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First Sip: U Way, The Bar In The Office Building

Sep 11, 2015 | 14:09 Fri
Call it an accidental speakeasy. Instead of making some elaborate, "secret" entrance cloaked as a Mountain Dew machine or a Xiao Long Bao shop, bartender Jerry Chen (ex-Shen, Starling, HOF) has opened a bar on the third floor of a dilapidated office building in the neighborhood around the Lujiabang Lu subway station. The place seats 10-15, guests need to change into slippers or at least remove their shoes, and there is an Xbox. The cocktails are Willy Wonka level creative -- one came out in a large vase engraved with scripture; another involved cereal and chai tea -- and they're all 50rmb.

There are two ways of getting to U Way (佑未 -- "blessing the future"; chill name). The easiest would be arriving the corner of Liyuan Lu and Ximinli Lu, then calling Jerry, who will come down and escort you up. Real nice guy. The more adventurous way is to go to that corner, then walk halfway down Ximinli Lu until you see a pair of lions on the left and a giant clothes-collection panda on the right and an ATM that looks like a ghetto TARDIS. There may or may not be a pair of bao'ans hanging out and chain smoking.

Then enter the first building on the right and head to the third floor. U Way is room 318, the one with Chinese New Year decorations from like five years ago.

"I am the menu" says Jerry, a humble Shanghainese dude with a good sense of humor. They don't have any beer or wine, and Jerry will just ask what you like or what you're in the mood for, contemplate for a moment, then come up with something. The first round was a Nuts Old Fashioned, rimmed with crushed peanuts and a "Heaven In Thailand", bursting with lemongrass.

Then we asked for something photogenic. While you can't see from this photo, this vase [not really a vase, but that's the closest reference point] has a quote from Matthew 19:26: "With God, all things are possible". I asked Jerry if he was a Christian and he laughed and said no, he just likes this object. There's no name for this blackberry, gin, ginger, and orange juice concoction, so we christened it it JAYYYYYSUS. It was quite fruity.

Finally, the chengzhang kuai le (top photo), which translates as "grow up happily", and is also a brand of children's multi-vitamins. This one blended chai tea, rum, Lucano, and chocolate. Tasted like alcoholic milk tea.

We first met Jerry when he and Daniel An participated in our Family Mart Cocktail Lab, which Jerry won with his "Wikipedia Of Rad" (our title, not his). If these two were beatmakers, Daniel would be Dr. Dre, doing everything with surgical precision. Jerry is more like Madlib. And while Taste-Buds (which is also great) is all about palatial Qing Dynasty vibes, U Way makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's in a shitty, '90s-style office building, one door down from the Wuye office.

As the night went on, a few other bartenders showed up to practice making cocktails for an upcoming championship. Jerry tasted one made with rose water and dismissed it as too weak. His girlfriend was hanging out the whole time, roasting some cocktail nuts. Justin Beiber was playing on the stereo, and no one gave a fuck. The doormat says "WELCOME TO MY HOME", and that's exactly the vibe.


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