35rmb), and a whole menu of rum-based cocktails (38-58rmb depending on how creative you wanna get). They may not be the most refined mixologists - but they're not skimming on the booze either - always something to appreciate. Size-wise, it can fit an easy 100 to 150 people - with most patrons cheering on the bands and pogoing up front.

It's not the classiest place - but there is a certain charm to its commitment to its beach aesthetic - and as a music venue is a perfect fit for some underground rock and roll, especially considering the city's lack of mid-sized venues for emerging acts. So if you're looking to recreate your last Thailand holiday without the expensive flight - Beach No. 11 might just do the trick.

- Will

Culture Club (INS)

According to the club's floor manager, this is NOT Shanghai's largest gay club. It's just a club. There just HAPPENS to be... pretty much packed with gay dudes and their accompanying lady friends. Every LGBTQ+ person you ask says Culture Club is THE gay club in the city right now, but.... officially, it's an "everybody club". More on this later. It is part of the new INS clubbing complex inside of Fuxing Park, where Rich Baby used to be. With the entire building turned into floor after floor of nightclubs, the boys have to walk up four flights of stairs to enter their little haven. And man, in addition to the trek; you have jump through hoops to a) register an account with the club and b) buy tickets to enter. All in Chinese (so if get grab a local cutie to help you figure it out). I guess this makes getting in more efficient since you don't have peeps buying tickets at the door, but still... why am I registering... with my phone number... for what should be a night of "debauchery"?

The vibe: It is... different than what Shanghai has had in the past. There is no debauchery happening here, which well... is what you expect with a gay club. That, and there were soooo many women (like maybe 30-40%) which, at first glance, makes you wonder if you're in the right place. Also, the term "fag-hag" doesn't apply because some of these gals might be lala's, but if we're going by stereotypes, most are likely just dressed up sisters having a safe night to gay pop-tunes. Asking the management "why are there so many girls here", the response literally was "because they feel safe here". And yes, "safe" is THE vibe at this place.

The presence of so many lady friends probably tame things a bit, likely resulting in the boys behaving more gentlemanly than what we would normally see at a Shanghai meat market. There are no studs ripping off their shirts, there aren't little twinks being devoured by daddies in "against the wall" make out sessions. Barely anyone grinding up against each other in ways you wouldn't do in front of your mother. Is it fun? Yea, sure why not. Bouncy poppy gay music that has everyone fist pumping and smiling, sure. And I guess the general air of innocence takes the "hookup pressure" away. Also... the shots are small (but cheap), another likely contributing factor the general "vanilla-ness" of the atmosphere.

The place: Pretty big for Shanghai "gay" club standards. Despite it being a big place, the few times we've went, it was PACKEDDDD. Packed like... the Shanghai metro at rush hour. Despite this, the bar is still pretty accessible, its mostly the dance floor that's a fire hazard. There is also a "pre-bar" outside the main dance venue that you can retreat to for a breather, and to chat a bit, with music outside at a slightly reduced volume.

- JF

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