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[Radar]: Craft

There are whiskey bars, there are rum bars, there are molecular bars. Introducing the latest species to arise on the scene: the vodka bar...
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Area: Hidden in one of the many nooks and crannies of the Donghu Hotel's less grandiose southern annex. Tell your cabbie to stop once you see Sichuan Citizen. It's directly across the street, around the corner behind the Wagas.

What it is: In the past few years we've seen the primordial soup of Shanghai bar culture begin to branch out into several distinct species. Natural selection and other environmental factors have forced the lifeforms that dominated the earlier Maomingozoic and Tongrenassic eras to burrow underground, giving way to more intelligent and sophisticated organisms like the cocktail bar. This, in turn, has adapted and branched into several species. Among them: loungus japanicus, loungus ibericus, loungus caribbeanicus, loungus molecularis to name a few. Then there is the most recent species to arise, loungus vodkanensis, known to most as the Vodka bar. This is Craft.

So why vodka? Well, that's Singaporean owner Jerrica Lee's poison of choice. So why not? Adam Deverman, formerly of Manifesto, currently of Apothecary, has collaborated with her as a consultant and together, they've come with a menu of almost nothing but the stuff. And for a menu of such a seemingly limited scope, there's a surprising amount diversity here. There are classics like the Vesper Martini of James Bond fame, the increasingly ubiquitous Moscow Mule, the Salty Dog, and the Smoky Martini which features vodka, Laphroaig scotch, and Pernod. Then there are "Signatures" like the Normandie Special made with vodka and Calvados, which they describe as an "apple-tini for grown ups," or the Whippet, which is a little nod to Shanghai's legendary expat Victor Sassoon; he had a penchant for miniature greyhounds.

For purists there is an extensive selection of vodkas distilled from pretty much anything that can be fermented -- potatoes, rye, barley, apples, etc. -- and like a wine list, it's organized according to provenance.

In an effort advocate vodka appreciation, they also offer vodka flights. For a flat rate, they'll bring out tasters of four different brands in these beautiful little hand carved black jade cups (nice touch), and you stick your pinky out, swirl, sniff, swish, or hell, just shoot.

If vodka's not your thing, they are able to accommodate with a basic selection of beers, wines, and other spirits.

Atmosphere: Lee is something of a visual magpie. Much of the decor of her bar consists of stuff she's found in her travels throughout China, or is a faithful facsimile of stuff she's seen. The curvaceous bar stools are custom made of forged steel. The bar is concrete, as is the floor until it steps up to hardwood. Against the wall is a brightly painted banquette made of reclaimed wood. PVC pipe is antiqued and painted to look like tarnished steel. It lines some of the walls and there's even a light fixture made from it. At the far end are a couple of comfy couches, wooden chairs, low-lying tables and a fireplace. It all has an urban-industrial-meets-shabby-chic look about it.

Music is generally up-tempo and a refreshing departure from the typical electronic fare around town. None of this house, electro, or Buddha Bar silliness. Lots of funk and retro revivalist sounds.

Damage: Cocktails range between 60 and 70rmb. Vodka flights start at 68rmb and stop off at 88, 158, and 298rmb. Beers, 60 across the board. Bubbles 60-180 by the glass. Still wines 55 and 60. Vodka straight up is where you'll find the greatest price variation -- anywhere between 50 and 288 by the glass and 750 to 4500 for bottles.

Who's going: It looks like mostly early thirty-somethings, denizens of the ever-growing Donghu Lu strip. People stopping by for a night cap after dinner at Dakota or el Willy. People warming up for Monkey Lounge.