Since the early 2000s, Shanghai has been slowly turning into a haven for good cocktail bars, and is being recognized for its contributions to China and Asia as a whole. So while Shanghai doesn’t get as much press as cities like Hong Kong, clearly things are moving in the right direction.
In Shanghai, new cocktail bars are popping up nearly every month—and with many offering something completely different than their predecessors, it’s an exciting time and place to be a drinker. Herewith: the 10 best bars in Shanghai, covering a handful of tried-and-true classics, plus a few new entrants that are making big waves in the city’s drinking scene.
398 Wukang Road, Xuhui District | 徐汇区武康路398号
No list of Shanghai bars is complete without this revolutionary watering hole, which has earned accolades throughout Shanghai for a number of years—still making readers’ choice ballots for local magazines as of 2017—for good reason. Here, owner and head bartender Daniel An brings unique and flavorful tipples to the masses in a cozy environment that mimics the inner confines of a Qing Dynasty-era palace, with cushy seating, bird cage lights, and a great atmosphere.
579 Fuxing Middle Road, Huangpu District | 黄浦区复兴中路579号
One of the many “speakeasies” that dots the Shanghai drinking landscape, this Shingo Gokan-owned establishment is unique in that it has three distinct bars on three different floors. One the first: a small room for shots and beers; The second features an open and lively New York-style bar that serves up craft cocktails from New York’s best bars. And the third floor is a Japanese-style cocktail bar hidden behind a sliding wall that offers a menu of delicious offerings thought up by Gokan and head bartender Atsushi Suzuki. Since earning the title of 15th Best Bar in the World from Drinks International, its become the place to go for awesome drinks in Shanghai. If you manage to make it to the third floor, try the Moanin’ cocktail, which is made with Japanese whisky, sake, wasabi, and orange marmalade, or Mack the Knife, which is spiked with orange gin.
Bldg 2, 64 Fenyang Road, Xuhui District | 徐汇区汾阳路64号
This narrow two-story bar, once again located in the Former French Concession, was opened by Chinese cocktail champion Yao Lu in 2014 and is one of the city’s best known bars. It deftly balances serious and playful, with a wooden bar, leather seating, white walls, and light fixtures fashioned out of old liquor bottles. Union has a 20-drink menu that rotates regularly, offering guests well-made classics and interesting house cocktails that often channel Chinese spirits for inspiration.
104-105, Bldg E, United Valley, 462 Changle Road, Huangpu District | 黄埔区长乐路462号集社E104-105
These two bars, owned and operated by Canadian expat Mack Ross, are hidden in the bowels of an urban shopping center near Shaanxi Lu and offer a truly unique experience. Enter the non-assuming space and find yourself in a spot that’s bucking the city’s bar trends. Instead of the usual small, dark environment, Tour is a bright and fun space covered with whimsical wall murals. The bar is sleek and clean, and the back bar is equally impressive. But there’s more: head through a hidden sliding door and down a steep concrete staircase to find the Magnolia Room, a cozy space with black walls, a lovingly lit bar that stands out like an island, and retro seating.
What’s most impressive about Tour and the Magnolia Room is their drinks. Mack serves up menus in both bars that feature cocktails alongside little snacks paired specifically to the drinks. In Tour, we tried the Omacke, done up with Amaro Averna, Campari, lemon juice, and pineapple that conjures an island feel. It was paired with an Italian red pepper filled with goat’s cheese, a perfect buffer to the tropical flavors of the cocktail. Down in the Magnolia Room, we had the PBS, made with blanco tequila, peanut butter, sriracha, salt, pepper, and lime juice and paired with hard boiled quail eggs. It proved an interesting combination, to say the least.
2/F, United Valley, 462 Changle Road, Huangpu District | 黄浦区长乐路462号集社2楼
Here’s another hidden bar—Shanghai just can’t get enough of the concept—that delivers amazing drinks. The second project by Taste Bud’s Daniel An is tucked into the same complex as Tour, up some steps behind a wine bar, and hidden behind a fake “confessional.” Once inside, you’ll find a menu of rare classics and creative house drinks, plus a cozy bar space with adjacent seating nooks on either side for larger parties. While here, we enjoyed the Ye, a pleasant mix of fino sherry, sloe gin, apricot brandy, and Fernet Branca that went down smoothly with a minty flourish.
1093 Wuding Road, Jing’an District | 静安区武定路1093号
LAB is a relative stalwart of the Shanghai bar scene, having opened in 2012 when the cocktail and whiskey craze was first hitting China. Close to Jing’an Temple, the little bar is housed in a quiet area and jumps out at those looking for it. Managed by the lovely Sophia, LAB has one of the most extensive whiskey selections in Shanghai, along with a small but impressive craft cocktail menu. They also have excellent food. Pro tip: try the quesadillas.
1311 Xinzha Road, Jing’an District | 静安区新闸路1311号
A recent addition to the Shanghai bar scene is Wonderland, which has been quick to impress since opening. The bar is perhaps the most unique on this list, featuring an Alice in Wonderland theme and a colorful menu to match its bright interior—which sports a mural, furry bar, and a sign reading “We’re All Mad Here.” Indeed, it’s a mad fun time at Wonderland, and owner/head bartender Johan will guide you on your journey with interesting and fun drinks.
98 Wuyuan Road, Xuhui District | 徐汇区五原路98号
Senator Saloon, which finds itself in the Former French Concession in Xuhui District, is nestled into a cozy wooden building whose inside is filled with old time jazz, red wallpaper, old photographs, and a back bar loaded with the most extensive collection of American whiskeys you’ll find in Shanghai. Voted best cocktail bar of 2016 in the That’s Shanghai Readers’ Choice Awards, Senator offers up a great vibe, good food (surprisingly, they too make a mean quesadilla) and delicious prohibition-era cocktails as well as originals. Try the Jerico, a smooth mix of rye whiskey, oloroso sherry, St. Germain, and Yellow Chartreuse.
86 Xinle Road, Xuhui District | 徐汇区新乐路86号
Bar Constellation (pictured at top) is a veteran of the cocktail scene, and set the gold standard for all cocktail bars to follow when it opened back in 2000. Now with five locations around the city and a branch down in Ningbo, Constellation is the place to go for classic cocktails done right in a beautiful, old school atmosphere. Just last year, the bar’s legendary owner, Kin-san, was awarded the Founders Award at the inaugural DRiNK Magazine Bar Awards, a testament to his dedication to the craft.
99 Yandang Road, Huangpu District | 黄埔区雁荡路99号
Located on the third floor of Shingo Gokan’s versatile, multi-concept Sober Company, Sober Society is a handsome spot that effortlessly combines retro and modern tastes into one unified space, taking its inspiration from Manhattan’s East Village. With a bar program by Speak Low’s Atsushi Suzuki, the small menu packs a punch with interesting takes on classic cocktails, like the cheeky Americano Americano, made with espresso, Campari, and sweet vermouth, or the Godfather III, a riff that combines Scotch with Japanese tea, apricot liqueur, and a piece of candied prosciutto.