About one year ago I emerged from the metro station after a long journey to Shanghai, and basically headed straight to the nearest club, swinging my suitcase in time to the smooth EDM beats.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’ve been living and partying in this city for close to twelve months now, and being a ‘freelance writer’ (it’s a real job Mom, I promise) have had plenty of time to thoroughly canvass the local bar and club scene. After all, it would be rude not to, right?
Shanghai nightlife is absolutely raging, and contains pretty much everything you could hope for. This city is bigger than most European countries, contains more foreigners than anywhere else in China (that is unless you count Hong Kong) and has a young, rich and wild population of locals to keep busy.
From glamorous rooftop bars overlooking the famous Pudong skyline on The Bund to oak paneled martini bars in the former French Concession — Shanghai has got it all.
A few things to note…
Unlike other Chinese cities (still including Beijing, according to my experience there in 2015), being a Westerner affords you very little special treatment in Shanghai. Expect to pay full price for drinks pretty much wherever you go, unless you’re willing to brave the noxious free alcohol that some clubs are still giving away. Going out in Shanghai can be expensive, but it’s worth saving up for, because a night out here can be unforgettable.
Dress codes are normally pretty relaxed, and the legal drinking age is 18 but if anyone was ever ID checked entering a bar or club it would make international news. Still, kids are better off staying at home and leaving the braincell busting booze to us mature adults who know how to go too far whilst still remembering the songs to our favourite lyrics when singing KTV (that’s Chinese karaoke)… anyway…
Few things to be aware of when partying in Shanghai:
-> Taxis in Shanghai are generally pretty legit so long as you have a Chinese version of your address handy (don’t count on them to speak English) — but those who wait opportunistically outside clubs in the wee hours are always on the hunt for a foreigner (Laowai) to rip off. If you’re sober enough to walk, it’s best if you head to the nearest street corner and flag down a moving cab. You’ll end up paying less than half as much and are less likely to end up with your own taxi horror story. Always insist on using the meter and if they refuse get out and try another.
-> Many clubs will have free drinks on offer for foreigners if you ‘know the promoter’ or anyone, really. Don’t touch these. I have, and I’m sure you will, but you shouldn’t. The free alcohol, despite being poured out of fancy branded bottles, is normally some horrid, chemical, bathtub brew that will leave you with a catastrophic hangover and few memories of the night before. Best to pre-load at some of the bars we’ll be going into below.
-> Do not steal alcohol from clubs! I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard first hand of daft foreigners grabbing a bottle of booze from a table full of glum looking Shanghai elites, and expecting to get away with it. You won’t. It’s true that in some of the fancier clubs many locals do indeed look as if they are about to die of misery sitting around their $8000 tables drinking Dom Perignon and staring at their phones, but pinching their booze will not improve their mood. Trust me on this.
-> Don’t pick a fight with locals. Many young Chinese locals will be warm, friendly and generous to foreigners. Others just want you to leave them alone. As with most places in the world, remember that you are a guest in this country, and be respectful (even if they’ve been less than respectful to you). You’re unlikely to run into serious trouble in Shanghai, but if you’re interested in a trip to the police station, this is one way to go about it.
Exercise a bit of common sense, and you’ll have a great time. With the above caveats and overview, let’s jump into the best bars and clubs in Shanghai…
Best Bars & Clubs in Shanghi
When the Night is Young, visit the following places:
1. Senator’s Saloon
On a quiet, leafy street in the former French Concession, the senator’s saloon is a classy, upscale place to the begin the night. Don’t worry, our next listing will be more party focused, but it’d be a shame not to visit without briefly sampling a throwback of the classic 1920s Shanghai aesthetic. Here you can sit in a beautiful wood panelled bar and enjoy lethal martinis, impersonate Don Draper with an Old Fashioned, and even try their trademark bacon flavoured cocktail!
Prices: Pretty typical of this kinda place, about $12-15 for a cocktail.
This classic Chinese establishment has branches scattered throughout the country and several in Shanghai. One of the rowdiest and most popular branches is just a short stroll (we’re not stumbling yet, I hope!) from Senator’s Saloon. Here both local and foreign students are attracted by the outrageously cheap drinks, classic rock tunes and energetic vibe. About half way between a bar and club, it’s an ideal transition before heading to more rowdy establishments.
Prices: Mercifully cheap. $1.50 for a beer, $5 for a bucket (yes, bucket) of coke and your favorite spirit, a dangerously fun way to kick off a big night.
Whilst You Can Still Remember Which City You’re In…
1. Bar Rouge
Let’s step things up a notch with Bar Rouge, one of the most famous clubs in Shanghai, and for good reason. Prices are steep and there’s often a cover charge of about $15USD (100RMB) to get in, but the views of the glistening Pudong skyline from their roof are well worth it. Later in the night you’ll be able to hear house music played by top DJs are the view gradually starts to blur into the horizon…
Prices: Steep. Be prepared to pay $15USD for a drink.
2. Le Baron
Another classy establishment, Le Baron has its home base in Paris but has attracted a more than loyal following among monied Shanghai expats and local fashionistas. If your experience in Perry’s has left you scarred and craving a more refined choice for your evening of debauchery, then Le Baron with it’s blend of classic disco tunes and hip hop in an elegant French Concession street may be a good recovery option, and it even has its own KTV if you’re interested in singing the night away.
Prices: $12-15 for a drink
When You Can’t Remember Your Own Name…
A swanky Bund establishment, M1NT will have you feel like you’re living the high life. Literally, in fact, because it’s 24 floors up. The walls are covered in shark tanks. Literally, again. Actual tanks with actual sharks. From the windows and balcony you can enjoy sweeping views of Shanghai as the city falls away beneath your feet. You’ll find a mix of locals and foreigners here, with the crowd tending to be a bit older than most the other options we’ll discuss here. Music is mostly house.
Prices: Sky high. Once I walked in here and was immediately handed an almost full bottle of Grey Goose by a departing patron which tasted like the real deal, so you may get lucky. Best to pre-load though.
An enormous club located bang in the city centre that also contains a posh Italian restaurant, Luce is the kinda place you end up when things start to get hazy… As the base thuds inside this enormous complex you’ll really start to feel like you’re in another world. Lazer lights, locals getting absolutely demolished, are foreigners standing around looking dazed, bobbing up and down to furious electronic music. No, it wasn’t a dream, you just ended up in Luce.
Prices: No one has ever left here sober enough to remember. Check your card statement in the morning. It won’t be pretty, but you’re unlikely to have to sell the car.
3. The Mansion
A bit further out of the city, mansion is ideal for those who love to party well into the next day, but who hate ‘mainstream’ clubs and yearn for a bit more of an alty / artistic vibe. This place has it’s own pool and beach of sorts, and DJs churn out everything that’s trendy and plenty that isn’t. If you’re willing to make the journey, you’re in for a unique finish to your night out in Shanghai!
Prices: Pretty typical $12-15 range. Save some cash for the taxi home.
Note: late night parties here only on Fri & Sat.
So there you have it, some of the best places to party in Shanghai! Hope you all have a wonderful time!