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[On The Radar]: Shrine, Xin Cafe, echo Cafe

The Shaanxi Nan Lu edition, featuring a confession-room themed speakeasy, a bright coffee shop, and a bar / livehouse / gallery / errrrrrything.
2016-06-29 16:15:02
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places you might like to know about. Sometimes we stumble across these venues and sometimes... we are invited. As such, these are our first impressions and not a formal review.
On The Radar is a weekly SmartShanghai column where we profile 2-3 new venues that you might like to know about. Here are the facts and our first impressions.

This week, we're all over Shaanxi Nan Lu in the area around IAPM, first at a new, open-air complex called United Valley (Ji She) on the corner of Changle Lu and Shaanxi Nan Lu with a couple dozen shops, restaurants, and bars in various states of development. Sadly, they had to cut down a bunch of old trees to make room for this place. Those trees had a lot of stories!

The place looks nice and has potential, although some of the concepts -- teddy bear cafés; bars with dice; Shanghai-style Sichuan food -- feel lackluster. This week's first two entries are two of the better places in there.

1. Xin Cafe


Quick Take: A bright coffee shop in United Valley that's also hosting community events.

What It Is: Xin Cafe's second shop is the main room in the north building in United Valley. Attached to Xin are some clothing shops, a nice office space upstairs, and a staircase that leads to nowhere. Just coffee and a few other drinks here, folks. You may remember the first Xin Cafe from a few weeks ago, when their Fengxian Lu shop was going to host a "How To Attract a Laowai" seminar. Well, that seminar got canceled at the last minute. Never happened. They also hosted several PRIDE screenings, including one of seminal Chinese film East Palace, West Palace where the director, Zhang Yuan showed up. Big deal.

Atmosphere: A bit odd, but sunny. On a recent morning, there was no music, but a widescreen TV parked in the middle of the room was showing a Chinese soap opera about office ladies at low volume. Tables and outlets are scarce, and the coffee bar itself takes up almost half of the room. The walls feature paintings and photographs by amateur artists based in Shanghai. Some have price tags. The entire south wall is just windows, so light floods the room for most of the day.

Damage: Similar to Starbucks. Espresso is 20rmb; Americano is 22rmb; wave cup coffee is 35-38rmb; tea is 32-35rmb. One section of the menu says "Snakes", instead of cakes, but there are no snakes or cakes at this time. They also sell bags of beans.

First Impressions: The vibe feels productive and professional; probably a decent place to work if you can get an outlet and a table. Apparently, they're pretty good to work with on events, so maybe a good space for community affairs. As for the coffee, the Americano only had one shot. Would be nice to see some more food on the menu; even just a sandwich or something.

2. The Factory / Shrine


Note: This will open on Friday, July 1, as Daniel is busy with the Taste Buds anniversary these next two nights.

Quick Take: A three-floor bar by Daniel An (the man behind Taste Buds lounge), featuring a small, Confessional-themed speakeasy on the second floor.

What It Is: On the first floor you've got The Factory -- basically, just a pleasant, little room serving wine, beer, and simple cocktails like Negronis and Old Fashioneds, averaging around 50rmb in price.

After The Factory, workers go upstairs to confess their sins at the Confessional-themed lounge area. The second floor has two lounges and one bar, where Daniel -- whose only religion is bar-tending -- will do some signature drinks. They don't have a drinks list yet, but we can predict some religiously-themed names: "Holy Father"; "Our Lord and Savior"; "The Megachurch" (which will cost 8888rmb and include a droplet of Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac Grand). Communion crackers as snacks? Smokers are relegated to a tiny patio on the third floor.

Atmosphere: Daniel's other bar Taste Buds is bright and royal with swatches of purple and gold, whereas this new place almost feels almost drab in comparison. The Factory / Shrine definitely has that blue-collar Catholic vibe going on, a la Spotlight. Portraits of cats and dogs dressed as historical celebrities adorn the walls. Michael Jackson the pug! Cleopatra the exotic short-hair! Kinda like something you'd find at a grandma garage sale. Music is old jazz, fittingly.

Damage: You're looking at 50rmb on the first floor and a bit more on the second. They'll also sell coupons -- three cocktails for 150rmb. Customers can also use those at Taste Buds, where cocktails average around 90rmb. Not bad, aye. Synergy.

First Impressions: It's not the first religious-themed nightlife spot in the world (see: Confessional in NYC; Church and State in DC), but the concept is cool, and new for Shanghai. The place feels low-key and makes you want to stay for a while, if it's not too crowded. Daniel's already proven himself as someone who can make good drinks and train others to make good drinks -- looks like a speakeasy that's actually worth drinking at.

3. echo Cafe / M64


Quick Take: A combination coffee shop / lounge / live house / recording studio / VIP spot / everything, just across from IAPM, by the people doing that echo Music Festival in August.

What It Is: The echo回声 [music] app is kind of trending, due to a legal dispute that caused music promoters Split Works to rename their Echo Park music festival "Concrete & Grass". echo's music festival happens August 13 and August 14 in Expo Park, and echo Cafe is open now, featuring rabbit lids on sugar bowls, high-stacked afternoon tea platters, and a full-on club and nightlife playground behind the cafe. Possibly the biggest speakeasy ever conceived? Actually, one of the guys consulting on the bar previously worked for now-shuttered Coke-machine speakeasy, Flask. echo Cafe's motto is "coffee. music. lifestyle", and they've also got a shop in Tianzifang.

Atmosphere: You know that girl who's into ukulele and hand-made jewelry but also has a vintage Chanel bag? She probably shops at IAPM but you might see her at the folk stage at Strawberry Festival. She's about that xiao qing xin lifestyle, and this coffee shop is her kinda place. White walls, lots of couches, plenty of outlets. Soft music. Other elements include acoustic guitars and a full bookshelf of [real] books, topped with peaceful statues of deer quietly sleeping to a Bossa Nova cover of "Fly Me To The Moon". The lid of the sugar bowl is actually a sleeping rabbit. Headphones sit on every table, which is nice if you forget yours.

Now, hidden behind this scene is...

...M64, a mixed space containing -- but not limited to -- a lounge with a massive resin bar and lots of sofas; a nightclub / livehouse with room for maybe 300 people; a VIP Bar serving nothing but single malt whisky (of course there is a steampunk portrait of a rabbit of something near the single malt bar); six VIP rooms that resemble boudoirs, ranging in style from Victorian to "techno" to just all white like a nuclear winter; and a recording studio. This bit is under construction and will open later in the year.

Damage: Americano is 35rmb, but prices go up like a logarithmic function from there. The first page of the menu is pretty much all multi-tiered dessert platters for the afternoon tea crowd, at prices like 250rmb for a single North Europe Dessert Combination Platter, or 395rmb for a double. The signature molecular ice cream is 88rmb. As for bar prices and VIP rooms, that's all TBA.

First Impressions: Ambitious... On the one hand, it seems they're trying to attract a shopping-binge princess crowd before or after IAPM, whereas the club side feels like a grab for the cool '80s / '90s local kids who might go to Arkham, or the kind of people that hung out at Flask. So far, they haven't announced any DJ or band bookings (there isn't even a proper DJ booth in the club area), so let's see what they bring. Some big names have been floating around for their fest, and it seems they have the means to make some bookings happen.