In the not terribly distant future, we'll be talking about the Shanghai club scene the way we discuss the nightlife in Sydney, London, San Francisco, or any other international metropolis of note. It's a matter of when, not if.
But for now, Shanghai has but a handful of gay hangouts, a small representation for a city its size. That said, the city's bar and club offerings have improved immensely since just 2006.
Replacing the once slightly seedy, ubiquitously dark and smoky spaces are a new breed of stylish, creatively designed bars and lounges catering to Shanghai's ever-growing and the increasingly cosmopolitan gay crowd. What's the surest sign that Shanghai's gay scene is on the verge of exploding: You'll now see plenty of cool heteros as well as gays and lesbians at the top alternative hangouts.
Here's a primer on the bar and club scene in gay Shanghai. Beijing, another city with a gay scene to watch, is about two to three years behind Shanghai.
The French Concession Area
Many of Shanghai's gay bars are in the charming French Concession, west of the historic Old City and Bund areas, and south of the dynamic Jingan neighborhood. Most are along blocks either on or near the neighborhood's main east-west drag, Huaihai Zhong Lu. Unfortunately, the PinkHome complex, which included a hotel, is no longer open, nor is the long-running gay disco, Club Deep.
Cool bars like Shanghai Studio, Eddy's Bar, D2 and G8 have also closed or been reincarnated with other names and identities.
Happiness 42 (formerly Shanghai Studio) is still considered THE gay place to be on a Friday night. It's a small gay bar that used to attract Shanghai's creative crowd, but these days there's a good mix of locals, expats, and visitors.
The friendly staff will look after you as you enjoy great drinks, light food at the café-restaurant, DJ music, dancing, and go-go and cabaret shows. Located next door to H42 gay sauna, at 42 Xingfu Road, Changning District, Happiness 42 is a little difficult to find at first; just walk down the large alley to the left of the ICBC and you're there.
Lollipop Bar & Lounge
Also in the French Concession area, the cool, sexy former Transit Lounge (141 Tai An Rd., near Hua Shan Rd.) has soft lighting, designer furnishings, and trance-inducing music. The intimate yet spacious spot is the place to have a get-to-know-you conversation or hold a private birthday party. Lollipop has first-rate drinks, capped off by the signature Lollipop cocktail. A topless model bartender night keeps the flirt factor on high every Thursday.
Lucca 390, a gay café bar and lounge, attracts an upscale local and international crowd that shows up after 11 p.m. (don't go earlier). Formerly 390 Shanghai, the bar serves a good selection of drinks, and light meals. Located at 390 Panyu Road (near Fahuazhen Road), Changning District, Lucca is great for quiet get-togethers during the week. On the weekend, the place becomes a busy nightclub with live DJ’s and partygoers filling the dance floor.
Events include theme nights, live bands, comedy shows, art exhibitions, and more.
Telephone 6 is located upstairs from Lucca 390 on the sixth floor of Shanghai Panyu Rd. 390, Changning District. Exemplified by its classic British red phone booth logo, the place is a relaxed gay venue with two bars, cool British military graffiti on the wall, British flag decor, DJ music, a generous selection of cocktails, dancing, and private rooms. Note that it's only open on Friday and Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m.
Gay-Friendly Straight Bars in Shanghai
As Shanghai continues to develop into one of the world's great see-and-be-seen cities, many of its straight clubs and lounges are developing gay followings. These include the big-name spots along the Bund, such as M on the Bund and its giddy, touristy Glamour Bar (for a more dignified experience, skip Glamour Bar and sip cocktails in the low-keyed bar in the restaurant); 1221, a swish restaurant and bar that draws a well-dressed international bunch; and Craft Shanghai, a cozy mixed bar with an outstanding vodka menu and stellar DJed music.