Last Updated March 2019
Dating in Shanghai is hell. People are vapid and uncultured, selfish and ignorant, with a temporary mindset and one obvious goal. Dating in Shanghai is heaven. People are international, easy to talk to and make friends with, and are looking for a deeper connection. Dating in Shanghai is… dating. It sucks. It’s fun. It’s tiring. It not time-effective. And sometimes it leads to love. For all the shit people talk about dating in this city, there sure are a lot of marriages, and many of them start with a simple “do you want to have a coffee?” And even if marriage is not your goal, there’s a lot of cool, interesting people out there that can add happiness, grounding, perspective and joy to your life, no matter what the timeframe. Oh, also people want sex.
Tinder. You met on Tinder. You didn’t meet in a “coffee shop”. He wasn’t your “friend’s colleague” or your “colleague’s friend”. You didn’t meet on SmartShanghai dating. (Ok, maybe you met on SmartShanghai dating.) But really, it was Tinder. Tinder! They looked good, you swiped and here you are, just a few chats away from meeting IRL. You met them on Tinder. It’s fine.
There are a lot of places in Shanghai to meet for a coffee. So many too many places to meet for a coffee. Like, thousands. Here’s a few ideas.
Meet around Jing’an Temple, which is nice because it’s on two major metro lines and has a park to sit and lots of dinner options if things go well. In the neighborhood, you’ve got the cool but spacious Aunn Coffee, the bright and sunny Seesaw on the fifth floor of Reel, the Korean Twosome at Wheelock Square if you want some anonymity (no one you know goes there), and the Rat Tar Art Bar, also on the fifth floor of Reel with a view out over the park.
A short walk away, you’ve got everyone’s favorite casual crepe/brunch/selfie spot RAC Bar, the Anfu Lu Baker & Spice (if you’re not afraid of bumping into people you know while on a date), or the Bread Etc on Nanjing Xi Lu with some outdoor seating. The Jamaica Blue on Wulumuqi Lu has a quiet and anonymous second floor that’s also a good, conservative location to meet a perfect stranger.
Farther west, near Columbia Circle, you’ve got the French bakery Luneurs, which makes a good first stop before strolling Xingfuli and the Huashan Greenspace Park. Back towards the heart of, cough, cough, “Old Xuhui”, there is Peet’s Coffee on Donghu Lu, though seats are hard to come by on weekends. Finally, by Sinan Mansions, there’s the super cozy and décor-fest of Antique Garden, another hidey-hole that your friends from barre or rugby probably don’t pop into on a Saturday at 1pm.
Your date might be shit. At least the coffee should be good, right? Besides these lists, the following are date-friendly places that will still show you are “offbeat”, an “insider” and way too serious about hot bean juice.
Yes, this is true. Coffee does not contain alcohol and caffeine doesn’t lead to sloppy make-out seshs in the bathroom. Maybe wine is a better choice. There are so many choices here. Just so many. Here are a few well-considered places for all drinking occasions.
If you’re feeling Concessionistic, set up a wine date at either the French hidey-hole Le Vin or the Italian-run Enoterra, which are literally one block apart. Le Vin will probably require reservations; Enoterra will not. If you’re in Jing’an, swap out Enoterra for Uva, ideally on one of the nights they have live music (see our listings!). In summer, the half-outdoor Salute is a great spot to sort-of, kind-of hide away from people with a glass of plonk. Le Petit Franck, the bar next to Franck, is dark and quiet all year-round. Oh, and there is Kartel, which is basically sponsored by Tinder. Or see our full wine bar listings here.
If you’re trying to telegraph a more casual vibe, then maybe Stone Brewing? Or do like the SmSh photographer suggests, who has not dated since Green Day was popular, and take them to Specters. Punk rawk litmus test.
Yes, this is true. Wine contains sloppy make-out sessions but not incapacitating, all-consuming, mind-erasing drunken ecstasy. For that, you need to visit our old friend, cocktails.
Look, this is really really important. How you do your cocktail bar selection is going to have a profound impact on: your evening, your liver, your wallet and your reputation. This is not something to be toyed with. These are some options (to see ALL of them, click here). If you’re just easing into the evening, Blackbird 2.0 in Columbia Circle is a good choice for fancy, science project drinks. Not far away, there is Bar No. 3, which they also own, and is a really cool, bohemian place with laidback vibez. Alternatively, you go for the complete anonymity afforded by a hotel bar, but like, a really long one, and take it to the Long Bar at The Puli, or even their outdoor patio area.
From there, the plan should take in some fun and novelty, at either Bar Flow or its more outrageous cousin Grand Bar Flow Hotel, before settling in for some serious drinking at someplace classy like the Tokyo-owned Ars & Delecto, or the trio of Shingo Gokan bars in this town: Speak Low, Sober Company and Odd Couple.
From there, you’ve got some choices: go for broke, in a lot of ways, at Senator Saloon, where the mood is perfect and the drinks STRONG; get a booth at Atelier and wind down the evening with whisky and pillow talk; get gin-crazed and jungle wild at Botanist; let it all hang out with the reggae and shochu highballs at Mokkos; or – super secret spoiler here – get up to nobody’s business in a bar no one you know has ever been to: the Japanese cocktail lounge on the top of the Okura Garden Hotel. SmSh TIP!
Sometimes it feels like there is nothing to do in Shanghai besides eating and drinking and going to coffee shops (we definitely didn’t give you that impression, ahem), when there are plenty of fun, outdoor activities to engage in. They make great date options if you don’t mind getting hot and sweaty together.
The easiest and most obvious one is to go for a walk. For this, you probably want to be in or around the Concessi— “Old Xuhui”. Walk from wherever you are down (or up) to Fuxing Lu, then head west until it hits Huashan Lu, and loop back around until it reaches the Kunlun Hotel and the overpass to Jing’an Temple. That’s a good default walk. Another is from Jing’an Temple west down Yuyuan Lu, stopping into the lanes to read the historical plaques. That has the double benefit of dropping you off at The Cannery, which is a great stop-in for a coffee, booze or some food.
If the weather is reasonable, a picnic on the West Bund is always a welcome idea. Pack a blanket and some food and have the driver drop you of at the Long Museum. From there, the picnic grounds spread out along the river. Visit some of the city’s other parks. Even better, grab Mobikes and head over to Pudong to cycle some of the amazing riverside trail the city has built in the last two years. For something totally different, get vertical at the trampoline park, Jump360.
If you’d rather keep it indoors, go destroy some pins at Orden Bowling (open 24 hours), smash some balls at a ping pong hall or just — Cages. It’s a whole world of indoor activity and fun sports games and shooting your partner with bows and nerf arrows. Because you know who won’t ghost you? A three-inch wide purple-black bruise on your upper thigh, that’s who.
Shanghai has certainly received its share of blockbuster art shows in recent years, from major artist retrospectives to massive displays curated and paid for by the luxury fashion houses. That’s on top of the gallery scene, which has expanded in important and public ways in the past five years.
Simply put, there is way more art and way more high-quality venues in which to see it than even just a few years ago, from the Power Station of Art to the Long and Yuz Museums to the Shanghai Center of Photography. Shows are constantly changing those most venues have some staying power, so maybe plan to visit a specific museum or check out our super-duper Art Calendar to see what’s on at the moment.
What’s with all this “doing shit”, right? Sometimes you just want to exit your mind. Together.
First stop should probably be one of the floating therapy places, like Floatasian, where you lay naked — naked! — in an isolation chamber filled with saltwater and completely sealed against light. Unfortunately, you only do this one person per chamber, which means you will both be naked at the same time but in different rooms. But still, just meters apart. Something to think about as you lie floating in the darkness of the closed tub. But seriously, afterwards you come out of the tank, take a shower and just kind of glide back into the world, relaxed and optimistic with all of your barriers down. Even alcohol doesn’t do that. Think about it.
In the same “relaxation leads to love” vein, there are the bathhouses. There are different schools of bathhouse, from the noisy and family-oriented Korean New Star to the sedate and five-star Cheersum chain. The upside here is that after your shower, your soak and your scrub (all done in separate male or female rooms), you put on pajamas and come back together, where you can just laze around on comfy sofas and beds and talk at each other.
If bathhouse is too intimate, then maybe teahouse? They are a great way to while away the day over chitchat and a hundred small cups of floral-scented caffeine, and are often very beautiful spaces in and of themselves. Just look for yourself. Finally, that old distraction, the movies. No need to talk to each other, no need to make conversation. Hell, you don’t even have to look at each other. For two hours, someone else takes care of all the entertainment while you drink soda and eat sweet, sweet popcorn. Pick from any of the cinemas here, or better yet, go all out for the high-tech screens that are springing up in Shanghai.
Right, you can’t just be sexing immediately. You’ve got to eat first.
These are some obvious “date” places that are heavy on atmosphere. Both Lost Heaven on the Bund and Lost Heaven on Gaoyou Lu are lit so dimly your date probably wouldn’t notice if you left. Sichuan Citizen and Dao Jiang Hu also have that date buzz in the air and lights that don’t go up past 3. Xixi Bistro in Xintiandi is purpose-built for love. Commune Social is just a still-hip space with great cooking at prices that won’t set off the beeping alarm on your Alipay account. Together is in the same mold from related chefs and, I mean, the name. Villa Le Bec is solid and romantic. Hiya has five-star atmosphere and a refined Japanese-not-Japanese menu. Coquille is an aphrodisiac dealer, basically, with expensive seafood. Jean Georges, yeah, duh. But also the more casual Mercato, which he also runs, for pizza and pasta and wine in a buzzy atmosphere.
Back downtown, a few of the more offbeat but date-tested options include Little Catch (for the casual couple); El Bodegon for cheap steaks, dark lights and lots of sangria; Highline for mid-century modern peoples; Le Verre a Vin, a kind of French izakaya super popular with the Chinese wine community; Sushi Takumi next door, an upscale and intimate choice; Yakitori Fukuchan, for forced intimacy and smoky grilled chicken vibez; and La Strada and Nene, near each other and good for low-key Italian couplings; and Pirata for casual Spanish. Oh! And then if you want to get really offbeat, you’ve got the revolving restaurant INSIDE the Pearl Tower (food sucks, but what); and Chartres, a Sinified French restaurant that is packed with Chinese couples seven nights a week.
Oh, yes, then you need a table with a view. Where do you get one of those, and what’s the view like? We’ve been there, done that and taken the photos.
If you’re a planner, you will have already scoped out SmartTicket and picked up a pair of tickets for a stage show, a musical, the comedy, a concert, or jazziest jazz musicians that ever did jazz. If not, quick — go look. If you want to go out clubbing, that’s a whole other topic.
For after-dinner entertainment, the current crop of intimate live music venues goes like this: Shake for live funk & soul with an extensive bar program; Heyday for art deco and jazz singers; Candor and The Pearl for wild stage shows; the House of Blues and Jazz, JZ Club, and Jazz at Lincoln Center for that jazzzzzzz.
I mean really do it. Do you like to do it slow? Do you like to do it deep? Do you like to do it romantic?
To quote from an older SmSh article about love hotels:
"Do you like to take your time, lay your partner down on, say, a circular bed? Two bodies, demurely now, sweetly now, searching for each other through the palsied afternoon light, struggling in through a beige window — two bodies, intermingling, sensually — two souls, pouring into each other, wordlessly — kissing, rubbing, touching, searching, exploring — the TV is playing Vin Diesel’s XXX in Chinese in the background — two bodies, moaning now, a collusion of flesh and limbs, a damp odor is emanating from the stained Doraemon wallpaper — what the hell has been airbrushed on the ceiling? Legend of Zelda? — two bodies, quivering — two backs arched like the necks of swans, sweat trickling down onto blotched and yellowing white sheets — two bodies, throbbing now — two spirits racing towards the ultimate release, half the neon lights in the room blink on and off at random, and the rest have been broken since 1987 — two bodies building, crescendo’ing — hold it, hold it, HOLD IT — not yet! — the world is melting away! The mechanical bed lurches into life, awkwardly, and begins erratically pumping up and down at a 90-degree angle like it’s trying to give your back a high-five but keeps missing. The heavens shudder, heave open, and EXPLODE! The stars are raked against the sky leaving trails of cosmic glitter like fingernails across a torso…"
You do? And you want to know where in Shanghai you can experience that, in a cheap hotel room that someone else will clean up afterwards? Then, I’d say, your Tinder date went well pretty. And you should read this.