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Six Cocktail Nerd-Approved Japanese Cocktail Bars

And on the seventh day, he rested.
Last updated: 2020-06-15
The barfly consensus is that the first real cocktail bars in modern Shanghai were Japanese, or at least Japanese style. You'll know them by that zealous, pedantic attention to detail and technique, reverent atmosphere, soft jazz, wood bar-tops, and bartenders in formal evening wear. Stick around till 5am shochu bombs start coming out and they might let loose a little, but mostly, Japanese style bartenders are consummate professionals.

There are a bunch of Japanese cocktail bars in Shanghai that aren't on this list. Mingo. Bar Module. The resurrected Oji. A bunch out in Gubei. Arguably Speak Low, though it isn't very traditional. But here are just a couple that we've enjoyed in the past. Because sometimes, you just need a man in a vest and tie to take your Martini as seriously as you do.

Bar Constellation (Xinle Lu)


Constellation was once a hidden gem, a pioneer on China's cocktail bar scene, prized among expats for its exhaustive selection of well-made cocktails and its down-tempo, wood-paneled, very Japanese style bartending. That was long ago. Since then, the city's cocktail scene has exploded, but the Constellation chain remains a reliable choice for anyone needing a well-made classic drink in a quiet atmosphere with an endless bowl of barsnacks. This space on Xinle Lu was the original, and it's still going strong. Still classy, soothing, and reasonably priced.

Avenue Joffre


High-quality cocktail bar in Surpass Court, Avenue Joffre is synonymous with head bartender Harada Munenori, who used to be the main shaker at el Coctel, the original place in Shanghai for Japanese-style bartending in a comfortable western setting. He's a bit of an institution. Although the menu does has nods to seasonal fruits and the ephemeral, Avenue Joffre's faith lies in the eternal. This is where you go for classic pillars; Martinis, Manhattans and White Ladies, either in the comfy armchairs or perched on the bar watching the man in the white jacket work.



X.Y.Z. on Dagu Lu is Japanese-style cocktail bar very much in the mood of Constellation. There's a whisky menu and a separate book of classic cocktails, but don't expect any fresh fruit or anything too sweet: this is a place for serious, 100-year-old drinks mixed precisely to a soundtrack of jazz and '80s saxy lounge music. Great if you want a strong drink near People's Square. They also do an exactingly assembled (and very good) GnT.

Suzu Bar


This hidden bar on Huashan Lu is named after head bartender Suzu, a protege of legendary Tokyo cocktail king Takao Mori. Opened in late 2018, on the surface it's a demure, subdued Japanese cocktail lounge, filled with serious and sharply dressed barmen standing attentively at Suzu-san's elbow as he prepares a drink, like lab assistants, but it has a little cheekiness to it. The bar staff have a good sense of humor, and the atmosphere is warm and cozy but not like... narcoleptic. Drinks are pricy but painstakingly crafted, and they'll serve you up a little cup of hot soup when you come in and unlimited pretzel sticks.

Ars & Delecto


It means "art and delight" in Latin! It's a cafe-by-day and izakaya-bites-and-proper-cocktails place by night; modernist Euro-damaged cafe on the first floor and a bar/lounge on the second, with understated white marble, and Toulouse-Lautrec-style fin de siècle prints on the walls. The drinks are themed around expatriate globe-trotting, with exotic ingredients and allusions to far-flung places. And pricy. The original team from the lauded Bar Trench in Tokyo have since left and taken some of the luster and quality with them, but the second-floor bar especially is still a good place to go, though it does get a bit crowded.



Tucked behind an unmarked door in a commodities building in Yu Garden, Bar.Permanently is a one-man operation behind a mahogany bar-top with maybe eight barstools and not much else. The bartender is an XYZ alumnus who explicitly wanted a bar you'd never find unless you went looking. Something about only having people in your bar who actively want to be there. Bold business plan. The drinks are at least prepared with that laser focused presentation, and it has one of the critical aspects of a good Japanese-style bar: it's quiet, secluded, and personal. Plus, a bit cheaper than a lot of other Japanese-style places. Reservations by WeChat (id: hanqi25484) highly recommended.