The former French Concession in Puxi, Shanghai, is one of the city’s most beautiful areas. With many streets shrouded by overhanging trees it can seem like a world away from the manic bustle that characterizes rest of the place and its 22 million inhabitants.
Established in 1849 and handed over in 1943, many of the original French-style buildings survive, making the area a relaxing place for a breezy walk in the daytime. It has also become a fantastic nightspot, with some of the best bars in Shanghai offering more underground alternatives to the flashy riverside venues on the Bund or the enormous super-clubs.
You could spend a month exploring the bars in just this area, but in our Shanghai nightlife guide, we’ve chosen the top ten places you shouldn’t miss.
As far as nightclubs go The Shelter is somewhat unique, being based on the site of a disused bomb shelter (hence the name). It’s underground by nature as well as in the literal sense, having garnered a reputation strong enough to attract some of the global dance music scene’s most credible cult acts. The drinks are cheap, it’s always rammed at weekends and it’s open until the sun comes up, making it a must-visit location for night owls.
Address: 5 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
This small upstairs bar gets its name and vague decor theme from the retro video game emulator customers can play in the bar for free. But this is no nerd-fest: local hipsters flock to Arcade for its reasonably priced cocktails and air of relaxed cool (as well as its invariably pounding dance music), making it the perfect pre-club drinking haven.
The Senator is Shanghai’s answer to the American speakeasy bar. Head barman David Schroeder, an ex-US cop, has gained a reputation as making some of the finest cocktails in the area – his Old Fashioned will blow the ears off the side of your head. Despite the fine cocktails the place has become so popular with young locals that most nights it resembles an enjoyably raucous and friendly pub.
Address: 98 Wuyuan Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu
There aren’t many frills to be found at The Chalet – a relaxed boozer loosely based on the decor of a Swiss mountain cottage. It feels more like a fun British bar though, with surprisingly good pub grub on offer, indie rock on the stereo and a fun mix of locals and expats getting drunk. Go there on a Tuesday night for the “happy hour” that runs until 3am, closing with most drinks around half price. The crowds it attracts make it feel like a Saturday.
Address: 385 Yongjia Lu, near Taiyuan Lu
Every city should have a DADA (in fact Beijing does – albeit a slightly more upscale branch). It’s a small, sticky-floored dive: there’s no cover charge and barely any security and never any queues despite the place always being busy at weekends. This all makes it the perfect location for after-hours debauchery. The music tends to be underground house, there’s table football, and you’ll only spend 25RMB (£2.50) for a bottle of Tiger beer. If you’re staying in the area, you’ll find yourself at DADA again and again – usually from about 2.30am.
Address: 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu
Helmed by the same owners as Arcade, Arkham is a medium-sized nightclub that borrows some of the same underground cool as The Shelter (being similarly subterranean) but in a much wider open space, making it more of a “hands-in-the-air” experience. Charmingly named promoters S.T.D. attract good international DJ names and an increasing amount of live bands, so check local listings sites to find out who’s appearing.
Address: 1 Wulumuqi Nan Lu, near Hengshan Lu
This place has got to be one of the most unusual bars in Shanghai: a working tattoo parlour that had a top-notch cocktail bar added to its downstairs area in October 2013. Harley Davidson motorcycles are often revved outside as the achingly hip local crowd sip great cocktails in the dingy but cool bar area, but there’s still an inclusive – you could even say “family” – vibe. The owner also promises not to tattoo you on the spot if you have a few too many drinks then demand an inking session, which is good of him.
Address: 260 Xiangyang Lu, near Yongkang Lu
There’s often a queue to get a seat in the swish and popular cocktail bar El Coctel, but it’s worth the wait. Some of the best cocktails in Puxi are on offer here, and at weekends it becomes one of the trendiest bars to people watch in as you sip creations such as the Spice Rum Treacle.
This minute café/bar on leafy Gao’an Road is so intimate it’s impossible not to acquire new friends here. Being owned by a Brit as well as his Chinese girlfriend, Union Jack flag cushions abound, along with paintings of Oxfordshire scenery. It’s a great place in the week for a pre-meal drink or, if you end up there in the early hours during the weekend, perfect for toasting new friendships until dawn.
Address: 101 Gao’an Lu, near Zhaojiabang Lu