Shanghaiist visited a bar the other night. A new bar: Free Soul, on Fahuazhen Lu.
What struck us most about this place was not the “choose-your-own-music” feature (the modest selection of CDs included Air, the Backstreet Boys, the soundtrack to Singles, and various Buddha Bar compilations). Nor was it the special “repellant dartboard” which failed to cling to a single dart we threw at it. Nor, indeed, was it the sign plastered on a notice-board boasting of the bar’s “friendly female staffs with fluent English.”
Rather, the one striking feature of Free Soul was its almost ghoulish emptiness. “As empty as a beer closet in premises where painters have been at work”. And it’s not like this was a Monday lunchtime — we visited at 10 pm on a warm Thursday night — perfect conditions for a few drinks. Furthermore, Free Soul has received its fair share of publicity of late, with a review in that’s Shanghai and plenty of column inches on a local internet forum.
Why this 100 percent absence of living, breathing human beings? Well, location is one thing. “Who’s going to come here?” said a friend of Shanghaiist. Ironically enough, this was just as he stepped through the heavy wooden door which marks the entrance to the venue. But the point remains: Free Soul is tucked away in the western suburbs of the city on a dusty back-street full of locals sleeping on the sidewalk. (They’re not homeless, we should point out: it’s common in Shanghai for pyjama-clad people to drag their beds outside in summer rather than stay in small, hot houses with no air-conditioning). Great spot for a baozi stall, yet this bar is quite clearly aiming at the foreign market (hence the aforementioned sign). And there doesn’t appear to be an expat living within cooee of the place.
Which brings us to the point of the post. Free Soul is one of many unexceptional nightspots in Shanghai suffering from a dearth of patrons. So how do all these places survive? Okay, so the rents at Fahuazhen Lu are presumably nothing like those on Tongren Lu or Maoming Lu, but still, there are bills to pay, right?
Maybe it won’t survive. Honestly, we wish Free Soul all the best for the future — it’s a pleasant enough place for a beer and it has a free pool table. Realistically, though, we give it four weeks. Tops.
Free Soul can be found at 897 Fahuazhen Lu (near Yan’an Xi Lu). Tel: 6282-1810.