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[Radar]: The House of Roosevelt

The House of Roosevelt is the most recent incarnation of the Bund 27 building. In the past, it's been the HQ of British trading firm/opium sellers Jardine Matheson, the offices of the Japanese Navy intelligence, and the Shanghai Foreign Trade Commission. Now, purchased by the American Roosevelt family, it's been turned into the city's largest wine cellar, a bistro, a super-elite member's club, a conservative fine-dining restaurant, and a rooftop with view across the river.
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Area: The House of Roosevelt is Bund 27. That is at the intersection of Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu and Beijing Lu. It is an imposing colonial facade on a street full of them. The Peninsula is its most important neighbor. Walking south, you've got the newly re-opened Peace Hotel, Bund 18 (Bar Rouge, Mr & Mrs Bund), and swarms of tour groups.

What it is: This 1920 building was built for Jardine Matheson, one of the seminal colonial British trading firms. Among many, many other things, they were in the opium business.

Now the building has passed into the hands of seminal American power family, the Roosevelts. They are Presidents and tycoons, and instead of opium, they're trading a milder (and more legal) intoxicant: wine. The House of Roosevelt is a staggering, granite-faced investment to sell a bit of grape juice.

Ultimately, after cycling through periods as the HQ for Jardine Matheson (when it was known as the EWO Building), as the offices for the Japanese Navy's intelligence unit, and as the Shanghai Foreign Trade Commission, that's what this nine-story building has turned into: wine. At 1,100 square meters, 2,500 labels, and 20,000 bottles, it's likely that the second floor is China's largest wine shop.

The House of Roosevelt has cut consignment deals with 16 wine distributors, and its second-floor cellar is essentially a massive wine showroom. It is old world and new. It can be cheap or not. There is a "secret" cellar hidden behind a sliding shelf with all the super premiums. There are two magnums of Screaming Eagle in the chilly vault, along with a security guard in a winter coat, and lots of other rare/expensive bottles.

This wine theme fills out most of the rest of the "house" -- there's a bistro on the first floor, an conservative upscale restaurant on the 8th floor, and a rooftop terrace on the 9th, all served by the Roosevelt's cellar. There are tables in the cellar itself, among the wooden library shelves of wine, where you can graze from the tapas menu. Dishes are organized by Champagne, White Wine, or Red Wine.

It's hard to simplify a project this large. It is staggeringly large. Too big, really. It could be a hotel. Instead, it's two restaurants, a rooftop, a wine cellar, a Rolex flagship on the first floor, and a member's club. Let's talk about that last one, which you will never join.

It's on the third floor. It is a series of private rooms in wood paneling, with marble floors and penguin'ed butlers. There is a cigar lounge with a wall of custom humidors. There are rooms named after Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, with original herringbone wood floors and commanding views across the river. Cash is prohibited; members are billed monthly. Membership is 180,000rmb for three years. The only thing missing is a golf course.

Atmosphere: In what part? The wine cellar is stone floors and dark wood shelving with raw, unrestored concrete walls. It references a European wine room/cave/villa, except that sunlight streams in through massive arched windows that face the Bund. The 8th-floor restaurant is sleek black; a "Chinese-style club" -- velvet couches and table charges -- flanks it. The rooftop is square wicker furniture and a sightline to the Pink Lollipops. The first-floor is an amalgam of American diner and French bistro, with an interior courtyard. The members club is off-limits. The original Italian marble staircase still dominates the entrance.

What ties everything together is the sense of emptiness. Ten thousand customers might change all that, but it can feel a bit like wandering a hotel or a cruise ship. (It was originally slated to be a Saks Fifth Avenue department store, but the financial crisis scrapped those plans.) The venues are just swimming in their space.

Damage: You can eat a Caesar salad with white anchovies in the courtyard bistro for 68rmb; down salt and pepper river shrimp with ginger aioli, braised beef cheek with green peas, or five varieties of oysters in the wine cellar (78rmb, 88rmb, 48rmb each); or choose between a roasted spring chicken with confit potato, grilled lamb chops, or a Singapore chili crab in the eighth floor Sky Restaurant and Bar (128rmb, 288rmb, 118rmb); and snack on duck spring rolls on the roof (68rmb).

The wine cellar is too big to generalize. There are some bottles at Carrefour prices, and there are some bottles at Roosevelt prices. They are trying to use their prestige to hammer down wine prices, and keep mark-ups slim. They tell me, in a friendly way, that they've "declared war" on Bund wine and Champagne prices. In real terms, that means the bottle of Bollinger that would cost 1,500rmb plus 15% to drink at Sir Elly's, costs 727rmb to drink here (after the discount explained below).

Bottles of wine are marked with a price to drink in the wine cellar. If you're buying to takeaway, wine is 50% off -- part of a contrived "Wine Festival." If you're buying Champagne, either to consume in any of the outlets or somewhere else, it's all 50% off the sticker price, which is how you wind up with Bollinger at 727rmb -- cheaper than buying it directly from ASC, the distributor.

Until the end of August, they're doing something called the House Pass. It's 498rmb per person and gets you: a Champagne cocktail and appetizer in the Courtyard Bistro; an unspecified dinner at the 8th floor Sky Restaurant; and a private wine tasting in the cellar.

Everything, including alcohol, is subject to a 10% service charge. The only exception is wines by the glass. Again, part of the "festival."

Who's going: Most of Shanghai's wine industry has a stake in this place, considering how many bottles the various distributors have consigned, so most of Shanghai's wine people will naturally follow. The House of Roosevelt is trying to attract a terrace/Bund crowd for the upper floors, a Chinese pre-club crowd for their Chinese "club", an office worker or tourist crowd for their 98rmb market lunch, 200 Elites with their limited members club, and wine shoppers with their cellar. Everyone with a bit of money, then.