“Beijing Boyce” is Beijing-based newsletter that someone once called the city’s “blog of gluttony.” We’re not sure if it is really a blog or not, although it does seem to be somehow affiliated with That’s Beijing, a fine publication. Anyway, the latest issue landed in our inbox yesterday, and we thought you might find it of interest — because it is all about Shanghai’s restaurants and bars. Mr. Boyce is a glutton, indeed.
Normally, we would like to link to something like this, but we couldn’t find “Beijing Boyce XII” published anywhere online. So we have reproduced the entire newsletter (warning: it’s loooong) below. (Mr. Boyce, if you see this and take issue with our usage of your text, please let us know and we will take it down at once.)
You can find the Beijing Boyce newsletter after the jump …
Image from Shopping Gluttony.
BEIJING BOYCE XII: The Shanghai edition, with Big Bamboo, Blue Frog, Senses, Zapata’s, Cotton’s, South Beauty, and two dozen more spots, as well as three conversations: What About Bob?; Musical Chairs; and Shaky, Not Stirring.
OPENING SHOTS: This issue covers 30 drinking holes in Shanghai and is twice as long as usual, so I will save until next time my Beijing content, including reports on Capital Club, Durty Nellie’s, 5:19, Modern Nomads (Mongolian vodka martinis, just across from Banana Leaf), Browns (which broke the Zing by Doodoo record for most mafang-to-get drink: 20 minutes, including four trips to the bar, and that was with the help of the supervisor, manager AND owner), a John Bull Pub wine tasting, the inaugural Agent Red Wolf Long Island Iced Tea and Mojito Awards, the future of bartending experts George and Echo, who quit at Midnight a few hours ago, so you might want to skip that place for cocktails (more on this, including a cheesy headline such as “Sundown at Midnight,” coming up), and any other spots I visit over the next ten days. I’ll also respond to those readers who will no doubt claim I have completely misrepresented Shanghai’s pub scene.
BEIJING VERSUS SHANGHAI: north versus south, politics versus business, center of the universe versus city by the sea; the former claiming the latter values style over substance, the latter caring not what the former thinks; two siblings with bar scenes divergent. Some brief observations about the drinking holes of our neighbor, based on three days of research last week and three last year, after which I’ll make some gross generalizations about how our two cities stack up. Unless noted, comments on each bar are based on a single visit (readers in Shanghai may now commence shaking their heads in disgust and rolling their eyes in disbelief). For added perspective, I asked D-Rock, Kraft-D, Alpha Veda and Winopete for their input. I was unable to complete my to-do list, which includes Zin, Laris, Long Bar, The Cotton Club, House of Blues and Jazz, and Sasha’s, meaning another trip is soon in order. Finally, given the length of this issue and my limited time for writing it, I apologize for it being too verbose.
BIG BAMBOO has a good layout and ambience, a friendly staff, and free wireless. This multi-floor wood-happy sports bar was my default Internet spot after nearby Coffee Bean (nice Latte) had troubles with its connection. Big Bamboo sees a trickle of happy hour (2-8 PM) patrons from four o’clock onwards, many of whom are up for a friendly game of pool. “Dr. Mike” is one of them. He takes an inch of Sprite in his beer, says he has delivered babies for quite a few Beijing bar owners (he’s been in China for many a year), and sends a cheery hello to everyone.
Big Bamboo Owner Bryce Jenner supports numerous sports teams, including the local ice dogs, and is contemplating buying a bus for them (and the patrons?). He’s also planning to add bigger flat-panel TVs. Tiger beer: 40 kuai (20 kuai during happy hour). Weak points include so-so food (the nachos were particularly sub-par) and a deceptive step just inside the door, on which I saw a dozen people trip. Overall, though, a big thumb up for Big Bamboo, where I enjoyed chatting with friends, playing an expert foosball player (even notched two goals) and watching, with the bar packed to the rafters, the Olympic gold medal hockey game between Sweden and Finland (the place went crazy with that electrifying finish).
Next up was the trendier, pricier, dimmer and more cramped BLUE FROG (Tongren branch). I went with D-Rock, Kraft-D and Alpha Veda (AV) and friends for dinner, and tracked down the owner, who shares my family name. Thus occurred, Conversation 1: What about Bob?
[The first floor of the bar is sparsely populated. A patron is about to make a simple query.]
Me: “Is Bob Boyce here?”
Employee behind the bar: “What?”
“Bob Boyce, the owner.”
Employee hands me a pack of Marlboros.
“I don’t want cigarettes. I’m looking for Bob Boyce. The owner. Boss. Laoban.”
He confers with a colleague and then makes a vague hand gesture toward the bar’s end. I walk there; see a guy talking on a cell phone; wait until he’s finished.
Me: “Hi, are you Bob Boyce?”
Guy: “Excuse me?”
“Are you Bob Boyce?”
“[Sarcastically] No, but I could pretend to be him for five minutes.”
And there you have it folks. My second stop in Shanghai and I already knew where to find quality service AND comedy. I eventually did track Bob down. He owns four Blue Frog outlets and a place called KABB (see below), and is a bit of a legend in the local bar scene, having opened his first bottles almost a decade ago on Maoming (which is apparently on its last legs and faces the same fate as did our Sanlitun South a year ago). Each Blue Frog is geared to its location, so if you either like or dislike one, don’t hold it against the others. The name itself comes from an ancient Greek hallucinatory drink containing blue curacao, ouzo, and secretions from a frog native only to Sparta (the garnish is three olives on a tiny plastic Sword of Damocles). Okay, I made that last part up, because I forgot to ask Bob about the name, but a Yahoo search reveals that “blue frog” jumped into his head one day. Bob’s thinking of making the leap to Beijing to open a bar.
Anyway, I rejoined my friends upstairs just in time for conversations about U.S.-Canada relations, the role of global elites, Mongolian hedge funds: pros and cons, and new perspectives on images of Ganesh in modern Indian poetry. (Okay, I also made up those last two, but these are the kinds of topics that spin off when someone shows up with a serious book like, “Policing Shanghai, 1927-1937.” Nice work, Jay!). By the way, of the four hamburgers I had in Shanghai, Blue Frog’s was the best, and had a perfectly cooked patty (more pickle would have been nice). During Happy Hour, it was 70 kuai and included a large draft. The place itself seems more appropriate for a first date than our restless and ready-for-the-town group, so we headed to…
MANHATTAN, where on my last visit I saw a fun Filipino band. The place was virtually empty this time around, so we continued on to SENSES wine bar (thanks to readers GT and CD for the tip). In theory, I love this spot – an establishment dedicated to wine and with a good selection available by the glass. One drawback is the mish mash of patterns on the wall, the kitschy pink rafter lights et al (for a successful recreation room re-creation, see Plan B). We came at the tail end of a wine-tasting event and tried some of those vintages, along with a passable Grace Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, though Kraft-D didn’t like it – as he mentioned at least eight dozen times. (I’m convinced he would be just as critical if I filled his glass with Chateau Latour and told him it was Chinese wine. And yes, that’s a cheap shot.) The wines range from Frontera Cabernet Sauvigon and Two Oceans Shiraz at 200 kuai to Wolf Blass Gold Label 2002 at 510 kuai to Grand Cru territory. Monday features 25-kuai glasses of wine; Tuesday has 30 percent off bottles; Wednesday and Thursday gets you a one-kuai meal with any bottle bought; and there is a BBQ on the weekend. Kraft-D said that Senses outdoor seating area is “among the most outstanding features of the place.”
Owner Matt Ryan kindly sat down and talked to us about the wine business, noting a Qingdao Riesling and a Xinjiang ice wine (first I’d heard of them). After polishing off our third bottle, he proclaimed, “Hamburger time, fellows.” We headed off, but not before the owner in question went toe-to-toe with six bouncers across the street – all in the Olympic spirit, of course – over the issue of grabbing taxis. A man who can handle a corkscrew and has Jackie Chan moves – ladies, what are you waiting for?
I recall little about the EAGER BEAVER, except it had high chairs, a neighborhood bar feel, and more chalk graffiti than an art school. Matt kindly manned the bar until someone appeared from the back and we were soon inhaling burgers (barbecued, toasted bun) and fries (RMB35). It was a perfect way to deal with the post-Midnight munchies. (Note: My apologies for yelling at the guy who announced, “Curling is not a sport.” Yes, he is entitled to his opinion and I should have remained placid, but really, until you’ve tried picking up a heavy rock, sliding it along the ice, and aiming, with perfect weight, to an exact spot far, FAR away, you might want to keep an open mind. Even so, my apologies, and should we meet again, the next Beaver burger is on me. P.S. Curling IS a sport.)
D-Rock and I ate lunch at MALONE’S so I could try the burger, which like Blue Frog’s, made it to the semifinals of a recent contest by SH magazine (which is quite good, by the way, but lags behind that’s Beijing). Malone’s menu has 18 kinds of burgers, from a “Fajita,” with cheddar, sour cream, salsa, onion and peppers, to a “Cowboy,” with jack cheese, bacon, and fried mushrooms and onions (all of them are 48 kuai, with fries and salad). The place has a cafeteria feel about it: the free refills of watery iced tea, the ketchup and Thousand Island dressing that looked institutional, and the fries that seemed as though they were cooked in a fifty-pound lot. The saving grace: the burger was good.
D-Rock was dispassionate about his burrito: “It’s mediocre and there’s lot of it.” Perhaps that’s the point: Malone’s is a place for groups of businesspeople to get together, chat, have a big if not spectacular meal, and then go back to the office completely carbed up, all for a fairly low price. Certainly, there is a need for such spots. Given the long bar and the posters advertising live music, I have a feeling I would like Malone’s a lot more at night, and will visit again when I return to Shanghai.
(Note: RENDEZ-VOUS CAFE is considered by many to have the best burgers in town. While the cafe’s decor is nothing to write home about – the centerpiece is an oversized Heineken bottle on a wall unit – the burger is indeed tasty, if a bit pliable. Blue Frog’s burger, however, gets my vote for taste, with Rendez-vous holding its own if you figure in value – 30 kuai, including fries and drink.)
While getting my free wireless fix at Big Bamboo, lo and behold, there appeared on a stool a few meters away an icon of the Taipei bar scene – Winopete. His happy hour newsletter a few years back had a cult following, the legend being made when, due to unwavering diligence, he discovered a hole-in-the-wall bar where three large bottles of Taiwan draft for three dollars. All hail the master! This fateful meeting could only mean one thing: it was time for the British pubs.
We started at BRITISH BULLDOG, a standard two-floor pub, though be forewarned: avoid the seat near the door, since the dip in the ceiling blocks half of the big-screen TV and the nearby heater blows right on your face. Ever the handyman and realizing that the nearby owner and waitresses were not about to do anything, I adjusted the heater vents. Pete had gotten us there just in time (no surprise) for happy hour (6 to 8 PM), which meant two-for-one. Except for our friendly, funny, bubbly waitress, the Bulldogs were pretty mellow, with people prone and evidently letting a week’s worth of stress evaporate. Note: British Bulldog has two Tiger beers plus free flow curry for 100 kuai on Mondays, a trivia night, and British comedy and films on weekends.
O’MALLEY’S is set off the street, behind a wall, and has nice outdoor seating. Inside, the main floor has plenty of nooks and crannies, one of which contained two friends from Taiwan, De Usher and K-Gin. After hugs and kisses, we headed for floor two, which was rustic and airy, especially with those high rafters. O’Malley’s has been around since 1996, says Pete, but – and this is a major black mark in his book – has no happy hour. He also criticized having Frontera as a house wine (“They could do better. Even Eaglehawk is better than this.”) and the high prices (“It’s hard to find a more expensive bar like this than O’Malley’s.”). A pint of Guinness: 65 kuai. The Bloody Mary was okay, the staff was friendly, and I thought it was worth the stop.
Third up was the nearby BLARNEY STONE, where we met D-Rock and Kraft-D. Fairly empty when we arrived, the place was soon bustling. Service was okay, though D-Rock though the staff a bit lethargic. Carlsberg: 40 kuai a pint; I think Guinness was 65 kuai. Blarney Stone seemed quite cliquish, with a lot of couples and small groups. On the other hand, friends have told me it’s a great place to strike up conversations with strangers. Kraft-D described it as “not overly commercial” and I can only say: more research required. (Note: This is not a good place to practice your Irish imitations, even if they are in good fun.)
With three British pubs under our belts, we headed to Hongmei Street, which is pretty much in the middle of… nowhere. This area is expected to be booming in a few years, but unfortunately my trip was measured in a few days. Our first stop was BE BOP, which has an identity crisis. On the speakers: reggae. On the tube: NBA basketball. On the walls: too much neon, alongside art that ranged from traditional prints to cheesy nudes. On the tables: dice games. On the chairs: bar staff willing to lend an ear to a lonely fellow. This place seemed to be a combination of Taipei’s Combat Zone and Beijing’s Sanlitun North strip. If you’re male and looking for someone to talk to (note: you’ll be buying drinks for two), Be Bop might be for you.
A few doors down the empty street was BABY BAMBOO, Big Bamboo’s second outlet, and one of only three places with more than a handful of customers. (Witness our visit to the Blue Frog branch nearby, where the chairs were already stacked for the night.) The pole dancer gave the place a slightly sleazy feeling which, as D-Rock noted, isn’t exactly going to bring in female clients, the absence of which is not exactly going to bring in male clients. The bar had the standard two-floor layout – a bar downstairs, a pool table upstairs. “It’s like Big Bamboo, but smaller,” said Kraft-D, thereby affirming that putting “baby” in the name was a good call. “It’s the right size for this street. It might one day outgrow the space, but right now it works.” Tiger Beer: 35 kuai.
Our last Hongmei stop was 3D, which we couldn’t pass up after spotting the window display of beer. This was a cozy place and had the only genuine bar ambience on the street. I had two wishes: one, that I hadn’t been too tired to keep more notes, and two, that this had been our first stop on Hongmei.
With Kraft-D heading home, D-Rock and I decided to hit one more place – Park 97. This is a high-end bar chock full of “the beautiful people” – except for the sick guy in the bathroom who sounded like he was trying to eject his lungs through his nostrils. Drinking lesson number one: know thy limit. Park 97 is comfortable but pricey (Heineken: 55 kuai), and offers good music and plenty of people-watching opportunities. Going there is like going to Tokyo: if you have the money, you will have the funny.
Night three began at KAAB, in Xintiendi, a contrived area reminiscent of, though more upscale than our Lotus Lane in Houhai. KABB has a warm and cozy feel, but the seating is overly tight, with tables barely big enough to hold a plate and a drink, thus bringing us to, Conversation II: musical chairs:
[Two attractive – by some standard in some place, surely. No!? Oh well – patrons enter the bar, planning to have drinks and dinner with two friends who will arrive a bit later.]
D-Rock: “Table for four.”
Hostess looks around, and around, and around, seeming unable to decide, or to care about, where to seat us. I optimistically motion to a nearby table.
Hostess: “That’s reserved.”
We swivel some more. Just as I’m getting dizzy, she turns and points to a table in the corner. “There.”
D-Rock: “That has a reservation sign, too.”
She frowns for a second, then steps forward and removes the sign.
Guess what happens five minutes later? A group of eight comes in and sits down beside us. They obviously lack space since, ta da, the hostess just gave it to us. So much for planning ahead. We offer them one of our TV-tray sized tables. That leaves us one and D-Rock loses his happy shiny feeling. “I want to go to a place where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came,” he says, and since we no longer have room for Kraft-D and Alpha Veda, we decide to skip dinner, have a quick drink, and meet them elsewhere. This brings us to, Conversation III: Shaky, not stirring:
A waitress approaches our table and gives us a blank look. I translate this as having four possible meanings: 1) “What would you like to order?”, 2) “Why did you people have to come here and make my life more difficult?”; 3) “If we switch to a PDA-based F&B ordering system linked to all Blue Frog and KABB branches, we could realize economies of scale, save on HR costs and invest in bigger tables; 4) “If the chicken came before the egg, did the burger come before the bun?”
Me: “Martini, please.”
Nods and starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. I would like vodka, not gin.”
Starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. I want it stirred, not shaken. ”
Looks both bored and bewildered, if that’s possible, and in KABB it apparently is.
“I want it stirred [stirring motion], not shaken [shaking motion].”
Nods and starts to walk away.
“Just a moment. No olives, please.”
Perhaps it was the stop-and-go nature of our conversation, but this last request seemed to cause a spark, a kind of brain ignition, a realization that I cared about my drink, even if she didn’t.
“Okay, you want a martini, vodka, stirred, no olives.”
And there you go: even sans Ouija board it IS possible to reach a disembodied spirit if you try hard enough. The martini (50 kuai) won’t win any awards, but it was okay, and anyway, Bob suggested I test his staff on that drink, so with my mission completed, we headed for…
PAULANER, where in the early eve they seem to have 10 employees per patron, with every one of them trying to be helpful in a get-in-the-way kind of way. There is all the lebensraum you would expect from a place that charges 65 kuai for a gin and tonic and 68 kuai for draft beer (I had Munich dark; it lacked any bite at all.) Nice ambience and decor, especially the main bar, but perhaps we were too early to feel the Zeitgeist. Kraft-D, ever the number cruncher, was unimpressed. “They have ambitious pricing here,” he said. “It’s just upsetting to me to pay that price for this beer.” I was perturbed that the staff was so evasive about giving me an official receipt. They eventually told me to take their house receipt to the door for an official one. (Are you kidding?) Let’s see, I pay 68 for a beer and it’s my job to run around for a receipt. Pass.
Since we skipped out on the food at KABB and Paulaner, we headed to the MANCHURIAN SPECIAL FLAVOR JIAOZI RESTAURANT (the branch in Beijing ranks among my favorite spots for cheap Chinese food). You want service? How about a place that gets the beer flowing – 8 kuai, 500 ML bottle – while you wait in line? We feasted on very tender pork ribs, three kinds of dumplings, eggplant, a beef and potato dish, and steamed tofu with gravy, chili and cilantro. It was solid fare, and the staff was friendly, though the service is quicker and the food hotter in Beijing (try the Dongzhimen branch).
After going relatively low end, we decided to move up a dozen notches and head to the new SOUTH BEAUTY. This place is lovely, being surrounded by water fountains and plenty of lawn. The bar has an intimate feeling and from where we sat we could hear only the murmur of distant conversation and an occasional burst of laughter. I felt like I was at a ritzy guest house where the owners had said, “We’ll be back in a few hours. Just relax and the staff will look after you.” Of course, in this case we had to pay, but with the myriad rooms and seating options, the garden out back and the relaxed atmosphere, it was worth it, if only to feel my blood pressure drop and my muscles relax by the minute. There is a blackjack table nearby, though you can only play for drinks. As for the drinks, AV described her fruit smoothie (50 kuai) as “creamy and fresh,” while my martini (65 kuai) was decent, but came with three olives, despite my polite requests for an olive-free world. D-Rock noted that given the place’s potential for cigar and Whisky lovers, the selection of the latter is quite weak, with only a few widely available brands. Even so, South Beauty is a nice change of pace and about the most extreme contrast you could get to…
ZAPATA’S, Shanghai’s equivalent of Browns in Beijing and Carnegie’s in Taipei, which means wild, all-night fun. The place has a nice open Mexico-themed layout on two levels, both of which have dancing areas. The bottom one includes a large bar top, on which people get up and dance (in fact, that’s the whole point). From a Grease medley to ABBA, the music had the unpretentious clientele in high spirits and at one point a staff member jumped on the bar and started pouring tequila into the mouths of patrons below. As much fun as that sounds, the catch-22 is that you always end up with a few people who get too drunk and turn into jerks, but such is life. You can’t have everything (including, in one case, drinks. side of the bar to order drinks and a bouncer back there crudely waved me away, pointing to the front, which was completely packed. As he stood there with arms crossed in a macho pose and stared at the crowd, someone moved in front of me and ordered. Now the bouncer realized that he was in the wrong, but rather than help me get my drink and salvage the situation – in other words, be “professional” – he stayed in tough-guy mode. The bartender finally spotted me and just as he handed over the drinks, the bouncer waves me away again. Nice job, Einstein. Yes, these things happen, but these things also need to be pointed out so we can minimize their occurrence). Anyway, Zapata’s is a fun place, especially if you’re with a group of friends, and is apparently crazy on ladies’ night (Wednesdays). If you get claustrophobic, pop into the spacious courtyard outside for a breather (it backs onto Sasha’s). By the way, the coat check and lockers are nice touches.
Next up was COTTON’S, which seemed to be headquarters for the young white professional crowd. It’s in a three-floor house, with seating outside, although we stuck to the first floor (I know, I know, I missed out on the fireplaces). “It’s like a big house party,” said AV. Yes, except that you have to pay 40 kuai for a beer and get bumped nonstop by other patrons. “It’s 65-70 percent Caucasian and they are drinking, drinking, drinking,” said Kraft-D, marveling at the cash flow. Cotton’s is apparently a hip place to rent a room and play board games or just hang out with friends. Gin and tonic: 38; bottled beer: 38-45; martini: 45; sound system downstairs: 3/10.
D-Rock picked our last stop: PLAN B. This place had a Wayne’s World / recreation room feel to it, evident in everything from the wall poster art to the rickety railing. D-Rock describes it as having “one of the world’s largest repositories of dot matrix printouts featuring men with mullets.” And if you love alternative rock and punk, then you’ll love Plan B. Funnily enough, I was talking to one of the owners and watching the Olympics when an employee walked over, stuck the remote control between our heads, and turned off the TV. Nice work, buddy. Fortunately, a firm word got the TV back on – just in time to see the end of the women’s 1500-meter speed skating gold medal race, among the most inspiring of the games (did I mention that curling is a sport?). With Plan B closing for the night, D-Rock and I initiated Plan C and headed home.
AND NOW A FEW NOTES on places that I visited on my last trip, last year, with Sweet n’ Liu (SL) and D-Rock:
NEW HEIGHTS: On the Bund, the place has a deck with an excellent view of Pudong and the strait separating it from Shanghai proper (watch giant Karaokes / restaurants, done in a traditional Chinese style, languidly float by). The hamburger was tasty, though prohibitive (over 100 kuai); the martini (65 kuai) was okay.
BAR ROUGE: At 18 on the Bund, it also offers an excellent view of Pudong, and has better martinis (60 kuai). The patrons were stylish and in some cases snobbish (perhaps it’s because SL and I were soaked from the rain), and seemed split between those there to impress each other and those looking for a little love. Bar Rouge seems to specialize in giant bowls of shooters in dry ice. I guess that’s a niche. Each night, the bartenders, who have obviously watched their fair share of Cocktail, light the bar top on fire. (Normally I’m not a fan of that kind of thing, but in this case, the flames helped to dry our clothes.)
JUDY’S: A rough and ready place that was hopping during my two visits and with clientele whose ages span five decades. A couple of pole dancers showed up around 11. Does this sort of thing really increase the number of customers? Anyway, call it a smaller, cheaper Zapata’s.
STUDIO 78: Having just eaten a massive Xinjiang meal, we were feeling lethargic. Plus, Studio 78 was virtually empty. Plus, sitting on the bean bag chairs was an exercise in balance. Plus, there was something weird about the bathroom, but I can’t remember what. My point: I can’t judge the place based on this one visit, particularly since I had the attitude of a boa that just ingested a horse and because the music was good if cheesy. This could be a great place when crowded. More research required.
MANHATTAN: The excellent Filipino band gave this place a good deal of energy. It had a high proportion of older Western men and younger Chinese women, and I sense some short-term M&A action was happening (why did this place make me think of Maggie’s in Beijing?). The staff was fairly friendly and efficient, though strangely enough, on both my visits, which spanned several months, I was told: “We don’t have a drinks menu, but it will be in a few days.” Hmmm.
MINT: Good music, good crowd, decent drinks. SL and I had fun hanging out here and even did some dancing. The cozy seating area includes some sofas and beds, and reminds me of a much more upscale Suzie Wong.
BARBAROSSA: Tons of wood and a view of a lotus pond – sit on the deck and enjoy the evening. This place is massive: apparently, over a thousand people were on hand for a joint chambers of commerce event last year, so make sure you’ve got your friend’s cell phone numbers or risk being lost. The bartender was displeased when we complained that SL’s drink was too salty. Ah, the nerve of these customers!
WINDOWS: In a basement, it’s a vast, low-ceilinged, sweaty place with a sticky floor and 10-kuai drinks. Even with a bad cold, you can smell the bathrooms from 50 meters away and the risk of getting a piece of toilet paper stuck to your show is extremely high. Think of a bigger, dirtier Kai Club … underground. Simple observation suggests this is a major pick-up joint – I think the numerous couples making out on the cheap plastic chairs gave it away. Should any of these relationships lead to marriage, I’d love to hear the “how we first met” stories: “It was magical. Mei Hua was standing there covered in sweat, fighting off two guys and holding a ten-kuai gin and tonic in each hand, all with the cutest four-meter stream of toilet paper stuck to her stiletto shoes. I couldn’t resist!”)
AMERICAN CLUB: Set on the 28th floor, it looks straight down the strait separating Pudong and the Bund; thereby offering a tremendous view. SL and I went here for a wine tasting and I marveled at the incredible skyline.
YOU SAY BEIJING, I SAY SHANGHAI
After all this research, what conclusions (also known as gross generalizations) can we draw about bar scenes in our two cities, all while freely admitting that more – much more – study is required?
Take one can, add sardines: From mid-range coffee shop Gino’s to trendy-among-professionals KABB to mansion-rebuilt-into-house-party Cotton’s, some Shanghai establishments seem to go to new heights to see just how many chairs (and bodies) they can cram into a given space. Is it perhaps a case of vertical Shanghai versus horizontal Beijing? Whatever it is, the latter offers far more elbow room.
Service ability: Shanghai bartenders and wait staff generally provide better service than their counterparts in Beijing. They are more customer-oriented and tend to neither get fazed by customer requests that drift beyond their immediate experience, nor personally insulted by the slightest criticism of the bar.
Money this, money that: It seems like nearly every expatriate in Shanghai is there for business, whereas in Beijing you regularly run into, along with businesspeople, everyone from embassy staff to students fanatical about Chinese culture and language. And unlike Shanghai, you rarely (ever?) find bars in Beijing where Caucasians make up the vast majority of the clientele (that’s an observation, not a judgment).
I get around: The taxis in Beijing are better, but the drivers in Shanghai are more professional, whether it’s being more polite or keeping their vehicles clean and odor-free. In Beijing, asking a taxi driver to turn down his or her radio – yes, sometimes it’s so loud he or she cannot even hear you – can bring a dose of attitude in response. On the other hand, getting a taxi in Shanghai can be a nightmare. As Kraft-D says, “In Beijing, I never planned a night around whether I thought I could get a taxi or not.”
Pocketbook pressure: Drinks in Shanghai are rougher on your wallet or purse. Some higher-end places are worth it: who could complain about a 60-kuai martini at Bar Rouge when you have that view? But it would be tougher for spots like Plan B or Eager Beaver to charge their prices in Beijing, when there are plenty of similar places here with much cheaper drinks (Phil’s Pub: 10 kuai for a Qingdao).
CLOSING SHOTS: Those looking for more information on Shanghai nightlife can try these general sites: www.8days.sh; www.shanghaiist.com; www.cityweekend.com.cn/en/shanghai; www.thatssh.com; and www.smartshanghai.com. / Next issue, I’ll be back with lots of reports on Beijing’s bar scene, including – as mentioned – those tasty Mongolian vodka martinis at Modern Nomads and an update on Midnight. Cheers. BB.