In the first half of the 20th century, Shanghai was the most notorious city in Asia for drinking and revelry, rivaling Paris and New York. Dubbed the ‘Whore of Asia’, old Shanghai was bursting with opportunities for debauchery in opium joints, gambling dens, nightclubs and glamorous European-style theatres. When Mao’s Communist Party took over in 1949, Shanghai was cleaned up overnight by decree and it was strictly enforced for decades. Even into the 1990s, visitors retired to their quarters after dark rather than enjoy a few Chinese beers in the hotel bar. In the past decade, however, the possibilities for a big night on the town have multiplied exponentially. It’s fast becoming a city that never sleeps.
Nightclubs and bars are booming. Barflies now have a choice of everything from glamorous art deco lounges to the seediest watering holes. Shanghai’s new wealth has triumphantly manifested itself in countless swanky venues and buzzing sports bars. These venues are overwhelmingly located in the core downtown area on the Puxi side of the Huangpu River, primarily on the Bund, in the French Concession and Jing’an areas, with few exceptions aside from the Hongmei Entertainment Street.
The club scene in Shanghai is best characterised not by where to go (as the options are well known) but when to go. The highly competitive nature of the business means that club owners are always offering theme nights, international DJs or one-off parties in order to stay one step ahead of the competition. A club that is full to capacity one night may well be completely deserted the next.
Hongmei Entertainment Street
This booming entertainment district in Gubei has become very popular with expats looking for a one-stop zone that can satisfy every hunger and thirst. There are well over 50 bars and restaurants concentrated in an area of several blocks buzzing with expats of all ages. Here you can enjoy Thai food, watch live international sports at one of the pubs or mingle with other expats in cocktail bars late into the night. Basically, once you’re inside the district, the rest of the evening is easy. To get there take a taxi to the Pearl Market and cross the street.
Sasha’s successfully combines the laidback vibe of a neighbourhood bar with the class appropriate to its setting in a Concession-era villa that once belonged to the Soong family. The interior is a comfortable arrangement of wicker chairs, barstools and sofas. The lunch menu is a good set of classic Mediterranean and Asian standards.
Sun-Thu 10am-1am, Fri-Sat 10am-2am
11 Dongping Lu, by Hengshan Lu
The classic olfactory smell of Guinness and cigarettes, the big screen showing Premiership matches and the folksy crowd give O’Malley’s an authentic pub feel. The inside decor of this 19th-century building is an enchanting collection of tiny rooms, corners and coves. Outside, the walled beer garden has a play area and lawn, making it very popular with expat families during the weekend.
42 Taojiang Lu, by Wulumuqi Lu
This is a great place to throw down some cheap Carlsberg and catch a game on one of the TVs. The bar menu is standard but pretty good quality and affordable, particularly the fish and chips. Expect large crowds during major Premiership or rugby matches and businessmen playing hookey watching Monday Night Football on Tuesday mornings. Additional location in Lujiazui.
1 Yueyang Lu, by Dongping Lu
The original German brewhouse is always abuzz with expat businessmen and rich families splurging on plates of sausage and in-house brews. Prices are high, but in the Pudong branch they include a great view of the Huangpu River. Or come for happy hour (5-7pm). There are branches in the French Concession, Xintiandi and Pudong.
Sun-Thu 10am-1am, Fri-Sat 10am-2am
Xintiandi: No.19-20, North Block Xintiandi, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, by Madang Lu
French Concession: 150 Fenyang Lu, by Fuxing Lu
Pudong: 2967 Lujiazui Lu
Built on the lake in the middle of People’s Park, this Moroccan-themed lounge extravaganza features four floors of drinking, dancing and, fitting the Moroccan theme, shisha pipes. Most indoor and outdoor seating at this venue features panoramic views of the park and surrounding buildings, making it a great early stop as well as a final evening destination.
Inside People’s Park, 231 Nanjing Xi Lu
Cotton’s is the best of the French Concession for laidback nighttime indulgence. Situated in a 1930s villa, the interior is set up with cosy sofas and fireplaces. Besides drinks, Cotton’s has a reasonably-priced bar menu. It’s popular with locals and expats alike, so arrive early on the weekends to grab a table outside, or book ahead with a group.
Sun-Thu 11am-2am, Fri-Sat 11am-4am
132 Anting Lu, by Jianguo Lu
Boxing Cat Brewery
Renowned as the best microbrewery in Shanghai’s wine-centric nightlife scene, Boxing Cat is heaven for lager lovers, with locally-brewed beers on tap. Housed in a villa in the French Concession, Boxing Cat has become a favorite for its summer barbecues.
Mon-Thu 5pm-2am, Fri 3pm-2am, Sat-Sun 11am-3am
82 Fuxing Xi Lu, by Yongfu Lu
6431 2091 ext. 801
Part of the growing micro-brewery trend in Shanghai, this is a friendly, buzzing place with a terrace for sitting outdoors, friendly waitstaff and cocktails for people who prefer their drinks non-beer. There’s a decent menu of filling fare and happy hour with discounted priced 2-8pm on weekdays.
15 Dongping Lu, by Hengshan Lu
Set in an actual bomb shelter, this bar is known for its focus on music and lack of poseurs. If you are appropriately aged (it’s a young crowd) and want to dance the night away to something other than the standard fare, check it out.
Basement of 5 Yongfu Lu, by Fuxing Xi Lu
Big Bamboo is a bustling haven for expat sports lovers. On any given evening you can count on a crowd of expats in varying degrees of intoxication fixing their eyes on one of the large monitors streaming live sports into the wee hours of the night. The other half of the bar plays host to some very serious pool players. There are several beers on tap, a large international selection of bottles and an extensive menu of Asian, Mexican and American bar food.
Sun-Thu 11am-2am, Fri-Sat 11am-3am
Hongqiao/Gubei: 20 Hongmei Entertainment Street, Lane 3338 Hongmei Lu
Puxi: 132 Nanyang Lu, by Nanjing Xi Lu
Pudong/Jinqiao: 381 Hongfeng Lu
With a recently revamped interior and a menu featuring German specialties, laffa bread sandwiches and barbecued ribs, this bar has become a favourite lunch stop for people working in Jing’an. In the evening, it’s a popular expat hang-out with a friendly atmosphere.
331 Tongren Lu, by Beijing Xi Lu
This two-story British pub comes complete with a faux fireplace and is a haven for darts enthusiasts. In addition to four cork dartboards, the draft Guinness, a generous happy hour and hearty pub grub entice even non-darts players to stop in for a spell.
1377 Fuxing Lu, by Baoqing Lu
The Bund is lined and stacked with stylish and beautiful bars, but Glamour is the gem of the bunch. The art deco theme, mismatched upholstered furniture, low lamps and retractable painted screens dividing the room – not to mention great martinis – make everybody look and feel in their best evening element. Get there before midnight to avoid long lines, or better yet reserve ahead.
6/F, 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, the Bund
Bar Rouge is undoubtedly the most famous club in Shanghai. It’s full of beautiful people, has stunning views and excellent bartenders. It also hosts a seemingly endless stream of racy theme parties and other events. For the uninitiated in Shanghai, it’s a must-try – even if it’s to say the service was bad, the people pretentious and the drinks and music average at best. That’s not to say you won’t have fun however.
Sun-Wed 6pm-3am, Thu-Sat 6pm-late
Bund 18, 7/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, by Nanjing Dong Lu
The 24th-floor downtown high-rise setting of the obtusely-named M1nt members club boasts brilliant floor-to-ceiling views of the entire city, a shark tank and some of Shanghai’s hottest parties. The drinks are overpriced and the super-chic clientele are always dressed to the nines – not surprisingly as it is one of the few clubs that actually enforces its shoe-focused dress code (no flip flops or sandals). It is, as they say, a place to see and be seen.
24/F, 318 Fuzhou Lu
Perhaps the most popular club in Shanghai for well-heeled locals and expats alike, featuring a rotating slate of the music you would expect in a very large venue. This is table and bottle clubbing Shanghai style. Call ahead for a table or be left standing.
Sun-Thu 8pm-3am, Fri-Sat 8pm-5am
Hong Kong Plaza, 4/F, 283 Huaihai Zhong Lu, by Huangpi Nan Lu
Yes, this bar is about the view, as it’s situated atop the Hyatt on the Bund hotel. While enjoying a cocktail at this fun bar, you will have spectacular views of both the Pudong skyline across the river and the Bund below.
Sun-Thu 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am
32/F, West Tower, Hyatt on the Bund, 199 Huangpu Lu
6393 1234 ext.6348
Shanghai’s pre-revolutionary (pre-1949) jazz legacy has been revived for the 21st century. It’s not as swinging a scene as it would have been in the 1920s and 30s, but you can catch some surprisingly good musicians here at excellent venues. September sees the annual JZ Shanghai Jazz Festival, which is held in parks and theatres around the city and attracts big international acts and tens of thousands of people and it’s growing.
Established by two musicians as a kind of jazz living room, JZ Club has become one of Shanghai’s more popular venues for live jazz. The house big band is very talented, and they often mix with local and international musicians that perform improvisational jams. The crowd here is more into the music than drinking and dancing.
46 Fuxing Xi Lu, by Yongfu Lu
A lively, high-end jazz venue with a bar and a restaurant that hosts international and domestic artists. It has all of the elements of a fun night out – food, music, drinks and dancing – although the crowd is generally more interested in kicking back to enjoy good tunes. Table minimums are high, but can be avoided by setting yourself at the bar for some mixed cocktails.
Dinner 6-8:30pm, Show time 9:30pm-1am
Bldg 15, Xintiandi North Block, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, Xintiandi
This local institution is Shanghai’s longest-running venue and still the best for nightly live jazz and blues. The artists are skilled and the music is light, while the atmosphere is intimate and darkly atmospheric. Live music is performed on weeknights from 9:30pm until midnight and weekends from 10:30pm until 1:30am.
1416 Huaihai Zhong Lu, by Fuxing Lu