Drinking in Shanghai is fun. But attempting to find the secret entrances to these bars – shielded by everything from a vintage vending machine to an eerie frosted mirror – is a very large part of the excitement.
Mainland China’s most international city is fast regaining the reputation it held in the 1920s and ’30s as being home to some of the world’s most sophisticated nightlife. No drinking establishment will transport you back to the sorely missed golden era better than these speakeasy-style hidden bars.
Speak Low is the brainchild of Shingo Gokan, the man who sparked a Japanese-style cocktail bar craze in New York with his famous bar Angel’s Share, also a speakeasy.
Finding the main entrance – behind a bookcase in a shop specializing in bartending equipment – is only the beginning of the adventure. Upping the ante, Speak Low has a second hidden bar, concealed behind a wooden panel on the staircase. The secret button is on an antique map. Once pressed, the entrance slides open to reveal an intimate bar helmed by Gokan protege Atsushi Suzuki, whose Spirited Away cocktail (CNY 120, $20) is served with a spoonful of grated wasabi. And wait for it, there is a third hidden bar that is a members-only area.
Inspired by Japanese tea ceremonies, the drink is paired with two pieces of dark chocolate to match its bitter but intricate flavors.
Add: No.579 Fuxing Middle Road, Luwan District, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6416 0133
Don’t be fooled by the diner-style beer and burger joint that looks out onto South Shaanxi Road. It’s a decoy.
The vintage Coca-Cola vending machine in the corner is the doorway to a classy bar that boasts over 100 bourbon and rye whiskeys, most of which you won’t find anywhere else in Shanghai. Cocktails, however, are the focus, expertly mixed by Taiwanese bartender Allan Hsu.
Add: 432 Shaanxi Nan Road, near Yongjia Road, Xuhui district, Shanghai
Phone: 021 3368 6108
To reach El Ocho, punters have to walk through a flower shop and up three flights of stairs. The venue, with long curved wooden bar and high triangular ceiling, boasts an extensive cocktail list, a good selection of single malt whiskeys and around 50 house-infused liquors including a Mezcal replica of smoke-infused tequila. Tokyo ex-pat Kaoru “TK” Takii heads the five-bartender team.
Add: 3/F, No.99 Taixing Road, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6256 3587
The Library Distillery
Thought you saw a fleeting shadow on a large frosted mirror but it wasn’t your reflection? Relax if you’re at Light and Salt – chances are it’s the sliding door to a 1920s-style speakeasy inside the fine dining establishment. The Library Distillery’s speakeasy decor extends to the mock roulette wheel in front of the bar.
The cocktail menu is a solid bet for classic drinks with a local twist prepared by head bartender Andrew An.
A password is needed to enter the bar – call a day ahead for the entry code.
Add: 6/F, No.133 Yuanmingyuan Road, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6361 1086
The Tailor Bar
The street-level entrance to The Tailor Bar is a nondescript elevator next to a Chinese medicine store. Those who make it to the fourth floor are greeted by a wall adorned with fixed gear bicycles and a cozy bar overlooking Jing’an Temple.
There is no cocktail menu. All drinks are “tailored” to the customers’ tastes by denim-aproned Shanghai local David Hong, who trained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel bar in Berlin.
Add: next to a Chinese medicine shop, 4F, 2 Huashan Road, near Yuyuan Road, Jing’an district, Shanghai
The Book Room
The slogan “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” that adorns the window of The Book Café is not just a friendly piece of advice, but also a sly nod to what is going on behind closed doors. In true detective drama style, push back the bookcase and head down the staircase to find another excellent speakeasy style bar to kick back with yet more fabulous cocktails.
Add: 399 Weihai Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu, Jing’an District