With three new gay bars in the Huaihai-Huashan-Taian Lu triangle, Anna Leach checks out Shanghai’s up-and-coming new gay quarter
Three new gay bars recently opened in and around the Huaihai Xi Lu-Huashan Lu-Taian Lu triangle, adding to the half dozen or so bars already in the area. One is a new location for an old favourite, another is a cosy bar to escape the sweaty crowds of the gay club scene, and the third is potentially the most ambitious gay bar opening in Shanghai history.
With a large premises and an emphasis on food and live music, Panyu Lu’s 390 Bar
is set to up the ante for gay bars in the city. The new project from Shanghai Studio
resident and Uptown Records owner DJ Sacco, the impressive space features a lounge bar that leads to a decent-sized dancefloor with an elevated DJ booth and more seats on a mezzanine level. There’s also a kitchen, serving up bar snacks and tapas developed by experienced Shanghai restaurant consultants Anthony Zhao and Ignatius Lau. Drinks-wise, Jacob Prain of Arcade and Christopher Peart of Alchemist have been asked to oversee the menu.
On the entertainment side, Sacco promises big name DJs such as London’s Horse Meat Disco and San Francisco’s Honey Soundsystem. In addition, for the first time at a gay bar in Shanghai, 390 Bar will feature regular live bands.
‘This will be the more interesting part – as far as I know there hasn’t been an LGBT bar in Shanghai that has tried to introduce live music,’ says Sacco. ‘Our primary identity is definitely as an LGBT bar and dance club. But earlier on Friday and Saturday nights and also during the week we’re going to have one or two bands.’
Sacco says the bands ‘won’t be death metal’ and ‘will have to fit with the crowd.’ But he sees a big potential for touring bands from China and overseas to play to a gay-friendly audience. ‘Everyone who plays will have to be aware that we are a gay bar,’ he says. ‘But I think there’s going to be many bands and performers who are coming through Shanghai, or who want to come to Shanghai, who will appreciate that.’
The fact that local band Top Floor Circus made an assertive LGBT rights stand at Strawberry Festival at the end of April, bringing a giant rainbow flag on to the stage and dedicating their set to ‘all kinds of love: gay, straight, bisexual,’ also suggests that local musicians may be willing to play such a venue. The first band to play were local all-girl trio Next Year’s Love on Friday 17 August, before the ‘semi-hard’ opening on Saturday 18 August.
, another new bar in the heart of the gaybourhood on Huashan Lu, is totally different. It has more of a dive-bar atmosphere than traditional gay venues, with rotating neon lights, a small black and white-tiled dance floor and discreet booths to cosy up in. But the thing that makes it different from other gay bars in town is that Asia Blue has three karaoke rooms, something that pleases the mostly Chinese clientele.
The owner, 45-year-old Andy Wong from Guangdong, has been responsible for a variety of bars in Shanghai over the last 12 years. Asia Blue is actually the name of his first bar, a famous gay bolthole in Shanghai over a decade ago that was originally on Gaolan Lu (the old gaybourhood). ‘In these 12 years, I’ve opened different bars – straight bars, coffee bars – but gay bars are my favourite,’ he says from beneath a gravity-defying quiff.
Asia Blue eschews professional DJs in favour of Wong’s ‘gay-song mix tape’ alternative, with all the classic Abba, Men at Work and BeeGees tracks on rotation. Barman Albert trained at a five-star hotel and turns out a good lychee martini (50RMB), while the house special ‘gay pear’ (50RMB) made with pear vodka and a refreshing mix of apple juice, also goes down very easily.
But Wong is clear about what really makes his bar special. ‘Talking with handsome boys, drinking with handsome boys, this is my bar’s specialty,’ he says, before adding that gay girls are welcome, too.
The third new gay bar in the area is Mini Pink
, which has moved from a small venue in the old gaybourhood on Gaolan Lu, to a space right next door to Shanghai Studio on Huaihai Xi Lu. Although the new bar is on two levels, it has the same intimacy as the old location. The corridors and rooms are lined with glass and mirrors, creating disorientating reflections. As with Asia Blue, the bar won’t have DJs, but patrons will easily be able to slip next door to Studio for that.
As the new gaybourhood takes root, it’s tempting to see it as a flourishing of the gay bar scene in the city. ‘Twelve years ago it was more difficult to have a gay bar in Shanghai,’ says Wong. ‘We got in trouble with the police. Now Chinese gay people have more gay bars, more choice and everything is more open.’
Sacco has also seen the LGBT scene develop in the three years that he has been DJing at Shanghai Studio. ‘I would say the regular crowd has almost doubled, that’s my perception,’ he says. ‘That’s prominently more local Chinese who are coming out, which is awesome.’
Sacco sees the other bars in the area as part of a community rather than competition. In fact, 390’s website (www.390Shanghai.com
) will promote all LGBT events in the city, not just those at the bar. He hopes that the gaybourhood will develop into a Shanghai version of San Francisco’s Castro gay area.
Although it may be some time before the length of Huashan Lu is adorned with rainbow flags, the new LGBT bars in the area mean that it is already a destination – an area where the ever-growing multitude of out- and-proud LGBT people in the city are headed.