Entry for April 5, 1998
What a wonderful today in Shanghai! It's been Sunday all day, which I suppose is not surprising. After all, it was Saturday all day yesterday!!! But today -- balmy breezes and gentle sunshine. I am hesitant to declare winter over after all the false starts we've had, but I am encouraged.
I got up, as is usual after Saturday night, fairly late and had an excellent buffet brunch at the Cypress Hotel on Hongqiao Lu. Have you ever been? You can sit on the terrace, listen to the birds, let the green of the lawn filter through your eyes and enjoy wind with a significantly lower pollution content than is normal in Shanghai. The Cypress Hotel area contains Victor Sassoon's old country villa, but this part of the compound has been put off-limits. Never mind. It's a bit small and poky anyway, except for the main room!!
Looking at the people in the many bars and other nightlife places I visit, I feel there is a growing group of people who circulate around several places on a Friday and Saturday evening particularly. They stop at one place and have a drink, then move on to another. This works especially well in the warmer months, and in two locations -- the Sinan Lu and Hengshan Lu areas. Perhaps all the owners should get together and offer some sort of incentive to have people stop off at several places. Formalise the pub crawl. A free suggestion from nightlife analyst May-May!!
I have received a lovely note from my loyal fan Ming in San Francisco who says:
"Hi, May May! It is nice to have someone who is interested in the nightlife of Shanghai and writes a journal every day. I enjoy reading your journal, or article. I am just curious but it's not that important: what do you do for a living? From looking at your column, it seems to me that you are a full time partying gal???? Which isn't a bad job to me...hehehe ..."
Well, Ming, you are being a bit nosy, but I do appreciate your curiosity, and know you have the very best intentions. For reasons I won't go into in detail, I am able to concentrate on my nightlife investigations pretty much full-time. But I do wish to emphasise that this is not all "partying". It is a serious and demanding undertaking, you know. It is hard work keeping up with the ever-changing world of Shanghai at night. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining, my darling Ming. But I am just slightly unhappy at the suggestion that this is all partying partying partying as an end in itself. There are times when I have thought of spending an evening at home, but I look at my list of new places to be investigated, and I sigh and head out once again into the night! I must not let down my fans!! I know you are counting on me, my loves!!!
I mentioned a place in central Shanghai where you can sit on the grass and watch the peacocks spreading their fans. I think I'll be just a trifle coy about this -- it's not far from the old Marco Polo Club, and opposite the best of the Ruby restaurants. There. That's all the clues you're getting. If you really want to see them and you're stumped, send me an email!!
Entry for April 3, 1998
I have received a message from my devoted fan Sven in Osaka who wants to join in the little discussion we're having on whether bar culture is here to stay in Shanghai. Someone -- and it might have been me -- suggested that Shanghai could and probably would follow the Japan model, where bars are firmly settled into the nighttime landscape, regardless of whatever differences may exist between western and eastern habits and cultures. Sven, it would appear, is not so sure.
He says: "It's a little different here as all real business (between the men in neckties!) transpires in those hostess bars, some of them no bigger than six stools and a bar in a high-rise with 10 bars on each floor. I don't think you need any more of this in Shanghai. But the larger, cheaper places, catering to both locals and foreigners, ahhh that's the life and if Shanghai can get more of these places, go for it!"
Larger, we are getting. But not necessarily cheaper!!
Sven also refers in his charming note to what I think could well be the next topic for discussion in my nightlife report -- after bar culture has run its course -- searching for love in Shanghai:
"It was on my second night in Shanghai, at Judy's Too, that I made
a quality introduction to one of your local females (not a gold-digger or a
green card hunter - amazing!) and I plan to be back in late May (your month) and again in August."
Now, there we are! That is a good piece of proof for the defence. But I am sure the prosecution has some good ammunition lined up to back up the alternative view -- that gold-diggers and green card hunters dominate amongst Shanghai's loveliest. I don't take a position either way. They're not after me, after all, and anyway, they're family!!
I went to the opening of Zoobaa on Fuxing Lu near Maoming Lu -- the Greenhouse with a new look. And a stunning look it is! Kindergarten colors dominate -- strong reds, blues, greens and yellows. Subtlety is not a word that springs to mind. But it could become a popular hang-out for students and similar types. The location is excellent, that's for sure. And they have a lovely upstairs dining room, where food will be served Real Soon Now. We are promised "Park 97 without the attitude", and we'll see what that means as time goes by. This evening (Friday), there was a very interesting band from Hong Kong featuring the gorgeous William Tang and an extraordinary good lead guitarist who I was told is only 18. They are playing again on Saturday, so don't miss them!!!
Do you remember I mentioned a world war two theme bar in the Jingan Hotel? Well I bumped into it today and it is on the side of the hotel, not in the main old building. It is also called the Peace Bar, which is a more pleasant concept than that of war. It was closed when I passed by, so i am still not able to give you a report from the battle front on that one.
And a battle front it is, in the bar world of Shanghai. I went to Babylon, which I mentioned a couple of days ago has re-opened. Very slow business. Several other places around town are also said to be doing only horse-tigerish at best (that means so-so, by the way!). The conclusion has to be that while the three principles -- location, location and location -- hold good for real estate, the bar and restaurant business is much more complicated. You can be in a great location and die horribly. You can also be in an awful location (eg DD's) and do well. The restaurant / bar on the corner of Fuxing Lu and Fenyang Lu is a perfect example -- it has closed again for renovations after two failed attempts. The one group of people who ARE making money out of this process are the companies that do bar decoration!!!
Next time, I will give you a clue as to where to find peacocks in central Shanghai. But you must first promise not to tell a soul!!
Entry for April 2, 1998
A revelation, boys and girls!!! There I was in a taxi, racing along Yanan Lu this evening when, near the Shaanxi Lu intersection, I saw a sign for a new restaurant, with an English name: "World's Worst Restaurant". I love it!! How simply fantabulous!!! I can't wait to try it, but I already know it will be excuisitely interesting. It takes real panache to choose a name like that.
I was also looking this evening for Eddy's new bar, which I mentioned a couple of nights ago -- of particular interest to that special four percent of the population. I have to report that I failed to find it. I will have to go to the original Eddy's bar and get detailed directions. More on this later. You can be sure that I will spare no effort to keep you up to date, my dear fans.
I hear Titanic movie tickets are going to 50 yuan at most cinemas and 80 yuan at the Shanghai Movie City next to the Holiday Inn!! Yet another indication that Shanghai's economy is in excellent shape. Particularly surprising when you consider that everyone in the city has already seen the movie twice on pirate VCD anyway!!!
There's a lovely new Hunan restaurant on Maoming Lu, very close to the Lyceum Theatre on the other side of the road, called the Dishuidong -- dropping water cave. Highly recommended. It's on the second floor, 56 Maoming Lu, and the decoration is very cunningly contrived to make you feel like you're in a village restaurant. Chairman Mao songs on the TV, and a special beancurd dish in honour of the chairman -- Mao family beancurd. Mao had a great liking for beancurd, it is well known.
I understand the Babylon Beerhouse has re-opened, this time under new management by the Jinjiang Group, which runs many of the best hotels around town, including the Jinjiang, the Peace and the International Hotel, renovated last year by my cuddly friend George. I hear business at Babylon is now better than it was. This is not difficult. In its last incarnation, it had fallen literally to zero. Live music has also returned. I will report back as soon as possible on how things look.
I have received a sweet message from one of my fans, Erica, who says: "Hello May May! I've been reading your diary everyday since March, I think they are wonderful! I'm sure you receive many mails everyday from people all over the world (this internet thing is scary, huh?), and you probably don't have time to reply to each, with your busy schdules. So I just want to tell you that you've been doing a great job, and I really envy you (for living in Shanghai and having so much fun). I was born and raised in Shanghai myself, but moved here to the States when I turned 13. I come back and visit Shanghai every year for the past 7 years, but still, it's different from actually living there. When I was in Shanghai last winter, I enjoyed this small pub called "Jurassic Pub" down on Mao Min Nan Lu. I like the decor inside, very cute. I don't know if it's still open as I realize everything in Shanghai change so fast. Anyways, take care and keep up the good work!"
Well, Erica, thank you so much for your kind words. I do what I can, and I'm glad it's appreciated. It is really a mission you know. And sometimes recently, I have felt like it is a mission from a certain specific entity -- possibly the Great Jellyfish, Da Haizhe Niangniang. Is this sensible? This Jellyfish thing comes from someone I had dinner with recently, but I have heard a couple of other people talking about it as well. Very strange. I'll keep you informed of developments. But if you hear of anything about Da Haizhe Niangniang yourself, please do let me know immediately!!!
Back to Erica's message: Jurassic Pub seems to have a growing and enviable reputation, doesn't it, my loves?? I must go there again soon. I am always reminded of my first visit when I asked for a coffee and they shook their heads, saying they were out of coffee. I presume that little problem has been solved, Eric??
Entry for April 1, 1998
Boys and girls, I am getting a growing number of fanmail messages, which I really appreciate, I can tell you. The human touch is so important. Interaction. Give and take. That's why I love this electronic Internet thing so much!! I try to reply to as many of my fans as I can personally, but please forgive me if you don't see a response from me in your email inbox. It doesn't mean I'm ignoring you, my love. I am just whirling like a dervish keeping up with the mad pace of our wonderful, wonderful city!!
Anyway, I thought I'd give you excerpts from a couple of recent messages to give you a taste of how squishily lovable my readers are. And that inclues YOU!! I have asked the lovely people at Shanghai-ed to include an email link on this page to make it easier for you to contact me, my darlings. It should be just above this box.
Darling Craig sent me a long love letter last week ("Love you column!", he said) telling me in great detail about a rather unfortunate experience he had at New York New York which, as my loyalest fans will know, is my favorite Shanghai disco. He raises the issue of the rather tedious process by which you have to take your entrance tickets to a cashier counter and get them stamped, then take them over to the bar before you can get a drink. I never involve myself in this, of course. I am already over watching the crowd, casting my experienced eye over the fashions and the dancing (Shanghai still needs to make some progress on both), while my partner battles through the bureaucratic process of obtaining two drinks.
Craig then mentions Jurassic Pub, which reminds me that I have been remiss in not mentioning that Eric, formerly off Sally's, is now in charge there. If you ever see Hebrew graffiti in Shanghai, I think it would be reasonable to assume that Eric is the culprit!! Here's Craig's comment on Jurassic Pub: "WOW what a cool place that is!!!!!!!!!!! Clever, ideas and Happening atmosphere!!!"
Another of my fans, Didi, sent me a scrumtuous note on the question I raised a week or so ago, about whether bar culture was going to really take root in Shanghai. Here's what she says:
"I think it depends on what type of bar you are talking about and
what alternatives people have. I am not sure about the neighborhood
bar type. It, however, would be quite difficult to meet new people
in a restaurant setting, to use a more vulgar term, pick someone up.
Sports bars may also get popular because people do like to watch
sports events with other people and wives or husbands for that
matter may not provide the best companion in this situation.
"I was in Shanghai for a few days several months ago and I really
did not like any of the bars that I went to. O'Malley's fits better
in a little British (sorry Irish) town than a Metropolis like
Shanghai, especially because of the music there that night.
Paulaner (I am not sure about the spelling) is for Bavarian
hillbillies, but obviously the chuppies think cool people hang
out in places like this elsewhere in the world. What I really
do not like is the attitudes of some of the waitresses or
doorgirls (female bouncers). It seems that they are doing customers
favors by letting them in. Well, I don't need that, I can have
that in New York and if you know a few people who promote
clubs in New York or you are pretty cool yourself, you don't
even have to take that kind of shit in New York.
Well, Didi, really!! Watch your language, please!!! But I fully understand the point you're making with such colorful forcefulness. And I hope the many bar and restaurant owners in Shanghai who I know read my report, will make sure their female bouncers treat Didi with more respect next time she's in town!!!
Entry for March 31, 1998
By the time you read this, boys and girls, it will be April 1, the start of a whole new month! In my family, we have a little tradition that before midday on the first day of every month, you must silently say the words "White rabbits", and you will have good luck throughout the month. If you don't ... well, it's not quite clear if there is a penalty involved for not thinking it. But this month I did, so my bets are covered!!!
I see the folks at Shanghai-ed have re-designed the front page. My picture in the top left hand corner is smaller than it used to be (sulk), but it's still the top of the list (smile). I understand my page remains the most popular in the whole website, and for that I have you to thank, my darlings!!!
I hear Eddy is expanding his empire, which I have always thought was long overdue. Eddy, you will remember, runs The Tree Bar on Yueyang Lu, dedicated to all those people who do not necessarily agree with the proposition "Vive La Difference!" I understand he has opened a new bar on the corner of Ruijin Lu and Jianguo Lu, which is even bigger than the Tree Bar. I shall be investigating shortly. But first, congratulations, Eddy!!
One of my favorite people in Shanghai is Maureen Leung (people sometimes mistake me for her, and her for me, which is a big compliment for one of us, and I'm too modest to say who!!). I saw her the other night, and she told me she is taking over the Hankow 50 restaurant, which is excellent news!! I occasionally stop by there when I am around the Bund, which I admit is not very often. But with Maureen there, we have a serious reason for visiting!!
I see there is a new place on Changshu Lu called Mars. I saw its neon light blinking at me as I sped past on a taxi last night. Has anyone been there? Reports please!!!
April 1 is the day the taxi fares are supposed to be revised, with a 10 yuan flagfall. But the taxi drivers I've spoken to say there is no sign of the change taking place yet. I still can't work out if that's good news or bad news!!!
Entry for March 30, 1998
Where to begin, Boys and girls? I shall follow my dear father's advice: begin at the beginning, continue until you've finished, then stop. Except with the Nightlife Report, there's no real beginning, middle or end!!!
We shall begin with Tribal Men, which in a fit of amnesia I mentioned last week, saying I hadn't the faintest idea why I was mentioning it. It is in fact a bar on Siping Lu on the way to Fudan University, and they have guitar festivals there every Saturday night, I am reliably informed. I haven't been yet - Siping Lu is something close to the other side of the moon to this child of the French Concession, but if you have been, please do drop me a line and let me know what's going on.
Let me take a quick detour and discuss food. A topic we cannot avoid, I suppose. I personally don't take it too seriously. Eating is something we have to do, but I don't get gaga over new restaurants, chefs and divine dishes. That apart: there's a new meat-eating restaurant called Mr Stone's in the 99 Entertainment complex on Anyuan Lu, which is huge!! Steaks from here to eternity!!! There is live music every night provided by a gorgeous young violinist named Zhou Yi, who says she gets mistaken for Vanessa Mae's sister all the time. But what really made me sit up and take notice -- and I'm talking here in my role as a nightlife establishment consultant -- is the prices and the clientele mix. There's nothing on the menu for less than 185 yuan, all the customers are local Shanghainese, and it's packed every night!!! That surely says something about local tastes and spending power, doesn't it??!! The future is there at Mr Stone's.
Right across the road is a lovely little hotpot restaurant where for considerably less than 185 yuan, you can feed an army. Have you noticed how hotpot is no longer a winter-only thing? There is something of a craze in progress, which of corse means the opening of far too many hotpot places, a mad moment of intense competition followed by a shakeout and mass closures. Sigh. But the food in many of these places is excellent, and I highly recommend the one opposite 99.
Also yet to be sampled is a new western restaurant in the Jinjiang Tower, ground floor. There is a band there every night, supposedly playing jazz. But I was talking tonight to one of the musicians who said it is Chinese pop, with a revolving gallery of lady singers, none of them particularly good. Oh dear. Not too promising, but you never know, there could be a rough diamond there, waiting to be discovered. This could be the start of May-May's Talent Agency!!!