What It Is: Black Note is a listening bar leaning heavily towards jazz lounge. The one-man-in-a-vest operation is located behind a door on Changhua Lu, up a flight of stairs past the curtained-off mezzanine of the unrelated bar downstairs.
The dark loft space could probably sit fifty people, and spotlights illuminate jazz paraphrenalia on the wall. In case you were still unsure what Black Note was about, the back bar is flanked by JBL L200 StudioMaster speakers the size of refrigerators and a dedicated booth for the record player. The hi-fi gear is from the owner's collection, as is most of the vinyl on the shelves. It's a big invesmtnent; the speakers alone cost 35,000rmb.
They were halfway through Stan Getz's Big Band Bossa Nova when we got there, with the sleeve on a little stand in front of the booth, but you can walk up and pick something off the shelves — obvious jazz standards like Coltrane, Davis, Fitzgerald, but also some Beatles and Queen. They play the whole thing, both sides. From a non-audiophile's point of view, the sound seems rich. Textured. It sounds good.
Unfortunately, the drinks — the only thing that can get non-jazz fans to listen to jazz — aren't great. The sign over the bar reads "jazz was born in a whiskey barrel," but all of their signatures are vodka (never a good sign in a room this dark) or rum. Of the drinks I tried, none were outstanding, which wouldn't matter in a music bar if they didn't average 100rmb a piece. Yikes. Classics aren't cheaper.
First Impressions: Always nice to see Shanghai, the town of bottle service and EDM/hip-hop, continue flirting with the idea of listening bars. If I was still going through my hipster jazz phase (and I had infinite money and only drank straigth whisky), you couldn't pull me off this bar stool with a towtruck. This is what I thought cool was in my early 20s; the place is so jazz, it can tap a 7/4 time signature with one hand. I was tempted to put on a Tom Waits album. It felt like the bar was daring me.
Shame that the cocktails are so so and 20rmb too expensive. But if you need a quiet evening discussing your screenplay set in 1950s Paris, or you just want to geek out over some hi-fi gear, stick to G'nT or cheap liquor on the rocks and crawl as far up Chet Baker's discography as your heart (and drinking partner) can handle.
Black Note is located at 2/F, 46 Changhua Lu, near Wuding Lu / 昌化路46号2楼, 近武定路.