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[On The Radar]: The Hop Project, Rakia, Harley's Underground

This week's new venues: a YKL shop doing grilled cheese and Chinese draft beer, a store selling rare Serbian liquor, and a reboot of a classic underground club.
Last updated: 2016-05-11
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.
Ed's Note: Back in the day when SmartShanghai first started The Radar, Shanghai had like one big opening each month and that was the talk of town. Nowadays, the city must see 50 new restaurants, bars, and shops open every week. It's our mission to keep you updated about what's new and what's actually good (and what's not), so we'll be highlighting 2-3 new venues every Wednesday. These are not reviews. We're just saying, "hey, this is here, and you should know about it." We might go back and do a proper review on any of these places in a couple months.

In the interest of easy browsing, we've killed First Bite & First Sip. R.I.P.. This is the replacement. You'll occasionally see full Radar articles for huge openings, and you can find more F&B content -- including classic spots that are still great -- via Eat It, The Brunch List, The Review, Deals Tested, and Industry Nights.


1. The Hop Project


What It Is: Grilled cheese sandwiches, Chinese craft beer on draft, and chill hip hop on the stereo. This is another YKL bar / restaurant by The Camel Group, who run half that street these days. This time, they're collaborating with popular Jing'an grilled cheese joint Co.Cheese Melt Bar on the food, and pouring drafts by breweries like Jing A (Beijing), Master Gao (Nanjing), Boxing Cat (Shanghai City), and Qingdao (they have an IPA now), among others. Taps will rotate regularly and they've got a decent selection of bottles too.

Area: The more raging side of classic bar street Yongkang Lu, which is heaven or hell, depending on your perspective. This place used to be Handle Bar, then it was "Baozi & Friends" for about one month.

Atmosphere: Kind of a hunting den vibe in here, with the earth tones color scheme and the big antelope head hanging on the wall. The owners found that one in Suzhou, in the space where they're about to open el Luchador (that's also Camel). There's space for maybe 15 people inside, plus a few tables on the street.

Damage: Basic grilled cheese for 25rmb; specialty grilled cheese sandwiches involving duck, pesto, ham, and more are 50rmb for a regular, 65rmb for a large; you can add a cup of Campbell's Tomato Soup for 15rmb; draft beer around 40rmb for a pint, depending on the brewery, with discounts during happy hour.

First Impressions: Great to see another spot focused on China's growing craft beer output. Obviously grilled cheese and tomato soup is a win. Friendly staff. They were playing Twista, EPMD, and Slick Rick yesterday. Hopefully, they can get the timing down to where the grilled cheese and the tomato soup come out at the same time though. And hopefully the sandwiches can come out a bit faster. Pro Tip: ask for the Blair's Sudden Death hot sauce.

2. Rakia Bar


What It Is: The only shop in China where you can legitimately buy the classic Serbian spirit, rakia. Serbians have been distilling that potion for over 1000 years; it tastes a bit like a cross between brandy and Choya plum wine, with a potency approaching that of baijiu. This shop's rakia is beautifully packaged in bottles that look like science lab beakers, with the "R" on the logo decked out in the Serbian national hat -- the šajkača. According to a good friend from Belgrade, while the best rakia is homemade, this juice is legit. It doesn't burn as much as the stuff you'll find in the motherland, and comes in accessible flavors like Plum Rakia With Honey, Walnut Liqeur, Cinnamon (which tastes better than Fireball), and the classic Williams Pear. The same friend also warned that "drinking beer with rakia is called 'concrete', because you will meet the concrete that night, for sure."

Area Wuyuan Lu, just around the corner from Shelter, Apartment, Bounty, and all the madness that engulfs Yongfu Lu when the sun goes down.

Atmosphere: Despite the "bar" in the name, this is a small shop and they close at 8pm. A casual passerby might mistake this place for a nail polish shop or some kind of lab. While you can't order by the glass, you can sample as many varieties as you'd like until you settle on a bottle (which you can drink in the shop, but again, it's small). A chill Beijing rocker named Ding Ding was running the store on our visit, and she took a shot of apricot rakia with us.

Damage: Bottles start around 320rmb and go up to the 600s for rakia that's been aged for five years. That's more than enough for 3-4 people to have a rowdy night.

First Impressions: This is the ideal bottle to bring to a potluck / house party. No one else will rock up with the rakia, and if they do they're probably your friend for life.

3. Harley's Underground


What It Is: One of Shanghai's oldest bars and live music venues just did major renovation, and now they're doing electronic music nights -- and the occasional rock show -- with a soundsystem and dance floor that rivals Shelter and Dada. Run by true old-school Shanghai rocker, Rambo, Harley's first opened at Hongqiao Lu and Yilu Lu in 1996, then moved to this space in Xujiahui in 2006. So many stories here. Michael from Dada first met MHP and B6 at Harley's and then they formed Antidote. SmSh Editor-in-cognito Morgan saw his first concert here and got some swastika tattoo dude's sweaty hair in his eyes. Anyway, the club used to be one big space but now you've got two halves: nice sports bar vibes with a big pool table and three dart boards on one side, then a club area on the other.

Area: Right next to the Xujiahui metro station, a one minute walk from Exit 2. Not much else around here for clubs. There's a good Dongbei restaurant and a flower shop upstairs, and Guangqi Park is just across the Caoxi Bei Lu.

Atmosphere: Laid back, and damn clean for a basement dive. (Give it time.) The sports bar side is way nicer than Window's or Perry's. On the other side, maybe 150 people can fit on the dance floor, then there's couches and a second bar. The bathrooms got a major upgrade too -- no more troughs, and there's even a Western toilet.

Damage: Tiger draft is 35rmb; Erdinger Wheat is 50rmb for a tall glass; bottled beer averages out to 40rmb; big selection of whisky, from 35rmb a glass / 450rmb a bottle (Jim Bean); a bottle of Crown Royal is 580rmb. Not bad at all. The daily happy hour involves 25rmb Tiger, 35rmb Heineken, and 45rmb Erdinger, all draft. They're doing bar food like wings, burgers, and nachos for 40-70rmb. Pool and darts are free.

First Impressions: With the right promoters, DJs, and bands, this really could be the spot. The sound -- six subs, lots of speakers, an Allen & Heath mixing board -- is proper, the place feels right, and a lot of folk live around here. Real promising.