Last Updated November 2018
Shanghai’s clubbing scene has matured significantly since we last wrote this guide, in, oh say, 2012. Back then, the majority of bars and clubs in Shanghai were grouped on bar streets and nightlife districts, and a night out often meant bar hopping up and down a given street to several different venues in an evening. That’s both faded and somewhat relevant in the last years of this decade. The current landscape is characterized by a handful of clubs -- both large and small -- that have staked their claim on a given night and demographic. Interestingly, these scenes, which are sometimes classed as being “underground” or “commercial” have blurred boundaries in recent years as more expats here want non-commercial music but a comfortable or edgy space with toilets that haven’t come out of a horror movie.
These factors have contributed to a nightlife scene in which the avid club-goer must stay well-informed to suss out the best party on a given night. A club could be rammed one night and completely deserted the next, and the question to ask is not where to go, but often when to go. Click here to be redirected to our events listings for Shanghai's clubbing events.
Shanghai used to have a Top 100 DJ Culture, with all the top jocks touching down here for extremely lucrative one-offs. That has ebbed in the last few years, and now most of the big names either come during the annual EDM festivals (Ultra, Storm) or pop up in the big Chinese clubs, especially after they have just opened and are trying to make a rep for themselves. More and more, the best international bookings have come from the smaller clubs like Dada and ALL as they host in critical darlings from the experimental, techno, house and whatever-it’s-called world. Big-name DJs often turn up under the radar at hotspot Le Baron but are not promoted much, if at all, to the public. If marquee name Top 100 DJs are your thing, pay attention to Myst, Fusion and Linx for the big bookings.
The face of Shanghai clubbing used to be The Bund district along the river, epitomized by the iconic Bar Rouge. The French Club has been around for more than a decade and refreshes itself every year or two with a complete renovation and makeover. What stays the same is the formula of house and hip-hop, dancers performing in skimpy clothes, and Champagne Champagne Champagne. It is, indeed, red.
The hottest table on the Bund is arguably not on the Bund at all, but a couple blocks back from it. The Nest – is it a clubby lounge or a lounge club? -- opened in 2015 and ushered in a new style of lounge bar and restaurant that was promptly copied multiple times in cities across China. The formula is a punky, indie rock and clubby soundtrack with creative cocktails, reasonable prices and a menu of Nordic food that’s way better than it needs to be. The whole thing is sponsored by Grey Goose but that’s really not here or there. The Nest. It’s the hot thing in 2018.
Other points of interest include long-timer M1NT, pulling them in with a 24th floor view and a shark tank. Don't forget your pointy shoes.
No development has been as stark over the past decade as the change in Shanghai’s drinking culture. We are now unequivocally living in the era of the cocktail. What started with small, dedicated, Japanese-influenced bars like Constellation (now a large chain with branches all over the city) and then evolved into the now-closed el Coctel, mixing a western sensibility with meticulous Japanese bar technique, has moved into late-stage cocktaildom, in which practically every bar in the city now boasts a barman with dozens of arcane recipes in his back pocket. It’s a global phenomenon, really, but Shanghai has embraced it like nothing else and if you are having a night out in Shanghai, it’s very likely to start with, stop in at, or end with a well-mixed drink at a shaker joint.
A reaction to the perceived commercialism of Shanghai's Bund nightlife and larger clubs, a few select, smaller venues have carved a niche in the market catering to "discerning" clubbers. These bar and clubs are almost always music-orientated and a given party is usually focused around a particular genre of dance/electronica depending on the independent or in-house promoter throwing the party.
The two standard-setting venues for underground music in Shanghai are now ALL (the sophomore effort from the crew behind the now-closed Shelter, which you will probably hear about in outdated guides) and Dada, which has been around for nearly a decade. ALL sits at a really interesting nexus of the art, fashion and music worlds, and is basically proof that Chinese youth are way cooler than you can ever hope to be; go to soak it up. Music is hyper-contemporary and cutting edge, and yet the vibe is still quite welcoming.
Dada sits on the line between dive bar and music venues and works with a different roster of DJs and promoters than ALL. Depending on the night, it might be a drum’n’bass crew, a couple of big-name underground DJs from New York, or some local superstars doing their own party. The vibe is waaaaaaaay relaxed, student-y at times, and grungier than most places. Drinks are cheap. The whole place is geared to getting you to Just. Let. Go. Other options include whatever the former Elevator will morph into after its venue change in late 2018, mostly for house and techno, and C’s bar, a labrynthine basement covered in graffiti where aspiring DJs get their start.
As an alternate to the thump-thump-thump intensity of Shanghai's clubs, Shanghai's pub/bar scene is fairly well-developed in terms of offering a few long-established staple pubs and an interesting mix of more idiosyncratic dives and bars. The city caters to the pub crowd quite well, in the form of the standard UK and American imports. Bars and pubs in Shanghai are separated by country, genres and the type of clientele that frequent them.
In terms of the classic British pub, Oscar's on Hengshan in a safe bet. Also in that area is Abbey Road, which is fine for a pint. The Tipsy Fiddler is Irish and a dearly held neighborhood pub. If you're looking for a sports bar, the nearby The Camel is the reigning king of all things sports-related, but also Cages in Jing’an for batting cages, sports courts and more than 70 screens.
Shanghai doesn’t have the strict ending times of cities like London or Bangkok, but neither is this Europe with its 24-hour liquor licenses. Most clubs and bars in Shanghai have a loose closing time of 4am but usually stay open as long as people are in them buying drinks. In terms of clubs that pick up when the others leave off, Celia by Pulse is now the go-to destination for clubbers looking to get serious with their nights out, and keep them going well into the next day (they close at 10am). Another noteworthy mention is Hollywood, a larger club that stays open and hopping late. If you're looking for a bar to keep it alive, Mexican bar Pocho goes until 4am on the weekends, and many people swear by Tailor Bar for a late crowd.
Depending on who you talk to, Found 158 is heaven or hell. Really, it's not the kind of place to have a casual, "it's alright" opinion about. Some visit that theme park of sin every single weekend. Others live across the street and still order delivery from Homeslice because they don't want to go down there.
Basically, Found 158 is an underground mall with a few dozen bars, restaurants, and clubs. Back in 2010, this space was where they moved all the seedy bars from Tongren Lu. Now it's gentrified but still sketchy, loud, vulgar, and international. On any given weekend, you can find thousands of drunk people, tuk tuk drivers shouting in the street, shards of broken glass, pools of vomit and blood, and people passed out on the concrete. If you've been to Lan Kuai Fong, it's like a more hellish version of that (though not as hellish as what was here in 2010). Can you guess where we stand on it? That's the hell. Admittedly, it's not that bad every night, and it's worse as the night goes on. Now for the heaven side! It's not all doom, gloom and puddles of bodily fluids. There are plenty of other restaurants and bars down in the pit where you can pass an enjoyable early evening with a few drinks outside. It's possible. Some people do it. It can be done. But don't stay too late.
Bottle shops are a great place to pre-game or spend a whole night drinking beers with friends in 2018. Ever since Beer Lady got famous a few years ago, hundreds of fluorescent-lit shops with a few tables and refrigerators full of imported and domestic craft beer have popped-up all over the city. They almost always have snacks, and sometimes offer bar food cooked to order. Music is an afterthought at best. Some of the more famous stores are Beer Lady, Just Cool, Beer Plus, and that lovely little shop on Changle Lu, just west of Xiangyang. Even City Shop tries to have a bottle shop kind of model these days. Shops often stock hundreds of beers across the whole price spectrum, from your sub-10rmb Asahi and Qingdao tallboys, up through your mid-range imports, then getting into the 100s and even 1000s of RMB per bottle, topping out at Snake Venom.
Ten years ago you were lucky to find a bottle of Chimay Blue at Carrefour. Nowadays, your neighborhood probably has over 100 kinds of craft beer. But do the staff know their styles and origins? Are they past expiry? How have they been stored? Do the breweries even know they've been shipped to China? Does all that even matter?
Shanghai has plenty of nightlife, getting around is cheap, and street beers are a factor, so students can choose by taste rather than price. That said, the slightly-more-expensive-than-a-convenience-store Perry's / Ellen's / Helen's nexus is still busy every night of the week. These bars are all over Shanghai and dozens of other cities, all with the same formula: dirt-cheap beers and buckets (read: trouble), passable bar food, decent coffee, long wooden tables, country flags hanging from the ceiling, hookahs, blaring and outdated Top 40 on cheap speakers, and youths getting crunk (also poorer older people getting crunk). Back when smoking inside was legal, they had a "Free Cigarettes Day". Many theories exist about the origins of these places. Each university area tends to have its own little ecosystem of bars, which will often include a "real" Perry's or Ellen's and some kind of knockoff version.
The consensus is that the previous king of kids-nightlife, Windows Scoreboard, isn't as hip as a few years ago, but could come back. Caza may be the new spot for beer-pong, but too early to tell. C's, Dada, ALL, and Arkham are popular for students looking to dance to non-mainstream music. And Shanghai will probably always have promoters with free tables at the bigger clubs. Though of course, nothing in this world is free.
Visitors to Shanghai might be surprised to discover that many clubs are filled with expats and tend to be Western in theme. Even though you're in China, on a given night you could walk into a diluted version of an Ohio State frat party, an Ibiza rave, a London pub, a New York hipster dive, or a French lounge. KTV (Karaoke TV) is king with Chinese in terms of nightlife recreation, and the amount of KTV bars dwarfs any other genre of club. While much of it is shady, the slice of virtuous KTV (personified by the Haoledi chain) caters to a wide demographic, from couples, to business colleagues, to friends, and even families -- groups not necessarily interested in consuming vast amounts of alcohol and narcotics.
In recent years, Chinese clubbers have become the dominant purchasing demographic, and the Shanghai nightlife industry has responded accordingly. Clubbing has now fully caught on with Shanghai's youth and new-moneyed middle class, and the specter of the "Chinese club" looms large over Shanghai's nightlife.
"Chinese clubs" are great places to search out if you're after something different. For Chinese, the club is about cementing and building existing relationships, and not so much about going out to meet new people. Accordingly, the clubs are built for table service and not dancing, with tiny dancefloors that are baffling to western clubbers, and ridiculous displays of Champagne and wealth. In fact, there’s a whole ecosystem built up around the peacocking, and it’s possible to rent, not buy, up to 100 bottles of champagne to set at your table like a real baller. Who will know they’re only on loan? But like everything in China, this is starting to change and dancefloors are expanding, particularly at hip-hop clubs, and the overall experience is getting more and more sophisticated, with expensive sound systems, technically advanced DJs and lights, lights and lights.
The clubbing business is notorious for its turnover and what’s here today is probably going to be gone by next weekend, so keep checking listings to see who is currently on top. That said, big names as of this writing including Fusion, Linx, MYST (Moving You, Stunning Trip) and Taxx. Also very popular are ASL, a hip-hop club, Ninja, also a hip-hop club, and Arkham, which treads the line between underground and commercial hip-hop, trap and various subgenres.
Well, yeah it is. Wait, no it's not! Yeah, it pretty much is. Especially in Shanghai, a city more known for its electronic/dance scene -- a city that is forever playing catch-up with Beijing, which boasts a (comparatively) thriving live rock music scene.
One thing Shanghai does have going for it is a fairly well-developed social network of promoters working overtime to put bands -- any band -- in front of an audience. Said promoters are developing their audiences and revenue streams, and every year more and more quality acts are finding their way to Shanghai. Younger Chinese audiences now share with their expat counterparts a deep-seated fondness for live music, which in turn supports a lot of touring acts. Big venues in the city to pay attention to MAO Livehouse, Yuyintang, Modern Sky Lab, LOFAS, Bandai Namco Dream Hall and for the truly big acts, the Mercedes Benz Arena.
Shanghai has a love affair with jazz going back to the earliest days of the genre, when the musicians came from New York and played in clubs like Ciro’s or in the jazz halls on what is now Wujiang Lu. That attraction continues on nearly 100 years later in an expanding live music scene.