Sometimes you’ll need to pick your way through a maze of lanes, look for a secret door, then climb a twisting staircase to find a great bar in Shanghai. Other times the obvious place is the best. Either way, you need a little steering. Here are Culture Trip’s favourite Shanghai pubs and bars.
YYs (Yin Yang)
Shanghai’s oldest bar has endured for more than two decades, thanks to its classic cocktail offerings and interesting, museum-like aesthetic. There’s a throwback quality here, where the walls are adorned with propaganda art and shelves are lined with timeworn books. Walk in from street level and you’ll notice eye-catching posters, which lure you down red-carpeted stairs to this subterranean bar that’s the embodiment of old-school cool.
San Diego meets Shanghai at Stone Brewing Tap Room, an American temple to beer whose sustainability-focused California sensibilities have been transported to China. Opened in 2018, the industrial-chic restaurant and bar is overflowing with some 30 types of suds, including house brew Stone Scorpion Bowl IPA. The roll-up garage doors usher a nice breeze indoors, while the expansive garden seating area is ideal for tucking into elevated gastropub fare like chicken and waffles and crab cakes benedict. The food is best paired with a refreshing Tangerine Express beer.
‘Kiss time or kill time?’ The enigmatic words etched into the sign outside Healer Bar in the former French Concession may give patrons pause. But once inside, there’s a different mystery to unravel – the art of imbibing baijiu, China’s answer to moonshine. Owner Phoebe Han, who travels China to learn about the regional varieties of baijiu, has given this old-school spirit a much-needed makeover by mixing it in cocktails that allow its inimitable characteristics to shine through. Try the Bamboo Forest cocktail or for something a little less spirited, opt for a beverage made with Chinese wine.
The Kaixuan outpost of this Shanghai institution ought to come with a warning label. It’s open 24/7 and Mrs. Zhang, the owner and titular ‘beer lady’, stocks some 3,000 brands ranging from low-percentage session ales to high-alcohol double IPAs. Simply sidle up to the refrigerators and try to avoid decision fatigue as you take in the selection at hand. When you’ve made your choice, pay at the counter and have The Beer Lady staff crack your cold one open. Find a seat at one of the tall tables indoors or out back and start sampling brews from around the globe. Watch out for the Snake Venom beer, which is a whopping 67.5% ABV, making it the world’s strongest.
Shanghai’s Former French Concession is awash with slick establishments like Bar No. 3, which oozes appeal with moody lighting and velvet sofas. The compact space opens up onto the sidewalk where you can happily day drink upon luxe leather seating. Not sure what to have? The attentive staff is always willing to recommend one of their cocktails, carefully crafted with house-made syrups and bitters and presented like a treasured gift. Arrive early; this locally beloved bar gets packed quickly.
Situated in the Jing’an neighbourhood, Cages is an over-the-top tribute to athletics, taking up 4,000 square metres of space. Hit a few balls in the professional-level baseball batting cages, join dodgeball or football leagues that play on indoor turf, throw some darts, or simply watch it all unfold in the cavernous space surrounded by big-screen TVs. Beer flows freely from the taps, nachos are piled high on plates and the chicken wings are hot and spicy. Your sports goals here? Play, watch, drink, eat – repeat.
Sweet, sour, bitter, fruity or floral? There’s a slight roulette-game feel to drinking at Barbarian given there’s no cocktail list. Simply select your spirit (bourbon is a favourite here) and flavour palate, then leave the rest up to Shanghai’s finest bartenders who will concoct a drink for you. Located on buzzing Wuding Road in Jing’an, this rustic-chic bar and restaurant, complete with wooden swings, is a must-visit for all. Watch out for the stunning rooftop terrace, where you can take in the Shanghai sunlight.
Neon lights, roller skates and cocktails are plentiful here. Shanghai loves a themed bar and RIINK brings together a trifecta of fun that feels distinctly ’80s with a modern upgrade. Rent a pair of skates with flashing wheels and take a spin around the oval rink to tunes spun by a DJ. When you’re weak-kneed from all that old-school revelry, refuel with some ‘nibbles and slurps’, like bites of fresh poke and a tiki-inspired cocktail made with Cognac. Find RIINK on the first floor of Bund Square.
There’s a reason this three-level speakeasy is a constant on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. The brainchild of Tokyo-born star-bartender Shingo Gokan, Speak Low has been perfecting the art of the cocktail in Shanghai since it opened in 2014. Classics can be had here, but it’s the sheer brilliance of creations such as the Parmigiano Sour (made with black pepper, egg, Sauternes, lemon tea, Pisco and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese) that turns heads and pleases palates. While Shanghai’s speakeasies are legion, this one isn’t tucked behind a barbershop or accessed through a phone booth. You gain entry through fully functioning Ocho, a bar tools store, then look for the secret passage.
The words rendered in neon lights glowing above the ground-level bar in this multilevel cocktail den are both mantra and challenge: DO EPIC SHIT. And the bevy of bartenders has fully embraced each. If you can find a spot upstairs at EPIC, settle into a stool; it’s highly entertaining to watch the well-orchestrated show of mixing and shaking that goes into each and every cocktail. There are dimly lit corners and low-slung seating for chilling out while you sip.