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Anniversary Events at Shanghai’s Sinan Mansions

No. 26F Sinan Mansions—the design-forward culinary hotspot featured in the April/May 2011 issue of DestinAsian magazine—celebrates its one-year anniversary with special offers and events throughout the weekend of November 4.

For instance 12 Chairs, Australian chef David Laris’  acclaimed private dining room, is offering a few lucky customers the chance to name their own price for a 10-course tasting menu, including wine pairings. Seating is limited to six couples on Friday and Saturday, so you’ll have to act fast with a reservation. Call 86-21/3330-3920 to book or get more information.

If your dialing finger isn’t quick enough to nab a seat at 12 Chairs, you can still visit mod-Mediterranean wine lounge The Fat Olive, which will offer a mezze menu of 19 Greek dishes for RMB250 (US$40), including free-flow house red and white wine, beer, and soft drinks. Reservations required; contact 86-21/3368-9524.

If cocktails paired with a funky Mexican-inspired setting is more your style, Yucca lounge will offer drink specials all weekend, including martinis for RMB35 (US$5.50) Friday, and free-flow cocktails on Saturday for RMB188 (US$30). Entrance by ticket only, contact 86-21/3368-9525.

Shanghai Restaurants: Heritage Buildings and Culinary Buzz at Sinan Mansions

Above: One of 15 garden mansions at Hotel Massenet. Photo by Todd Anthony Tyler

A historical road is courting Shanghai’s smart set with an ambitious lineup of food and cocktails

By Amy Fabris-Shi

During Shanghai’s 1920s and ’30s glory days, Rue Massenet (now Sinan Road) in the leafy French Concession was a neighborhood of writers, revolutionaries, artists, and gangsters. Now, the former stomping ground of luminaries such as poet Liu Yazi and philosopher Feng Youlan—not to mention Zhou Enlai, whose postwar residence has since been converted into a museum—is emerging as one of the city’s most audacious lifestyle enclaves.

At the center of it all is Sinan Mansions, a collection of 49 stripped-down and rebuilt heritage buildings on the corner of Fuxing Road. The villas now sport brand-new pebble-dash facades, russet-trimmed sash windows, and peaked gables, while the narrow alleys, or lilongs, between them have been landscaped into pedestrian plazas dotted with art installations and sidewalk tables.

Shanghai Restaurants: Chef-owner David Laris at Yucca

David Laris at Yucca.

Despite the controversy surrounding the old neighborhood’s heavy-handed gentrification, Sinan Mansions is fast establishing a culinary buzz, with outlets by several Shanghai big guns. Leading the way is Australian chef David Laris, who has filled an entire three-story townhouse, No. 26F, with a quartet of gourmet concepts.

On the first floor, the Funky Chicken (86-21/3368-9525) rotisserie roasts its birds with tangy marinades like tamarind-barbecue and adobo-chipotle. One level up, accessed by an antique wooden stairway, the Fat Olive (86-21/3368-9524) is a mod-Mediterranean wine lounge serving Greek meze plates.

The mood switches on the third floor at Yucca (86-21/3368-9525), a Mexican “micro-lounge” done up in a kaleidoscope of mosaic floor tiles, fuchsia and aqua walls, and voodoo-inspired flourishes. Pull up a bright yellow barstool or sink into a sofa and sip a perfectly mixed martini while nibbling on quesadillas or chocolate-dipped churros. A hot-pink spiral staircase leads to a semi-private loft lounge. Laris’s pièce de résistance is 12 Chairs (86-21/ 3330-3920), a private dining room that seats a dozen guests. The sophisticated degustation menu here (it changes monthly, but courses have included foie gras–stuffed pigeon and lamb rack with black garlic puree, braised prunes, and Jerusalem artichokes) is paired with a selection of rare vintage wines from the adjoining cellar.

Shanghai Restaurants: Marinated-vegetable quesadillas at Yucca

Marinated-vegetable quesadillas at Yucca.

Across the courtyard, exuberant chef Eduardo Vargas taps his Peruvian provenance at Chicha (Block 33; 86-21/6418-0760). His downstairs lounge pours creative cocktails spiked with South American spirits (try the Peruvian pisco sour) accompanied by traditional piqueos, or small plates. But Vargas at his most raw and ravishing can be found in the candlelit upstairs dining parlor, where patrons choose from a seven- or 12-course set menu of piquant seviches, tiraditos (raw fish marinated in lime juice), causas (potato dump-lings topped with various meats), and other home-style favorites.

Shanghai restaurants: lounge seating at Kelley Lee’s

Lounge seating at Kelley Lee’s The Alchemist. Photo by Todd Anthony Tyler

Next door, mixology goes molecular at The Alchemist (Block 32; 86-21/6426-0660). This stylish two-story lounge, by American-Chinese restaurateur Kelley Lee, has a hint of chemistry-chic in its old apothecary drawers and atom-esque chandeliers. Australian bartender Ryan Noreiks delivers cocktails like the Yangtze River Tea—a sorbet-like concoction of Chinese baijiu, tequila, dark rum, and citrus served alongside a demitasse of spiced jasmine tea—and the Divine Aromatic, with gin, Aperol, rhubarb bitters, bruised pineapple, and Campari cotton candy. Thought-provoking bar bites include popcorn pig brain and smoked amberjack tartare topped with ponzu foam. If that sounds a little too eclectic, the third branch of Lee’s popular Boxing Cat Brewery (Block 26A; 86-21/6426-0360) is also on-site, serving house-brewed ales and pulled-pork sandwiches.

Flanking the dining precinct, tucked behind well-guarded gates, is Hotel Massenet (51 Sinan Lu; 86-21/3401-9998; no website). Shanghai’s most exclusive—or at least expensive—boutique property comprises 15 butler-serviced mansions that are rented en bloc for a cool US$5,340 a night. Two other villas on the manicured grounds host a French dining room and a Cantonese restaurant. Yet the most beguiling thing about this end of Sinan may be what lies across the street: a cluster of dilapidated houses, vacant and ivy-draped, that will soon be gutted for Sinan Mansions’ second phase of development. For now, though, they provide a nostalgic glimpse of the neighborhood’s not-so-distant past.

Originally appeared in the April/May 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Sinan’s New Flavor”)

Update: Anniversary Events at Shanghai’s Sinan Mansions

China: Where to Eat, Drink, and be Merry in Shanghai

Above: Views of the Huangpu River.

From classic teahouses to avant-garde boutiques, discover how–and where–to make the most of your time in Shanghai.

By Natasha Dragun
Photographs by Andrew Rowat

The sign at the entrance to the small pudong park reads: “Caution Above!” I’m assuming. I’ve been warned to watch my head as I walk under the low, arched stone gate. But when I look up, I realize there’s a lot more cluttering the sky: the 492-meter-high Shanghai World Financial Center pierces the clouds just to my left; a steel jungle of cranes and earthmovers fight for space at a neighboring construction site where an even loftier building, the 632-meter Shanghai Tower, is taking form; and the shimmering Super Brand Mall, the city’s largest shopping center, looms over the trees, casting a long shadow across a handful of workers sleeping on park benches. When I first visited Shanghai 15 years ago, most of this area was still farmland.

With an estimated 4,000 skyscrapers and 17 million people, Shanghai has never shied away from breakneck urban development. And since the announcement eight years ago that it would play host to Expo 2010—running from May 1 to October 31 and expected to be the largest (and most expensive) world fair of all time—even the fringes of the metropolis have been given a facelift.

More than US$45 billion has been spent on sprucing up the city since 2002. The makeover includes six new subway lines, two airport terminals, dozens of futuristic expo pavilions, and a coat of paint for just about every neighborhood across town. But it’s not all steel and concrete. The city has also been given a new riverside promenade, and numerous parks and gardens have opened to add weight to Shanghai’s expo theme, “Better City, Better Life.” And then there’s the thriving restaurant and bar scene, the ever-growing cache of luxury hotels, and the burgeoning art and design landscape. As this gargantuan urban renewal nears completion, there’s never been a better time to be Shanghaied.

Getting Your Bearings

The snaking Huangpu River splits Shanghai in two. To the west, Concession-era architecture, posh boutiques, and glitzy nightclubs characterize the old city of Puxi. And to the east there’s Pudong, a futuristic business hub and the epitome of  “new” China with its broad boulevards and angular skyscrapers.

The Old West It’s easy to lose yourself in the narrow alleys and atmospheric neighborhoods that distinguish Shanghai’s French Concession district—the handsome Tudor mansions and camphor-tree lined streets that earned Shanghai its reputation as the Paris of the East. To the east is Xintiandi, a once-derelict neighborhood of gray-brick shikumen houses transformed into an entertainment enclave by American architect Benjamin Wood. And then there are the Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings of the Bund, built a century ago when this river town was the richest port in the Orient.

Extending 5.5 kilometers west from the Bund to People’s Square—once home to government buildings, today a vast public plaza popular for its museums—Nanjing Lu is Shanghai’s answer to Champs-élysées. The commercial lifeblood of the city for more than 160 years, the shopping strip is among the busiest in the world; if you’re after big-name boutiques, you needn’t look further than the mega-malls that clutter the sidewalks here.

The New East On the opposite bank is Pudong, a gleaming cityscape of glass, steel, and construction cranes, home to the silvery tiers of the Jinmao Tower, the bulbous pink body of the Oriental Pearl TV tower, the mirrored trunk of the World Financial Center, and, farther south, the hub of the sprawling expo site.

Where to Eat

There’s not much that you can’t find on the menu in Shanghai, from bamboo steamers piled high with soupy xiaolongbao dumplings to frou-frou fusion fare and everything in between. A good place to get a taste for the city’s delicate hu cai cuisine is Fu 1088 (375 Zhenning Lu; 86-21/5239-7878), a gem of a restaurant occupying a mansion decorated with antique chandeliers and cherry-wood dining tables. A traditional dish of “drunken chicken” (the meat’s marinated in alcohol) is spruced up with shaved ice scented with Chinese rice wine, while tea-smoked eggs get a salty kick from a spoonful of black caviar. Be warned: there’s a minimum spend of 300 yuan (about US$44) per person.

Less fussy Shanghainese fare can be sampled at Hu Xin Ting (257 Yuyuan Lu; 86-21/6373-6950), a venerable teahouse set in a Qing-era building perched over a lake near the leafy Yuyuan gardens. Every order of pu’er and oolong comes served with bite-size snacks like preserved plums and glutinous rice cakes filled with red bean paste. Should you want something more substantial, menu highlights range from petite dumplings to yanduxian, a fortifying soup made from fresh and cured pork, bamboo shoots, and knots of tofu skin.

Shanghai Nightlife: Burlesque Is More

UPDATE: Sadly this venue is now closed.

In a city famed for its oversupply of splashy nightspots, Shanghai’s newly opened Gosney & Kallman’s Chinatown (471 Zhapu Rd.; 86-21/6258-2078; has already stolen some of the limelight. Set in a revamped 1931 Japanese Buddhist temple just north of the Bund, the music hall is the brainchild of Norman Gosney (behind New York’s Slipper Room) and dancer Amelia Kallman, together credited with helping revive America’s vaudeville scene. Floor shows embrace everything from cabaret to burlesque and Broadway, with a touch of comedy, jazz, and even acrobatics on the side. But the fun doesn’t stop there: expect classic cocktails, dessert trolleys, and stilted hot-dog sellers, who roam the aisles at the final curtain call—now that’s entertainment. –Natasha Dragun

Originally appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 print issue of
DestinAsian magazine ( “Burlesque Is More”)