So, 80rmb (~13 USD) and up cocktails. That has been a trend in Shanghai for the last few years. Probably one of the reasons why everyone is posting "Shanghai is the most expensive city in the world for expats" (probably not). This price gouging is almost never justified. But in the case of Taste Buds Cocktails Palace
, the curiously named, loosely Qing Dynasty themed cocktail bar by Daniel An, the drinks vindicate the prices. This shit is palatial.
Before opening this place near Ferguson Lane with a Shanghainese partner, the Hebei-born Daniel worked in Starling
, 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana
, The 1515 West
, and The Alchemist
, one of Shanghai's first forays into craft cocktails. Dude won a bunch of competitions, eventually becoming bar manager at several of these bars. Now he's got the Cocktails Palace, still works at Starling three nights a week, guest bartends at a speakeasy in Wenzhou* twice a month, and plans to open six more cocktail bars in surrounding cities soon. Quite a come-up from majoring in tourism translation then taking a bartending job in Shanghai.
*Wenzhou, one of China's richest cities, recently got their first speakeasy, and that's been blowing people's minds. Daniel said cats roll up in full suits and drop obscene amounts of coin.
The Palace's other partner said the décor is Qing Dynasty meets European style. Now, this might be referring to the evil grandma Cixi Taihou
from the Forbidden City, who kept a room full of foreign furniture and other treasures. Side note: Cixi was the first Chinese woman who loved to have her picture taken, because people used to think the flash from cameras would steal their soul.
Some bold color choices manage to exist harmoniously. The green glass behind the bar shelf looks like something all Chinese families grew up with in the '80s and '90s. There are birdcages. The purple sofas were custom made for the place. Sounds tacky, but they pull it off. That said, the music -- a mix of electro-swing, faux-retro '20s music, jazz standards, and random-as-fuck English songs about "put a rubber on" -- could use some work.
Not pictured here are two terraces, one with space for less than ten, and another slightly bigger one. And no one lives next door. Nice garden view on the north side, quiet street views on the south side. All early 20th century architecture around here. Despite the lack of neighbors, this is a mellow spot for chilling, not raging. Impressive place for a date.
So, drinks. These are among the best in town, and better looking that most. Taste Buds Cocktail Palace has forgone all that molecular theater shite in favor of clever, photogenic drinks with fresh, super high quality ingredients. Here's one of Daniel's signatures, the Tale Of Mulata (88rmb).
Tastes like a 4k garden of mythical herbs. Like some elixir of immortality. He makes this with chili-infused Diplomático 12yr rum, fresh basil, and lime juice, and topped with gold flakes and rose pedals. Next-level.
Then we're got the Persian Julab, a throwback to the OG Arabic julab that later got tweaked by Kentuckyians. This one comes out in a Turkish coffee cup. Potion-eqsue. Like a secret item in Legend of Zelda.
Then, "Up In The Air", inspired by the George Clooney film but much better. Kinda tastes like luxury gummi bears. More for the ladies but good for anyone really. Slam dunk. Immediately accepted the name "Taste Buds Flavor Palace" after this.
Tried the Black Beauty on a second visit, which got served in a wooden box with some hyper-sour Chinese candy / medicine. Wouldn't order that again, but not a disappointment. The menu is extensive and still a work in progress, and they'll make almost anything you'd like. Yes, they have some beers. Don't order them. That's like getting a hamburger at a Chinese restaurant in America. For the emperors, they have an 888rmb cocktail made with Hennessy Paradis, Grand Marnier 150 year, and fresh lemon.
Not Daniel, but rather an understudy.
On the first visit, we had scheduled a photo shoot, so they knew we were coming and treated us like media. Then I stopped in last night when Daniel wasn't there. Just a regular customer. Doors were held; conversation was made; cocktails were almost as good as when Daniel made them; and though we weren't spending nearly as much as some other customers, service was top-notch. Daniel said some guests will drop 40,000rmb in a night, but he doesn't ever want to have minimum table fees -- everyone is on the same level. Apparently one guy offered 40k to get his own cocktail on the menu, and dude doesn't even drink -- just drives a Ferrari around, editing menus and throwing cash.
If bars want to charge upwards of 80rmb for cocktails, this is how to do it. Taste Buds Cocktails Palace is not busy at the moment, but expect it to get packed over the next year. They know what's up. Maybe go now while they are still doing 12% off the bill. And that's
how you do a soft–opening.
Note: They do have private parties sometimes, so you may want to call ahead.