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

  • Alfresco dining on the terrace at New Heights, a bar-cum-restaurant perched above Shanghai’s Bund riverfront.

    Alfresco dining on the terrace at New Heights, a bar-cum-restaurant perched above Shanghai’s Bund riverfront.

  • A lounge area at chef Paul Pairet’s riverfront Mr & Mrs Bund, where classic and fanciful French fare go hand in hand.

    A lounge area at chef Paul Pairet’s riverfront Mr & Mrs Bund, where classic and fanciful French fare go hand in hand.

  • Tapas at the Fat Olive, a sixth-floor restaurant overlooking central Shanghai.

    Tapas at the Fat Olive, a sixth-floor restaurant overlooking central Shanghai.

  • Alfresco dining at Fat Olive.

    Alfresco dining at Fat Olive.

  • Younik is a snappy Bund boutique dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming designers

    Younik is a snappy Bund boutique dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming designers

  • Looking out onto URBN hotel’s courtyard garden.

    Looking out onto URBN hotel’s courtyard garden.

  • Old shikumen houses reinvented as hip restaurants and bars in Xintiandi.

    Old shikumen houses reinvented as hip restaurants and bars in Xintiandi.

  • Annabel Lee stocks China-chic homewares and accessories.

    Annabel Lee stocks China-chic homewares and accessories.

  • Quirky art in the Park Hyatt Shanghai’s presidential suite.

    Quirky art in the Park Hyatt Shanghai’s presidential suite.

  • Tuna mousse à la Paul Pairet, on the menu at Mr & Mrs Bund.

    Tuna mousse à la Paul Pairet, on the menu at Mr & Mrs Bund.

  • Chefs at work in the kitchen of Jean-Georges, one of four restaurants located at Three on the Bund.

    Chefs at work in the kitchen of Jean-Georges, one of four restaurants located at Three on the Bund.

  • Shanghainese dumplings star on the menu at the Hu Xin Ting teahouse.

    Shanghainese dumplings star on the menu at the Hu Xin Ting teahouse.

  • Preparing for high tea in the soaring lobby of Shanghai’s Peninsula hotel.

    Preparing for high tea in the soaring lobby of Shanghai’s Peninsula hotel.

  • A bird’s-eye view of Xintiandi.

    A bird’s-eye view of Xintiandi.

  • A table for two at the Peninsula Shanghai.

    A table for two at the Peninsula Shanghai.

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After Dark

When I first visited Shanghai, a night out on the town invariably meant endless rounds of Chivas-and-green-tea in a cavernous club or chugging longnecks of Tsingtao beer to a soundtrack of Bob Marley in soulless Western-style pubs. Or both. Most would agree that today, the after-hours scene in Shanghai outstrips even the Chinese capital, with glitzy lounge bars and live-music venues catering to locals and tourists alike.

The city’s beautiful people flock to the newly renovated Bar Rouge (7/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yilu; 86-21/6339-1199), one floor up from Mr & Mrs Bund. There’s live music and cocktails with fancy names, but the real draw is the huge, river-facing patio. The outdoor area at New Heights (7/F, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yilu; 86-21/6321-0909), topping the Three on the Bund building, is more intimate, but offers equally impressive vistas as well as tables for alfresco dining. Another Bund hotspot is Glamour Bar (7/F, 20 Guangdong Lu; 86-21/6350-9988). Here, deejays spin French hip-hop and Shanghai’s oh-so-cool crowd preens on dusty pink velvet sofas. Order the Glamour cocktail, a heady concoction of vodka, cherry brandy, lime, and blood-orange puree.

It’s not every day that you get to watch a burlesque stageshow in a former Buddhist temple. But at Gosney and Kallman’s Chinatown (471 Zhapu Lu; 86- 21/6258-2078), the sinful and spiritual collide. Performances change nightly, and there are gourmet hotdogs (try the Le Chine Royale with duck sausage, truffle shavings, foie gras, gruyere, and tomato jam) and absinthe-based cocktails to keep you entertained during the interval.

Marty Campaign, general manager of new bar el Cóctel (2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu; 86-21/6433-6511), went all the way to Tokyo to hire his mixologist, who shakes and stirs top-shelf spirits over hand-chipped ice in a lounge kitted out with mismatched sofas and chairs and retro music memorabilia. The drinks list is arguably the best in town, based on near-forgotten cocktail recipes from the 1920s and ’30s, like a cinnamon and apple caprioska made with Grasovka Bison vodka, fresh lime and apple juice, and cinnamon syrup. Bar snacks are equally moreish—the truffled ham sandwich is toasted bliss.

Sister to the brash, members-only KEE Club, Aquarium by KEE (1266 Nanjing Xilu; 86-21/6288-3822) is much more inviting: an intimate, 1970s-style lounge with soft black leather sofas and dim lighting. There are some 50 whisky labels to choose from, including a rare 30-year-old Talisker from the Isle of Skye.

Still in Puxi, Vue (199 Huangpu Lu; 86-21/6393-1234) crowns Hyatt on the Bund, tucked in a curve of the Huangpu River and affording vistas of both sides of the water. Space on the outdoor terrace goes fast, as do spots in the alfresco Jacuzzi. In Pudong, views across the river to the Bund are best enjoyed from 100 Century Avenue (100 Century Avenue; 86-21/6888-1234) atop the Park Hyatt hotel, as well as the Jade on 36 Bar (33 Fucheng Lu; 86-21/6882-8888) in the Grand Tower of the Shangri-La hotel.

Where to Stay

Name a luxury hotel group, and chances are it’s opened a property in Shanghai in recent years. The city now has some of the most superlative boutique and five-star addresses in Asia, including the just-opened Peninsula, Shanghai (32 Zhongshan Dong Yilu; 86-21/2327-2888; peninsula.com; doubles from US$468), the first new building on the Bund in 63 years. Set at the northern end of the waterfront promenade, the hotel blends classic Peninsula style with Art Deco flourishes across its 235 guestrooms, many of which also come with views over the Huangpu River and Pudong. Head down to the basement for flutes of bubbly and live music in sultry lounge-bar Salon de Ning, or feast on mod-European cuisine prepared by French chef Arnaud Berthelier at the top of the hotel in Sir Elly’s restaurant.

On a much smaller scale, the 26-room URBN (183 Jiaozhou Lu; 86-21/5153-4600; urbanhotels.com; doubles from US$263), China’s first carbon-neutral hotel, incorporates locally sourced materials and eco-friendly features like solar shades and awater-based air conditioning system. Still, the environmental focus does not come at the expense of luxury. Slate-walled rooms (some with private gardens) are kitted out with plush hemp rugs and requisite mod-cons such as Wi-Fi Internet access and iPod docks. Look out for the soon-to-open Downstairs with David Laris, a farm-to-table eatery conceptualized by the prolific Australian restaurateur.

In the same neighborhood you’ll find the intimate Jia Shanghai (931 Nanjing Xilu; 86-21/6217-9000; jiashanghai.com; doubles from US$190), a contemporary art-driven hotel in a 1920s building. What many of the 55 rooms lack in size they make up for in style, with flourishes like white-lacquered furniture, Bisazza-tiled bathrooms, and retro wallpaper. Be sure to have at least one meal in sexy restaurant Issimo, the brainchild of celebrity chef Salvatore Cuomo and one of the best places in town for rustic Italian fare.

In terms of location, it’s hard to beat the Langham Yangtze Boutique Shanghai (740 Hankou Lu; 86-21/6080-0800; yangtzeboutique.langhamhotels.com; doubles from US$205), a 96-room billet occupying a gracious 1930s building. A block back from People’s Square, the Art Deco property is within walking distance of sites like the Urban Planning Museum and Nanjing Lu, where shops and restaurants abound. For those more inclined to eat in, the hotel’s dining options are plentiful: there’s Japanese and Italian as well as Cantonese eatery T’ang Court, dishing up the same cuisine that won its sister two Michelin stars in Hong Kong.

A creative collaboration between Indonesian designer Jaya Ibrahim and Australian firm Layan Design Group, The PuLi (1 Changde Lu; 86-21/3203-9999; thepuli.com; doubles from US$494) has fast become one of Shanghai’s most talked about hotels. The 229 open-plan rooms are spacious and light filled (particularly those overlooking Jingan Park), and are given local flavor through features like dragonscale panels and ink-pot slate tables. Other reasons to check in here include an Anantara spa, the city’s first, as well as restaurant Jing’An, serving exceptional fusion fare prepared by talented young New Zealand chef Dane Clouston.

On the opposite side of the river in Pudong, the Park Hyatt (100 Century Ave.; 86-21/6888-1234; shanghai.park.hyatt.com; doubles from US$351) is head and shoulders above the competition—literally. The world’s loftiest lodgings occupies levels 79 to 93 of Shanghai World Financial Center, its 174 guest rooms tastefully designed with natural wood and honed stone, blackened furniture and lacquer.

And there’s more to come. Having undergone a multibillion-dollar renovation, the venerable Peace Hotel (fairmont.com) will soon welcome guests back to the Bund under the management of the Fairmont hotel group; the Waldorf Astoria (waldorfastoria.com), a 266-room property at No. 2 on the Bund, once home to the infamous Shanghai Club, will also open over the next year; and by expo day the city will see its second Ritz-Carlton (ritz-carlton.com) open opposite the Super Brand Mall in Pudong.

Originally appeared in the April/May 2010 print issue of
DestinAsian magazine (“The Best of Shanghai”)

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