One of the most redoubtable nightlife spots of Shanghai is the Changshu Lu / Hengshan Lu area. Part of the French Concession area, the streets around this centre have undertaken somewhat of a transition since the early twentieth century.
Wrought iron railings, tree-lined avenues and ivy-coloured mansions from that era still remain, and are a reminder of Shanghai’s lavish days. Also known for being one of the 714 places in Shanghai which Chiang Kai-shek and his wife ‘once stopped for a cup of tea and a biscuit’ (an impressive historical fact that you can pass on to others) this area is entrenched with Shanghai’s golden days.
However, come nighttime, these historical sites become more than just an educational interest in China’s history. Innumerable watering holes have popped up in the area in the last ten or twenty years; a few of which are actually located within the old courtyard houses.
The trick is not finding bars here; it’s separating the wheat from the chaff. Head east and you will find bars that will leave you regretting you ever left home. Head west (towards Changshu Lu) and you will find the majority of the best locations on the side streets.
In need of pub grub and the familiar warmth that only a pint can give? Try British Bulldog, Paulaner Brauhaus, O’Malleys or Blarney Stone. Feel like some entertaining table top dancing and lively music? Head for Zapatas. Want to be seen among the cool and trendy in search for eye-candy? Then it’s Mao or Bistro Latitude for you.
A few more worthy destinations include Abbey Road (aptly designed with a Beatles décor and has good-priced European styled food), Oscars (decent selection of foreign beers) and Sasha’s (which has the capability to transport you out of Shanghai immediately as it is usually packed with expats). A little further away, at the Xujiahui end of Hengshan Lu, is Park Tavern – a new English-styled pub with quite an impressive selection of foreign beers and the friendliest, most accommodating staff outside that of a happy ending massage parlour. It is worth going out of the way for.
Although these locations are a main haunt of the expat crowds, there is far more than mere food and drink to be had at these watering holes. There is the whole social scene that goes with any “lao wai” (old foreigner) gathering spot. O’Malleys, for example, holds family-centred shindigs on Sundays during the summer and is involved in many expat sports competitions and organizations. It is also a favourite location come big-game time, with a number of large screen TVs regularly showing football, rugby, etc. The same can be said of British Bulldog, along with its three floors and live-music. Definitely a good area in which to conduct that most overused of English words in Shanghai: “networking.”
There is something very appealing and comforting about having such a vast array of pubs and bars within spitting distance of each other. For one, it makes bar-hopping a hell of a lot more convenient. It also means that the area is swarmed with taxis eagerly waiting to take you on a scenic route home. The advantage of having them line up in front of you though means that there is no need to shamelessly stumble along the streets in search of one.