The phenomenon of the speakeasy kicked off in prohibition US, circa the 1920s. They were illegal bars that sold alcohol; in other words, they were bars that just happened to be illegal at the time. The most famous ones were operated by the mafia, but they popped up everywhere and proved to be unrelentingly popular, despite persistent raids by the pesky Bureau of Prohibition. This dangerous atmosphere lent the bars a sort of outlaw charisma, and the idea of the speakeasy has remained appealing ever since, with dive bars all over the globe fashioning themselves after the illicit establishments.
Speakeasies never failed to bring people together though, and this is the trend that continues in 2017. While they remain popular all over the world, a lot of speakeasies can be found in the bustling Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, whose neon-soaked surrounds suit the roguish decor of the speakeasy very well. Trouble is, it’s actually pretty hard to find these cocktail havens; in true speakeasy fashion; their entrances are usually hidden, or at least not very well signposted.
Never fear, BUCKiTDREAMER, that’s what we’re here for! If you’re heading to Shanghai and want to hit up the cool chic of the city’s dive bars, keep your BUCKiTDREAM planner handy, and let us guide you through four hidden speakeasy cocktail bars you should know about.
Slink in to Speak Low (Three Times, If You Can) Invented by a man who brought the famous Angel’s Share speakeasy to New York, Speak Low is a Japanese-style establishment featuring three dive bars in one. The entrance is hidden inside a bartending equipment shop called Ocho Bar Tools; in typical speakeasy style, it’s concealed behind a bookcase. Beyond that is a tunnel, then a staircase, and finally, the first bar in this speakeasy triple-threat; a New York-style traditional cocktail bar with a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere.
Looking around, you won’t spot the entrance to the next level of speakeasy; it’s located behind yet another hidden door. To find it, you must locate the antique world map and press a hidden button behind Shanghai. Pretty damn cool! The second bar is a smaller, cozier affair, with a maximum occupancy of just twenty. The prices rise here, but so do the inventiveness of the drinks – the ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is particularly agreeable. The third bar is hidden behind a door marked ‘Employees Only’, and access is granted through invite only. If you’re lucky enough to gain entry, a high-class Japanese whiskey bar awaits.
Address: 579 Fuxing Middle Rd, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000
Hunker Down at The Bunker A new venture from the team behind one of Shanghai’s best-loved speakeasy bars, Flask, The Bunker is a dive bar with a difference; it’s themed like a Cold War-era military bunker. This motif runs through the decor and the jack-booted staff, but doesn’t feel overly oppressive. It’s just the right balance of unique and original to give a night out an extra touch of fun. Hidden behind greengrocers Green and Safe, The Bunker serves up an enticing menu of signature cocktails, and features a bit more space than your average Shanghai speakeasy.
Address: No 22, 181 Taikang Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu
Kick Back at Oji, the Bar Within a Bar Another Japanese joint with class to spare, Oji is a bar hidden cleverly within another bar. This would be a cunning tactic back in the prohibition days, as the Bureau would never think of searching the bar they’d just raided for a second hidden bar, so it’s hats off to Oji for a contemporary twist on the classic speakeasy.
The first bar is a Japanese cocktail establishment called el Ocho, which serves some pretty delicious creations in its own right. But the real fun is behind the vintage phone booth in the corner. Dial up to get through the door, and find yourself in Oji, a sixteen-seat lounge with smooth jazz and no menu. Drinks are whipped up at the whim of the barman, also called Oji (which came first?), who will guide you to a bespoke cocktail perfectly suited to your tastes. Just make sure to book ahead with this one; despite being a hidden bar, the secret is out, and Oji is extremely popular, even on weekdays.
Address: China, Shanghai, Xuhui, Xiangyang N Rd
Do What It Says on the Tin at Dry Goods Cold Drinks Tucked away behind the facade of a general store, Dry Goods Cold Drinks is one of the city’s newest speakeasy ventures, the latest addition to a trend which (thankfully) seems to be going from strength to strength. Run by the same folks who serve up some of Shanghai’s best steaks in Roosevelt Prime, DGCD is located in the former wine cellar of the aforementioned establishment. Low light and a relaxed atmosphere is the order of the day here, as well as a unique blend of cocktails and whiskey. You gain access to the bar (but hopefully, not the sinister global cult), by pressing the button on the illuminated Illuminati sign.
Address: 128 Taiyuan Lu, near Yongjia Lu
These are just a few of Shanghai’s speakeasy delights, a small slice of a city that has much more going for it. If you’re planning a bucket list trip to this wonderful Chinese city and are on the lookout for a cozy speakeasy cocktail spot, seek out the four listed above and make sure to try to discover some of your own while you’re at it!