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Nightlife in Shanghai defies a single descriptive word. For expats, the scene is fairly concentrated to the former French Concession and the Bund, with a small but growing outpost in the area north of Jing’an Temple. Shanghai is a hard-partying town; a number of bars and clubs stay open until the sun comes up. Based not on location but on drink type, we’ve outlined a handful of Shanghai’s best nightlife options.
Salute has a cult following, thanks in no small part to its courtyard, which is absolutely teeming all spring, summer, and fall long. During winter, it’s the bar’s interior that’s packed, with expats and a smattering of locals sipping wine by the bottle and nibbling on cheese and/or charcuterie plates. The bathroom is tiny, the tables crowded, and the chairs mismatched, none of which stops oenophiles from pouring in.
The area north of Jing’an Temple was, until recently, rather sleepy after dinner, but bars are now popping up on and just off Wuding Road. UVA was one of the earliest to do so, a harbinger of things to come. Here you’ll find Italian owners who are knowledgeable about what they sell but far from pushy. The pizzas are sizeable, solid, and well-priced.
With two downtown locations, Boxing Cat Brewery packs in craft beer enthusiasts, offering beers from the Cat’s brewing outpost in one of Shanghai’s southern suburbs. American brewmaster Michael Jordan has been on hand for two-plus years, after a stint in Denmark; in addition to IPAs, Jordan has a history of teaming up with other brewers to whip up concoctions like the Bruce ChiLee IPA—Chinese green chillies , rye malt, and American Simcoe hops—which he produced with Danish brewery Mikkeller.
Puxi—the downtown side of the Huangpu River—has most of Shanghai’s nightlife, but since Pudong has the city’s CBD, we’ve included Kerry Hotel’s The BREW. Kiwi brewmaster Leon Mickelson brews his beers on-site—the giant tank sits just behind the bar—and offerings include a vanilla stout, the requisite IPA, and a nice, crisp cider.
Speakeasy-style Senator Saloon is as packed as any underground watering hole was during prohibition and, though it’s not hidden, the unmarked entrance is easy to miss. American bar manager David Schroeder and his bow-tied, waistcoat-wearing staff mix classics like the Old Fashioned as well as contemporary offerings such as the Stinky Pig—bacon-infused bourbon with maple syrup, finished off with a mescal rinse.
The lighting is very, very low at Shanghai cocktail scene stalwart el Coctel but—indicative of the level of planning that goes into everything here—the menus are brought with tiny, strong flashlights. Medicinal drinks like the Dr. M—a mix of Jagermeister, Underberg, Picon, and Cynar will cure what ails you. Cocktails are serious business here, and so are the crowds; be sure to make a reservation.