The ultimate goal of the speakeasy—to drink and converse among an intimate, in-the-know crowd in a location just out of sight—is one honored in Shanghai, where secret bars continue to grow in popularity.
That said, there are two options for those hoping to imbibe at Shanghai’s most discreet drinking holes: Either scourge the internet for recommendations—a venture that often ends in visits to over-touristed destinations—or get tipped off by locals.
Below, you’ll find the latter. We tapped Camden Hauge, founder of popular Shanghai brunch spot Egg, and Jamie Barys, who runs UnTour Food Tours—a local tour program that does their own series of speakeasy-spotting adventures in the city—for their picks of the best speakeasies to visit in Shanghai.
Camden Hauge’s Favorite Speakeasies in Shanghai
Although not incredibly difficult to find, this classic Prohibition-style bar has been around since I arrived in Shanghai and was the first legit bar I went to in the city. A beautiful space—pressed-tin ceilings, sensuous velvet drapes, and golden lighting—they have been slinging classic cocktails forever and still stay packed, even on a Monday night. My spots, Bird and Bitter, are just down the street, so it’s my usual for a knock-off cocktail. Try their house classic Stinky Pig or, my favorite, the Boulevardier.
Although not technically a speakeasy, this Japanese shōchū bar is my favorite of the lot. Tucked down an alley, it’s all fun and warmth. It’s run by a husband and wife team who have an affection for reggae and pal around with their team; very good vibes here.
The most random and most fun of the bunch, Yona Cafe is a true hidden gem. The space is down a lane in a carpark, super quirky, and a go-to for cheap but decent drinks and very good food to match. The highlight for me is the music; this is where Shanghai’s Japanese DJs go to kick it, so there’s always an amazing music situation with a few selectors taking turns on the decks.
Probably the consummate speakeasy in Shanghai, this critic’s pick—a regular on the list of World’s Best Bars—comes from international bar star Shingo Gokan. He started the Japanese-style bar scene in New York and then brought the Japanese-New York fusion style to Shanghai: Japanese in its precision and conscientiousness, but New York in charisma. They have four floors of bars that get progressively harder to access, and prices go up as you do, but every level serves truly excellent drinks. You’ll need to make your way through a bookshelf to get to the first floor; the last is invite-only, so don’t expect to get to the top on your first try.
Jamie Barys’s Favorite Speakeasies in Shanghai
Antique By Taste Buds
Daniel An is a darling of the Shanghai cocktail scene, so the city was saddened when his first shop, Taste Buds Cocktail Palace, closed in 2015. But An is a man with a plan and quickly found a long-running coffee shop-cum-antique store deep in the heart of the former French Concession that had a lackluster second floor. Three months later, he’d plonked the red bar and plush velvet chairs from the former TBCP amongst the hundred-year-old dressmaker’s dummies, loveseats, and stained glass lamps. Getting in is easy—just pop into the antique store and head for the stairs. From the street, you’d never know one of Shanghai’s best mixologists is just one floor up.
2/F, 44 Sinan Lu, near Xiangshan Lu. 思南路44号, 近香山路.
The most “classic speakeasy” bar on this list, Bar Permanently is hidden in an office block near Yu Garden. Start by making a reservation via WeChat that the owner, Han Qi, who will confirm with a joking taunt about whether or not you’ll be able to find it. To get in, you’ll need to go around to the back of the building and take the freight elevator up to the sixth floor, then look for the door that doesn’t belong and ring the doorbell. There are just eight seats at the bar, and Han—formerly of Bar XYZ—wanted to make it difficult for people to find so that his customer base would be comprised only of those willing to go the extra mile for an excellent cocktail. It’s definitely worth the hunt.
6F, #71, 427 Fuyou Rd. 福佑路427号福佑门商厦6楼71室.
Speakeasies in barbershops can be found the world over, so it makes sense that this local one was opened by an international group of Shanghainese friends with a Taiwanese investor and Japanese designer. Instead of scrubbing up for a wet lather, find the mirrored door beside a table of Japanese whiskeys and try to find the right button to push to gain entry to the large Prohibition-themed speakeasy. Out back is a patio with a tree growing right through the roof.
615 Yongjia Rd, near Wulumuqi South Rd. 永嘉路615号金乌鲁木齐南路.
Why on Earth would there be a red London phone booth in the middle of Shanghai? Of course, it’s the entrance to Barules, the 2018 winner of Time Out Shanghai’s Speakeasy of Year. But once you’re in, don’t stop there; there’s a second secret entrance on the wall of picture frames to get you to a second floor.
51 Fenyang Rd, near Fuxing Middle Rd. 汾阳路51号近复兴中路.
The team behind Barber Shop returned with a spin on their original concept—here, you have to get through a gauntlet of coin-operated laundromats for a cocktail. Once you’ve made it inside, they nail the 1920s themed décor. The bar is copper plated, the whiskey program is tight, and the drinks are strong.
93-5 Xiangyang North Rd, near Changle Rd. 襄阳北路93-5号, 近长乐路
Sober Company’s Tipsy
Sober Company by Shingo Gokan (a Tokyo native who is arguably Shanghai’s best bartender) is three concepts in one: There’s a café, restaurant, and bar on each successive floor—or so you thought. Collect a token by getting a drink at each of the venues and you’ll be invited into Tipsy (which, after three drinks, is exactly what you’ll be). There you’ll get one omakase drink to sip while sitting amongst Gokan’s many cocktail trophies.
99 Yandang Rd, near Nanchang Rd. 雁荡路99号, 近南昌路.
The Water Margin
Located in a xiaoqu, a small neighborhood near the western edge of the former French Concession, The Water Margin is tucked behind a gate that requires a passcode to get in. Once you’ve gotten past the lock, turn into the third lane and walk until you see a side path between buildings. (If you feel like you’re walking into someone’s backyard, you’re on the right track.) You’ll spot tipplers through the windows on your left and a sunken bar serving up mostly whiskey-based cocktails.
291 Hunan Rd—use the back gate at 287, near Xingguo Rd. 湖南路291号后门287弄内近兴国路.