Mainland China’s most westernised city, Shanghai has a nightlife scene that offers karaoke bars, five-star hotels and speakeasies, discovers James Lawrence.
As China’s largest metropolis, Shanghai evokes all sorts of expectations for first-time visitors: Buddhist temples, Art Deco buildings, teahouses and the remnants of a fascinating colonial past. However, culture shock in the city may not be as traumatic as tourists expect; this is easily Asia’s most westernised city (next to Hong Kong), and the mass of skyscrapers, five-star hotels and shopping malls is hardly unique to this part of the world. Formerly described as the ‘Paris of the east’, expats are now saying it’s China’s New York.
But whatever comparisons are drawn, one fact remains – Shanghai has the most colourful nightlife in China, with everything from glamorous hotel bars and specialist cocktail lounges to shabby watering holes and all-night raves. Karaoke is also wildly popular in China, and Shanghai is no exception, but unlike the western tradition, groups of friends typically rent out private rooms in karaoke bars. The more artistically-minded traveller will love Shanghai’s acrobatic shows and Chinese opera, and some of the best entertainment doesn’t even taken place on land – Huangpu River cruises, which run after 6pm, are extremely popular, offering spectacular views of the Bund and Pudong districts by night.
The waterfront expanse of the Bund is where you’ll encounter Shanghai’s most upmarket nightlife. But it’s not all skyscraping razzmatazz; beyond the crisply cool veneer of the Bund, you can lift the lid on a treasure chest of authentic nightlife, not least in the French Concession. A mosaic of villa-lined leafy backstreets, the area houses delightful speakeasy bars that have a curious mix of Chinese and European elements. This combines to make a fitting emblem for China’s most contradictory, globalised and, above all, intoxicating city.
Click through the following pages to see our top bars in Shanghai, China.