We finally made it out to this house of fun out in Hongqiao. We foundâ€¦ A bunch of mental tweakers. It was surprisingly fun.
"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.
Last weekend, I went to look at the Mansion
, that huge party house out in Hongqiao. They’ve been on at us since they opened last year to go down and see it. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, mainly because of all that they were promising.
The Mansion, they told us, is the future of partying, a community hub where creatives can network, learn to DJ, hang out with musicians, create platforms for upcoming events and collaborate to take Shanghai’s party scene to the next level.
You always have to be suspicious when people talk about “creatives” and hubs. And of anywhere that’s encouraging more people to start DJing. Do we really need more DJs in Shanghai? I think we need a DJ cull, some sort of Hunger Games
just for European DJs where they have to fight each other with nets and tridents until we get the numbers down.
Anyway, the main reason we never got down there was because it’s in Hongqiao, and we’re supremely lazy / boring / old and tired, and Hongqiao just seemed like too much of an ask at 2am on a weekend, which is when the party down there usually gets going.
But we managed it last Saturday night, and here’s what we learned. First thing, it’s really not so far away: 40rmb in a cab from Huashan Lu. We were there in about 15 minutes. The cabby pulled into a xiaoqu of big villas. The bao’an on the door checked his watch and looked enraged but waved us through.
Inside, we found the right building with the help of some other, less grumpy bao’ans. Inside the entrance, there was a perky, perfectly friendly Euro girl (French, maybe Scandinavian?), who hushed us and showed us a sort of secret door, down a dark corridor and then past some more doors into the guts of the building. It felt kind of illicit and cool.
We were shown down into the basement, which is a bit bigger than the Shelter
with a similar dark, trashy vibe. Drum and bass is blasting out for about 50 people down there. It’s far from packed. In fact, it’s less than half full, but it already feels kind of fun. Lots of blacklights and DayGlo paint. I saw some dude with dreads. Maybe that was just my imagination, but it’s that kind of place, like a friendly squat in late-90s London. Lots of fraggly girls head-banging to drum and bass. Really quite fun.
The bar at the back of the room sold drinks for cheap: 30rmb for mixed spirits, 20 or 30rmb for beer. Can’t remember. Certainly cheap. I got a drink and then tried to find my way up to the other floors. It took quite a while. Either by accident or design, the place is confusing, with secret doors and no signage. All that makes it more fun.
At length I found the door to the rest of the house. On the ground floor, it was quiet and well lit. Kids were sitting around talking, smoking, drinking, mainly Europeans -- young, skinny, model-types (Rainbow, the owner of the Mansion, also runs a model agency that represents a lot of skinny white models who come to China). They were sitting around in this high-ceilinged room with a bar. Things were convivial, chatty, fucked up but happy.
Here you can see it in the day, when all the little munchkins are abed
I found some guy who seemed to know what was going on and asked him to show me around. The staff who work at The Mansion live on the second floor. In return for free lodging they help run the place and do some of the promotion. They’re a rather ragtag bunch of errant laowais with a few Chinese bar staff, but they all seem really friendly and into the place. Little bit of a commune vibe? Maybe. Could we maybe call them the Mansion Family? No, no, nothing sinister like that.
Upstairs there was also this monster telly set up for extreme viewing
On the third floor, there are two dorm rooms of bunk beds where guests can stay in return for helping out around the house, doing some DJ work or a shift or two behind the bar. The guy led me into a room with a huge hot tub in the middle.
"Sometimes we come here for a hot tub at the end of the night," he said earnestly. We both stood and stared at the large round plastic trough, thinking no doubt of the things that had and would happen there.
Hot tub, yup
Upstairs again there was a roof garden, but it wasn’t open right then. In fact, all of the upstairs floors are closed late at night to stop ne’er do wells from wandering around and pinching stuff or walking in on people having sex in the hot tub.
Downstairs, I found one of the people I’d come with. She was sitting talking to a beefy young man who’d taken his shirt off. He was French and he was talking a lot. He was a model, he said. He was not on drugs, he assured us.
I left my friend with her French model and went out into the garden. This is maybe the nicest place in the Mansion. They have a small pool that’s floodlit, some decking and a fake beach, so you can lie out on the sand around the pool. There’s also a small stage and a DJ box. Check the snaps.
DJ booth in the bulbous chrome abutment
It was peaceful. A nice place to drink your beer and smoke a cigarette. My friends wandered out to join me and we sat, drinking cheap beer and listening to passing traffic.
Photo taken at the time, by the author, with smartphone device
So far, no one had told us to come back inside or be quiet or said that we couldn’t sit here or there. All these frazzled tweakers were pretty much free to wander around and do what they liked. The whole place felt a bit like a house party, if you were 15 years old and your rich friend’s parents had gone away and he’d invited a load of random people around to hang out all night. In other words, it was excellent. The drinks were cheap, it was filled with friendly, funny people, there was music, a pool, some sand and a general air of something slightly scandalous, like we weren’t meant to be here and at any moment someone’s parents were going to come home, apoplectic with rage.
So is it worth it, this Mansion? In a word, yes. Don’t expect it to be rammed full of people, but if you came with enough friends, it would be hard not to have a random night of sheer fun, meeting strangers, talking rubbish, wandering around, trying doors and finding cool shit to play with.
In the summer, with that pool, it could get really busy in the daytime, and then stay noisy and fun all night. If you don’t live nearby, the cost of the cab is soon outweighed by the cheap drinks and they say they’ll even refund your cab fare if you come in a group of four or more (we did, but we forgot to ask for the refund).
There’s that talk of creative hubs and DJ schools and platform building, but I shouldn’t be snide about that. If you’re into that kind of thing, then you could probably find some people out here to help you do some music production, some party organizing, some graphics for your brand. If you wanted to DJ somewhere and no one else was giving you the time of day, the people here would probably give you a slot. They seem like a bunch of energetic people, working hard for no real pay in order to provide a different type of experience for Shanghai.
And good on them. May it live long and prosper. Whether it will or not, in full gaze of The Man, is another thing.
This weekend might be a good time to see the Mansion. They have their first pool party of the summer all weekend, with the pool open from 2-10pm, then music all night. They’re charging 100rmb for entry and three drinks during the day. After 10pm, it's free. More info on this weekend's parties here. For more info, maps and all that, go here.