Can we just take a minute and go over the jerk chicken, tacos and cocktails we missed during the quarantine? Let's get caught up.
What It Is: Meant to be "The Broken Dagger," but considering how much they changed since opening back in December, it might fully just be TBD. It's technically a speakeasy. There's even a little eye-slat built into the huge Orangeblowfish mural that serves as its front door. It's dark, compact (once a much-beloved Alldays, RIP) and ostentatious with the trimmings, like the custom stained-glass window behind the bar packed with hidden motifs, the Da Vinci Code-looking oil painting or the statuary with neon-piped yakuza tats.
This is Geo Valdivieso's (Unico, The Captain, Up) first solo run at bar-ownership in Shanghai. He's settled on something that looks a whiskey bar for the Illuminati but acts like a club lounge. The times I've gone, it's been home to minglers, networkers, F&B industry and influencer types getting boisterous. As with every Geo bar, he tends to be the engine powering the room.
The menu was originally based on regional "daggers" (Mesoamerican sacrificial knife equals tequila, Thai kris equals pandan flavor, that sort of thing), but they've dropped that framework for... just kind of whatever. The cocktails are a means to an end. There's lip service paid to something about "old gods becoming new," read as reimagined classics or whatever, but categorizing drinks by theme is for self-obsessed lame-o speakeasies. At TBD's totally un-lame speakeasy they just have a decent story.
First Impression: Proudly overwrought and a little manic, TBD's overactive imagination comes up with more hits than misses. There's a barchemological gimmick for nearly every cocktail: the Smoke And Daggers plops a smoke-filled bubble on a martini stem and lets you pop it yourself. The 520 Sometimes has dry ice bubbling up from its bamboo container (cannot stress how important it is that you drink this from the filtered straw). Some drinks come with a branded card that you draw for a chance to win shots for the room. Elsewhere, it'd be exhausting. Here, it's a hoot! A bubble full of smoke you say? What fun.
Geo's got a busy schedule as the global Camus rep and his role at other bars around town, so hopefully he finds another personality that can feed the atmosphere's coal-fires while he's not there. Shanghai's speakeasy craze well and truly needs to die, but if we had to make an exception, I'd be okay with this one.
What It Is: Lilian is a native of Belize (whose country code is 501) who has been in Asia for a long time. She began with spice buns, a Caribbean easter classic, that she delivered to a WeChat group, and — familiar WeChat-to-success story — quickly grew by word of mouth to do catering. Fast-forward to late last year, when she took over the space that housed Favorita on Mengzi Lu (some of the old branding is still in place) and turned it into the city's first (question mark, maybe?) Caribbean restaurant and bar. They were creeping towards a full open in January, just as the virus struck.
There are a couple of locally inspired plates, like jerk chicken in crispy wontons and a BBQ meatball that Area 501's ayi invented, but the heart of the menu is a good selection of dishes from around the Caribbean: Jerk Chicken (78rmb), Stewed Oxtail (88rmb), Fish Stew (78rmb), rice & peas (30rmb, order separately) and Pan-Fried Sweet Plantain (38rmb). Helping that go down is a lethal array of drinks made with fruit juices, coconut liqueurs and plenty of rum and gin from Crimson Pangolin, like the Panty Ripper (the unofficial drink of Belize) and Mabel's GinGin, which started as a botched order at like 2am and is now a staple of the drinks menu.
First Impression: The consensus among the few people I know from the Caribbean is that the food at 501 is pretty good, and close enough to home. I am wholly unfamiliar with Caribbean food, but if this is what it's like, I dig it. The fish curry is creamy and fragrant, the long-grain basmati coconut rice soaks it up and the jerk chicken makes me go all Ainsley Harriott. And there's an impressive array of rums.
They're hosting regular dancehall nights, and even during the shut-down their weekend Soca and Brunch has been pulling in a mix of Shanghai's previously nomadic Caribbean community. How does one keep an upbeat attitude during a pandemic? The answer is jello shots.
What It Is: Back in December a handful of Latin American venues banded together to set up a mini Latin district. In effect, it's a fifty meter stretch of converted shipping containers in the back-alley of a shopping complex. The staff of the mall restaurants literally cart the trash right past the tables. I know this sounds rough, but that somehow makes me like it more.
Currently in place is a mini-Boteco, the second after the one in Found 158, still serving the best caipirinhas in town with pao de quiejo, coxinhas and picanha steaks. Read our radar of it from way back when; it's basically still that.
The other place open now is a venue just called Tacos. They make furniture. Jokes! April Fools! I totally got you! It's fish tacos, tacos al pastor, soft shell tacos presented on big platters, hard shell tacos on those little wavy metal stands. All kinds of tacos. At 88/98rmb for a platter of three/four, they're not cheap, but they're substantial. The drink highlight is a Paloma they make with mezcal, aggressively rimmed with salt and chili, and it's gooood. 60rmb on that sucker.
There's also a sign up for a DODU, though that wasn't open when we visited.
First Impression: It's got an appealing grime and roughness to it. The less-than-ideal location just adds to the glamor. Hardcore nostalgic second-tier bar street glitz. They've done a bang-up job with the place, actually, adding seating on the top of the containers. The cheap (for now, not 2010) palomas/caipirinhas and South American street food would be a go-to if only I lived nearby. As it stands, it's a welcome addition to an area that lacks a space for some dedicated, hardcore drinking. Doing the Lord's work out there in Pudong.
Everything Else That's Going On
Tacolicious 2 has opened. The sequel to the tiny Yueyang Lu taqueria is much bigger. 'Uge. Can sit like 120 people. The order of the day is still Mexican water, Irish water, and soft tacos wrapped around far superior, much more ergonomically efficient hard tacos.
J.BOROSKI, a big-name Hong Kong cocktail bar, was just barely getting its soft open on when the gates came crashing down. It has remained shut for as long as the quarantine's been on, and it evidently needs to wait until mid-April as some key staff complete their quarantine.
Shanghai Brew House (not to be mistaken for Shanghai Brewery, which they split from) has re-entered downtown with a Nanjing Xi Lu storefront in Wheelock Plaza just across from the Guinness Taphouse. They're still waiting on licenses and such to come through, but they're set to soft open next week or so. In this corner, Guinness, and in this corner, Shanghai Brew House...
KOR, the self-described super-lounge from Taiwan had done a sneak-peak, a trial-open, a soft-open and probably some other esoteric "not quite yet open" but has since been asked to close. We called and asked when they're coming back. They said May. Yikes.
Daniel An is opening a bar! Now! The man's a lunatic and must be stopped. We actually ran into it by accident on the top floor of Theatre X when we were checking it out. It's called RTD, for Ready To Drink, is actually more of a delivery option (super hot these days), where modular drinks can be selected, batched, and sent directly to you.
Jack Ma opened HHB Music House in the old Diva space. It's a Hard Rock Cafe viewed through the lens of a middle-aged Chinese billionaire who spun the fragile web upon which the country's economy rests. There's a door that only opens if you smile at it. There's no live music yet.
Speaking of live music, JZ Club, Shake, The Pearl and the bar at Jazz At Lincoln Center have all reopened with amended hours, but no one is doing performances yet. Soon. Soon.
I think that's it. We good? All caught up? Super.