A bar that doubles as a batting cage, a club operating out of a huge mansion in the suburbs, a convenience store that only sells craft beer: these jaunts may seem too unique to exist, but not in Shanghai. A city whose history is rooted in nighttime bacchanalias still delivers evening after evening – and sometimes into the early morning. Tired of the usual gin and tonic from the old prosaic bar down the street? Try these instead.
Botanist is an upscale cocktail bar where talented mixologists rustle up creative concoctions using fresh herbs and flowers like lemongrass, jasmine, and mint. The cocktails aren’t cheap, but the flavors justify the prices. Serving the drinks out of light bulbs, flower pots, and a variety of other atypical vessels may seem like a gimmick, but it lends a playful element to a classy night. Start your evening here and you’re bound to have a memorable time.
What started as a convenience store specializing in craft beer has now become a favorite nighttime hang-out spot of expats and locals alike. A collection of over 200 imported craft bottles can be found on the first floor, while picnic table seating is spread across the second floor. The eponymous “Beer Lady” is middle-aged Chinese woman Mrs. Zhang, who has devoted her life to beer. She is passionate about what she does, and it shows in her smile and constant willingness to help even the pickiest beer drinker find something to enjoy.
Shanghai is saturated with “speakeasies”, making it hard to know which one to pick. Speak Low skips the usual schtick to deliver some of the best cocktails in the city, made by world-renowned mixologists. Accessed via a secret entrance, the enigmatic drinking den spans four floors, each with its own concept and level of exclusivity. As you might guess, the higher you go, the steeper the prices, and the harder it is to get in without a reservation.
My Place Ruin Bar
This under-the-radar dive bar has engendered strong loyalty from its customers, and it’s easy to see why. The atmosphere is fun, the staff are friendly, and the drinks are cheap. You can’t go without trying the bar’s signature tipple, the rocket-fuel Weng Weng, a Filipino drink made with six spirits – vodka, gin, rum, tequila, brandy, and Scotch whisky – mixed with grenadine, orange juice, and pineapple juice. To encourage people to try this blackout-inducer, the staff have created a scoreboard of countries, which get a point every time one of their citizens finishes a Weng Weng.
Austrian restaurant by day; hip watering hole by night – Daliah may seem too zany to be approachable, but one trip down the indoor slide and you’ll feel at ease and ready for whatever the night throws at you. The bar is the brainchild of Austrian fashion icon and pioneer of alternative culture Daliah Spiegel, who, like the bar, is full of personality. It has become the home of several LGBT-friendly events and is renowned for its playful vibe and relaxed atmosphere.
The Mansion is not for the faint of heart. Quite literally a mansion-turned-nightclub, this buzzing jaunt attracts some of Shanghai’s most eccentric characters with its artsy vibes and throbbing techno, deep house, and hip hop tunes. The RMB100 ($15) entrance fee gets you four drink tickets, and if you assume that means the tipples are weak, think again. The backyard of the house has a pool and beach, where events are hosted in the warmer months. Think The Great Gatsby meets Trainspotting.
Cages Bar and Sports
Batting cages, squash courts, bubble soccer, dodgeball, professional darts: these are not words typically associated with a bar, yet Cages Bar and Sports has them all. Mixing alcohol and physical activity seems counter-intuitive but, gosh, is it fun. There are also TVs everywhere, broadcasting the latest games and matches, in case a typical sports bar is more your thing.
Daga Brewpub is one of the few places to specialize in craft beers from around China. There are beers from Chengdu, Nanjing, Beijing – you name it. Not all of the brews are great, but staff let you try before you buy, so you can always find something else you like. The space is large, but the vibe is laid-back, and the rooftop is one of the best in Shanghai.