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[Radar]: Kartel

From the mind behind Dr. Wine comes three floors of wine, cocktails, cigars and an eclectic mix of bling, bathtubs, and just a touch of urban decay...
2011-09-16 14:17:52
Area: The corner of Xianyang and Julu Lu. In the space formerly occupied by the short-lived XY One property. This is just upstairs from the recently-opened Brasserie La Fourchette.

What it is: Kartel is a three-story lounge bar by restaurateur and wine aficionado Vincent Landais. Landais boasts stints in NYC and Paris working for the Alain Ducasse haute cuisine empire, but you'll recognize him more immediately for his last venture, Dr. Wine. He sold the Fumin Lu wine bar just over a year ago and this has been his project ever since.

What Landais has created is ostensibly a cocktail lounge. The first page you see on the menu features your standard drinks like the Cosmo, the Long Island, the Mojito, and the Margarita. There is also a selection of signature wine-based cocktails with names like Madam Wang (white wine, ginger, basil, melon puree) or Dead in the Afternoon (red wine, Chambord, gin, absinthe, raspberry, and cranberry). But he's not fooling anybody; this is a wine bar at heart. If you don't believe me, kindly direct your attention to the wall of bottles off to the right. There are just as many wines by the glass on offer as there are cocktails and the selection changes from month to month. Clearly, they're not just pouring wine as a concession to those who can't handle hard liquor. If that were the case, Landais wouldn't be stocking the cellar downstairs with such an impressive collection of high-end Burgundies -- a bold move in a country obsessed with Bordeaux, I might add.

For eats, there is a menu of rustic French and Italian style snacks ranging from a simple plate of sardines with extra virgin olive oil and farmers bread or cold cuts plates the "Tuscan mini burger." There is also a selection of tartines, which are basically thin slices of toasted bread with all manner o toppings like endive salad with walnuts and blue cheese or steak with caramelized onion and grainy mustard.

Atmosphere: Three different floors offer three distinct looks and feels. The main floor is an eclectic mix of bling and urban decay. Designers Tomas Dariel and Benoit Arfeuillere call it "destroy chic." Shiny, chrome-plated seats and candle holders are juxtaposed with exposed concrete walls and undressed stripped down pillars. You can still see some of the scrawlings made by the people who built the place. Along the wrap-around windows are bathtubs modified into sofas and shower head light fixtures. Music is loungey DJ fare, it matches the look. Downstairs embodies the civilized sensibilities of a gentleman's lounge, the kind of place you'd drink Cognac and smoke cigars, but without the stodginess. Its subdued with plush sofas and low-slung tables. Hidden around back is a room reserved for regular wine and cheese tastings. Then there is the rooftop terrace. Simple in design with a 360º view of the French Concession, this will likely be the main draw until winter comes.

Damage: Cocktails start at 55 for the "Raspberry Crush" and go all the way up to 120rmb for a Bellini. Wine prices will obviously have a broad range with by the glass offerings ranging from 48 to 95 and bottles starting at 170 and going ever more upwards to 12,880rmb for a bottle of Mouton Rothschild. For food, small bites are 40-80rmb. Cold cuts and cheese platters go for 90 to 250. Tartines are 45-70.

Who's going: Industry types, particularly those of the French persuasion. People with a penchant for shiny things. Burgundy fiends.