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A Quick Tour of The Inlet, the New ‘New Heaven on Earth’

You don’t get the Xintiandi you want, you get the one you deserve.
2022-02-17 12:00:00
Photos: Angela Leung
"Mallcore" is a series of columns in which SmSh writers explore the many gigantic and baffling shopping malls and complexes in this gigantic and baffling city, and then let us know about the fantastic, wondrous and / or shocking and terrible things in them, preferably from a Ballardian, dystopian, existentialist quagmire sort of perspective that cries out in agony about the disenfranchisement of the modern human condition.

For the past 15 years or so, Shanghai has relentlessly been trying to fabricate the “next Xintiandi”. It seems like every few months, a new cultural / F&B hub opens up to reclaim and repurpose heritage architecture variously into shopping, dining, and / or tourist destinations, in the attempt to compel whole neighborhoods of this city into our brave new civilized commercialized century.

There’s a new one called The Inlet that just opened up in the Hongkou District and it’s already getting lots of attention online.

Basically, because it looks exactly like Xintiandi.

Just without all the stuff in it.  (Yet?)

It looks like this. It’s… pretty direct with its inspiration.

First built in the 19th and early 20th Century, the complex that is now The Inlet is 60 shikumen houses and other independent architecture spaces organized across eight lanes. The main entrance is just off the Line 10 station at the crossroads of Sichuan Bei Lu and Wujin Lu. It’s a few blocks away from The Pearl, surrounded by more standard local eateries and shopping centers.

The TD; DR: Yeah, it looks exactly like Xintiandi. But is sort of interesting all the same maybe because it represents a generational shift in consumer tastes. The original Xintiandi houses mid to upscale Western and Chinese restaurants and cocktail lounges, catering to older monied tourists looking for a ritzy, knowledge-optional meal in a cosmopolitan (kinda?) sort of environment. This Xintiandi is leaning heavy on art and museum-type spaces, of course, orientated in the modern Shanghai style — design-y, fashion-y, boutique-y, gift shop-type businesses that specialize in items that would keep the wheels turning on an influencer’s social media feed.

There’s so much to take a picture in front of and with at The Inlet, you don’t even need Wolfgang Puck anymore.

So, don’t come expecting a meal. You won’t get one. There’s not really any restaurants. There is a place called “Giftopia” for souvenirs. There are tons of quirky outdoor “installations” that you can pose in front of. There are, of course, 9 or 10 different coffee shop chains already open for business.

So yeah: Drunk Baker, indie cafe Fumi, and some other tea drink shops. Starbucks, M Stand, Lavazza, Baker & Spice

Interestingly enough, the only proper bar currently open in The Inlet is Ark Live House, which was one of the first mid-tier live music venues ever to open in China. Mmm, where did it open originally?

Across town at the original Xintiandi like 20 years ago.

Compared to Xintiandi, where almost all restaurants have this affection towards patios, The Inlet tends indoors into gift shops, fashion boutiques, and small galleries. A few of the coffee chains have outdoor seating, but when you wander around in the compound, all you can see is mostly just bricks, bricks, bricks.

If you manage to get some good lighting in the evening you can take that picture wherein you’re serenely and romantically silhouetted against an old time-y Shanghai shikumen lane — you know the one, always a good profile picture.  

One of the main draws is the gift shop Museum & More which houses things you can buy that come direct from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the British Museum. So there’s that.

Anyway, this is The Inlet. It’s not Xintiandi but maybe more like Xintiandi 5G.  It’s the nicely scrubbed, latest iteration of the template that is defining this cultural life of this city — or some part of it anyway.  

We’ll end off with the way we always end of these articles: “look for special one-off exhibitions, daytime music / food festivals, and market events in the near future.”