Our perfect day in Shanghai revolves around a couple of great coffee stops, an arty jaunt, a local quirk or two and a place to debrief over drinks and perhaps carry on into the night. Join the dots…
COFFEE: What looks like a short stroll on a Shanghai street map often turns out to be a long and charmless polluted slog punctuated by construction sites …for this reason; we suggest that all outings should encompass a coffee stop either for refuelling or as a goal of its own right.
Stormy Cafe: An indie slice of counter-Shanghai this tiny joint is possibly our favourite cafe-slash-bar in the city. We chilled out to Bob Marley, met a friendly dog and observed an interesting series of people coming in and out with intriguing props. (Or maybe that’s just the absinthe talking?) A laid-back, if grungy, port in the storm. (Lane 229, No 1 Danshui Rd, nr Fuxing Rd.)
Indie port in a storm, Shanghai (Image by HWL)
Q’s Coffee: Yunnan coffee, sweet treats and Wi-Fi situated in a tiny wooden cabin with a big glass front in the old school maze that is the trendy shopping zone of Taikang Lu’s Tianzifang. If you’re no good at map reading, just walk around and around in circles until you stumble onto it. (15, Lane 155, Jian Guo Zhong Lu.)
Amokka Cafe: This French Concession cafe knows its way around a coffee machine and offers decent lunch bits – sandwiches, soup, risotto etc – at reasonable prices. The more atmospheric second floor has a very chilled Scandi-Asiatic vibe. Take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. (Next door you’ll find bread and assorted take-out baked treats at the Antipodeon style Baker & Spice, 195 Anfu Lu.)
Running Amok(kka) in Shanghai (Image by HWL)
Citizen Cafe: Judging by the crowd this French Concession cafe strikes a chord with foreign freelance types who come to hunker down over lattes and laptops, dreams and schemes. We like the Citizen Cafe for its good coffee, cheerful service, cosy ambiance and Euro-friendly edibles. The small yet more-ish pesto pasta is a fail-safe choice if you’ve overdosed on dumplings.
Embrace comrades in arms at the Citizen Cafe, Shanghai (Image by HWL)
Rockbund Art Museum (RAM): Shanghai’s first private art museum in a historic building on the Bund was recently given a revamp by British architect David Chipperfield. In our view, the museum is the most likely of the city’s institutions to put on a reliably good show. While you’re in the hood, you may like to check out the high calibre commercial galleries nearby such as Shanghai Gallery of Art (at 3 on the Bund) and 18 Gallery at Bund 18.
"At 70 I could follow my heart's desire without overstepping the line," an older, wiser (and more hairy) Confucius as imagined by artist Zhang Huan, at Rock Bund Museum (Image by HWL)
M50 (50 Moganshan Rd, Shanghai) is Shanghai’s response to Beijing’s more famous Factory 798, it is comprised of dozens of galleries and artist studios scattered around a series of dimly lit and circuitous warehouses in a disused mill that, so far, has escaped development. (Digression: While bad art is not exclusive to Shanghai, it must be said that with so much material to work with, it seems especially easy to create bad art work in this city… If you want to DIY your own crappy art follow this simple recipe: take a handful of Mao and a dash of cash, add pop colours, and stir. If you are feeling adventurous, whack in a military theme as well. All this to say that, the quality of the art on display can be hit and miss.)
Party of One: M50 art enclave Shanghai (Image by HWL)
Brighten up: cool lights, warehouse ambiance at M50 Shanghai (Image by HWL)
On a positive note, galleries we liked include: Gallery55s and the oddly named Brut Cake specialising in ceramics, recycled homewares and gifts; the rather obscure Dearco, OV Gallery, the photography gallery M97 the Island 6 Collective and M50 veteran Eastlink. It’s also worth browsing the M50 In Out Shop (105-1, Blg 3, 50 Moganshan Rd) for arty tomes, including souvenir-friendly publications like Wrinkles of the City: Shanghai by French street artist J.R (see video at top of post) and Phantom Shanghai by photographer Greg Girard (see below).
Don't give up the ghost. 'Neighborhood Demolition, Lane 195, Urumuqi Bei Lu, 2004' from photographer Greg Giard's 'Phantom Shanghai'. (Image © Greg Girard)
MoCA: Situated in Renmim Park, the programming here can be hit and miss, but it’s worth seeing what’s on, if only to gauge the temperature of Shanghai’s art scene. Plus it’ll give you an excuse to meander around the park where you are likely to be amused by various people doing unusual things. (The average Shanghai apartment is on the small side so locals head to the parks to do tai chi, practise a loud brass musical instrument, work through a new ballroom dancing step, fly a kite or cast a rod into an ornamental water feature. On weekends parents with unmarried kids set up impromptu stalls where they advertise their offspring in a sort of marriage market.) After a dose of art and some good old-fashioned people watching in the park, take a coffee stop at Barbarossa. This cafe has lovely views onto ponds and landscaped greenery and an eclectic menu; light dishes we enjoyed here include the Hainanese chicken rice and the Moroccan-style orange cake. Note: the Shanghai Art Museum is free and also within the park’s confines, however, we struggle to really recommend it…but the gallery cafe Kathleen’s 5 does offer an amazing view over the city.
Barabossa cafe: mean cuppa coffee, lovely water view (Image by HWL)
Who goes there? Renmin Park: beware of pyjama-wearing tai-chi-ers popping out from behind the bushes (Image by HWL)
The French Concession evokes images of colonial buildings, faded grandeur and avenues lined with plane trees…but the reality is a little more prosaic. Still, this is certainly the best enclave for eating, drinking and shopping on a more human scale. Shops we quite liked included: the eco-aware Urban Tribe – their sweet pleated scarves and interesting ceramics make for reasonably priced souvenirs/gifts; Mayumi Sato for quirky girl cashmere sweaters and Japanese tailored lovelies and the rather more upmarket Initial Fashion for their interesting, artsy collection. For a custom cobbler, locals recommend Yanye Handmade Shoes, but note that an order takes 2-4 weeks to complete (1363 Fuxing Zhong Lu, by Baoqing Lu 复兴中路1363号，近宝庆路 Tel: 131 6270 5506). Reading materials: you’ll find foreign language books at the rather ordinary Garden Books but we suggest 1984 for coffee, overall underground ambiance and lazing cats (the black gate is always closed, so don’t panic, you will be let in).
Yu (hoo) gardens.... (Image by HWL)
Yu Gardens: Shanghai is a city of 23 million people and zero touristic blockbusters – there, we’ve said it. If you’d like to dip into some ye olde worlde Shanghai try the 16th century Yu Gardens. (Here we score zero points for originality.) It is less of a garden and more a complex of pavilions and temples cunningly formed around rockeries, water features and bridges designed to replicate mountains, lakes etc. Carp abound. The whole get-up seems made for the amateur photographer and if you are so foolish to visit on the weekend, you will need to battle it out with thousands for a viewpoint. Nb: claustrophobes should avoid the surrounding (and somewhat ghastly) Yu Bazaar as much as poss. – it is packed. Afterwards, reflect on the inter-balance of the elements (light and shadow, water and stone), over tea on the top floor of the Old Shanghai Teahouse (385 Middle Fangbang Rd), which is charming despite its overt touristyness.
This photo is of no consequence: we just like it. Somewhere near West Fangbang Rd. (Image by HWL)
Bird & Insect Market: Is there anything better than standing around comparing the size and thrust of one’s own cricket? If you’re ever dreamt of owning your own stable here’s your chance to collect a collection of fighting grasshoppers and all the necessary accoutrements. Afterwards, meander around the surrounding laneways and sniff out some fragments of old Shanghai. (South Xizang Rd, nr West Fangbang Rd.)
Hutong & bike near the bird & insect market, Shanghai
Taikang Lu’s Tianzifang: a self-consciously preserved enclave of laneway shop houses that nonetheless make for enjoyable exploration. A kind of one stop shop for eating/drinking/shopping and last minute snaffling of souvenirs. In addition to Q’s Coffee mentioned above, we like Cafe Dan for coffee and basic Japanese food in atmospheric digs at the top of a long rickety set of stairs.
DRINK?: Don’t mind if we do…
Mint: Glam and lofty It bar Mint is has an amazing view over Shanghai and is popular with the usual suspects. Dress hot for the bouncers and, assuming you get in, keep your eyes peeled for faux bi-curious models dancing on the bar, but steer clear of disillusioned ex-pat architects washed up from Dubai.
A crappy day can't hide the overall weirdness of Shanghai's skyline, best enjoyed over drinks & up high... (Image by HWL)
Cloud Nine: We’re not fans of the chain hotel, but Cloud Nine bar on the 87th floor at the Hyatt offers a brilliant view of the Bund skyline. Mix it with a (pretty reasonably priced) cocktail and drink it in, but don’t come for the crowd. Note that Andreas Gursky aficionados may recognise the atrium.
And now for something a little bit different: Also check out the chilled Japanese sochu bar Mokkos; Southern Cross for a quiet cocktail – BYO crowd; or the French wine bar Le Cafe des Stagiaires for a cosy verre de rouge.
See here for Hotels We Love in Shanghai.
If you don't keep moving in Shanghai, you run the risk of being covered in concrete and turned into a high-rise (Image by HWL)