In a city of over 24 million, it’s hardly surprising that there are blues bars to rival even New York, New Orleans and Chicago. If you fancy hitting the Shanghai music scene for a bit of Robert Johnson on the rocks, then be sure to check out this line-up of the top three venues around.
House of Blues & Jazz
Since 1995, Shanghai’s House of Blues & Jazz has grown from a relatively unknown bar professing the finest live music acts in the city, to a huge after dark cocktail-come-dance joint that’s famed for its patronage of everything swing.
At its current location on Fuzhou Road, the establishment boasts a large stage, a collection of lounge areas and even a separate dining room for guests looking to eat, not to mention a line-up of drinks that’s got everything from New Orleans Sazeracs to Murphy’s Irish stout. Musically, expect oodles of 1930s noir, swing and a healthy dose of Deep South blues—all played by both local and international acts in a truly intimate environment.
Add: 60 Fuzhou Road, Huangpu, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6323 2779
A real music bar made by musicians for musicians; such is the philosophy and thinking behind Shanghai’s JZ Club on Fuxing West Road. Consequently, patrons here can expect to find a resident crowd of trumpet-touting Bill Evans heads and dextrous Chet Baker lovers, all sipping French reds and potent bourbons and waiting for the weekly jam session to kick in.
Inside, the décor looks like it’s been plucked straight from the fun-loving French Quarter of New Orleans, with flowing fabrics and gaudy silks cascading down to an open stage that ticks over to the twang of a double bass, while the glowing red bulbs do well to add a little dish of historic China to the mix. And when the tight-knit, smoky interior gets just to be a little too much, be sure to head upstairs, where foot-tapping drinkers coalesce on the al fresco terrace.
Add: JZ Club, 46 Fuxing West Road, Xuhui, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6431 0269
Reminiscent of Shanghai’s pre-war blues boom, the Cotton Club remains unquestionably one of the city’s most totemic music dives. Not only is it a regular staple in write-ups and guide books about Shanghai, but it has also inspired a loyal following of local ex-pats and city livers who flock to its swish interior for ad hoc sessions of trumpet, sax and delta guitar on the weekends.
However, jazz and blues are not the only baseline here, because Cotton Club also hosts an eclectic range of progressive rock types, country and big band, so be sure to check ahead before scooting down! On Mondays the joint is closed; sets start at around 8pm throughout the rest of the week, and patrons should be sure to arrive early on weekends—because you can guarantee that it will fill up fast!
Add: No.1428 Huaihai Middle Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6437 7110
Taipei-based Brown Sugar has been blowing the doors off Xintiandi for the past couple of years with its live acts. Perhaps a stretch to call it a “jazz bar,” Evenou calls it an “rhythm and blues and hip-hop” venue; and whatever you call it, just be sure to bring your dancing shoes. You can enjoy bottle service in the lounges upstairs or to the side of the stage, or watch the mixologists set the bar on fire during breaks in the musical action.
Add: Bldg 15, Xintiandi North Block, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, Shanghai
Phone: 021 5382 8998
Opening hours: 18:00 – 2:00
Not technically a jazz bar, but a real Shanghai cultural center and home to quarterly jazz performances from Evenou herself, Glamour Bar is a Shanghai institution and its location on the Bund makes it a must-visit. Melbourne-born founder Michelle Garnaut has created a Shanghai institution and hosts regular cultural events aside from jazz performances.
Add: 6/F, 20 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6329 3751
Opening hours: 17:00 – later
At first glance, the oh-so-cleverly named CJW (Cigar Jazz Wine Bar) in Xintiandi bears all the hallmarks of a lame, watered-down expense account venue; except that Evenou assures me that it consistently stocks a great roster of talented musicians, many of whom make their Shanghai debuts at CJW. Currently headlining is Avana, the “Georgia Peach,” from Atlanta.
Add: Unit 4, Xintiandi South Block, 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6385 6677
Opening hours: 11:00 – 1:30
Located next to the erstwhile bohemian enclave of Tianzifang on Taikang Lu, Melting Pot attracts performances from all over the map, in keeping with its name. People speak highly of the management, the range of music and the amenities backstage (a happy performer is a good performer).
Add: 288 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6467 9900, 021 5465 8638
Opening hours: 13:00 – 2:00
Peace Hotel Old Jazz Bar
After Deng Xiaoping officially rolled back the restrictions on many cultural freedoms, including jazz, in 1978, the Peace Hotel refurbished its Old Jazz Bar to kick off the jazz movement in Communist China. Six veteran musicians from the pre-communist days formed the Old Jazz Band in 1980, and pianist Gao Ping released perhaps the first Chinese jazz recording in the Peoples Republic of China. Located on the top floor of the hotel, this bar draws a mainly tourist crowd seeking the nostalgia of old Shanghai.
Add: 20 East Nanjing Rd, Shanghai
Phone: 021 6321 6888