Most of mainland China deserves a hard pass from the single dude, especially when the classy, beautiful and mildly hedonistic destinations of Hong Kong and Thailand are so close. However, Shanghai has long been the city where expatriates have found a footing in the mainland. Shanghai has over a century of foreign influence (with a break between 1949 and the re-opening of China in the late half of the century), resulting in a much more socially liberal, laid back and international city than most others on the mainland. Heck, even the street signs are in English.
One of the best parts about this city is there is a nightlife niche for everyone to enjoy. From the exchange student, to the smelly backpacker, to the Gordon Gekko-esque day-trader at the Shanghai Stock Exchange, there is a spot for all. Enough about that though and on to the nitty-gritty.
We will begin with the ‘high-end’ establishments. If you are in town with your buddies for only a few days and looking to live it up, these establishments are a must see. Due to high rents, changing zoning ordinances and the all-around craziness of mainland China, the Shanghai nightlife scene is the victim of more turnover than an NBA team led by an early 2000s Allen Iverson. The places below, however, will be around in the long run as they enjoy a comfortable perch on the upper echelon of Shanghai’s nightlife.
1) Bar Rouge: The home of the beautiful people of Shanghai (cue Marilyn Manson song). With a glorious view of The Bund promenade- think 5th avenue, Asia-style- this is a fancy high-rise bar with congruently high drink prices to match. All the women here are beautiful and classy. Leave the straw fedora at home boys, put on your blazer, bring your manners, your A-game and prepare to have your mind blown. Every girl here will make the attractive Delta Zeta you dated in college look like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.
2) M1NT: There are sharks in the aquariums (no laser beams attached, sorry), everyone is dressed to the nines, the music isn’t obnoxious. A solid establishment also located near The Bund.
3) The Apartment: Killer location in the picturesque Former French Concession area. It has an awesome ladies’ night and an excellent patio. Drink prices are also high here.
Other solid bets are Zapata’s, packed to the gills each Wednesday due to free Margaritas for the fairer sex. Zapata’s lords over a bar street that also has solid spots like The Camel and Shanghai Brewery, an excellent F&B establishment. A short Uber ride away is Liquid Laundry, which has an incredible all you can drink deal on Tuesdays.
During the day Yongkang Lu (also in the French Concession ‘hood) is a stellar bet and is chocked full with day-drinking foreigners and locals alike. It is similar to Beale Street in Memphis or The Square in San Marcos… except for in China.
If you are a creepy sex tourism grandpa and got lost in Shanghai on the way to Thailand, head to Manhattan Bar, located near the Portman Ritz-Carlton. All the girls there are very friendly to foreigners, most likely because they are all prostitutes. But I digress.
For cheap establishments that are more casual, meriting less of a special occasion than the places above, only one name matters…
PERRY’S: There are about a gazillion locations of Perry’s in town. You want to go to the one on Baoqing Lu, next to the Cotton Club. It has the same vibe and look as the fraternity house at State U and is populated by a younger crew. Beer is literally cheaper than water here.
There are plenty of sports bars around town to catch a game and have a low-key evening while enjoying some great food. The best for this is The Shed, located off of Kangding Lu and ran by an affable Aussie. Americans watch out for irritable European men looking to be loud and give you a hard time because they are jealous that Texas and California are each three times the size of their home nations in both size and GDP. Simply change the course of the conversation to the English Premier League and walk away; go talk to the pretty Shanghainese lass across the bar.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: If you go to one of the horrible, indistinguishable soul sucking electronic music venues, of which there are many in town (we call these perfect substitutes in economics), don’t ever under any circumstances have more than two glasses of the free alcohol handed out to foreigners there. The dance clubs hand out free alcohol in an effort to attract a raucous crowd; but like Admiral Ackbar once succinctly said “IT’S A TRAP!” Failure to heed this advice will result in a hangover that feels like a plethora of dwarf Mexican luchador wrestlers are having a tag team wrestling match in your head.
Final tips are to download Uber and use a friendly Chinese bystander to tell the driver where to pick you up at and to avoid the taxis. The metro system is good as well and is practically free; all stops are announced in English. If you fancy yourself as having the non-viral strain of yellow fever, remember that many Chinese women who haven’t been influenced by Western media and ideals are relatively ‘old-school’ (read: wholesome). You will need to bring your manners, charm and preferably some Chinese language abilities if you want to make headway with the local Shanghainese ladies.
Overall, Shanghai is an excellent Single Dude enclave on the mainland. So what are you waiting for? Fire up the computer and get those visa forms printed, filled out and sent to the nearest embassy and get on your way!