Shanghai doesn’t want for retro-themed bars, but in Heyday, a slick new addition to the Taian/Xingguo crossroads, the city has a new ‘old-timey’ lounge worthy of attention. The bar is being pitched as a ‘vintage live jazz bar’, but this isn’t a live music venue with drinks as an afterthought, rather it’s a fully-fledged cocktail lounge with a live soundtrack.
Established by the same people behind Wuyuan Lu’s Zen Massage, Heyday is a small, intimate space with a handful of tables dotted between where the band takes to the floor (there’s no raised stage) and a bank of curved sofas running along the outer wall. An eye-catching brass fan arches up from behind where the band plays to spread across the ceiling. It’s a comfortable spot to enjoy some jazz and a drink.
Former El Ocho mixer Aaron J Feder is in charge of the latter. He’s ditched his bright blue mohawk, donned a tux and bowtie and brought two of the Zhong Plaza cocktail den’s best bartenders with him to head up a restrained, focused menu of quality cocktails. A range of barrel-aged mixes sit in small oak casks behind the bar area at one end of the venue, where they remain for a period of ‘no less than six weeks’. These include a wonderfully rounded Negroni (68RMB), that retains its trademark smokiness but has a smoother feel than a freshly mixed version, with a touch of citrus in the aftertaste courtesy of orange bitters. Similarly, the barrel-aged Vieux Carre (98RMB) – a 1930s recipe from New Orleans and named after an area of the city – is remarkably easy to drink given its usually punchy blend of rye whiskey, cognac, Bénédictine and vermouth.
Aside from coming presented by waitstaff in qipaos or tuxes, there’s little fanfare to the drinks, with what’s in the glass being allowed to take centre stage – and deservedly so.
The short list of shaken cocktails continues this trend with The Corpse of Old Tom (98RMB) proving yet another tasty concoction, fusing malted gin with orange liquor, aperitif wine, lime and herbs. If your palate prefers something a little sweeter, try the Heaven Built on Hell (78RMB), which features a light, fruity foam flavoured with raspberry and orange backed by a tart kick from its vodka base.
The only slight drinks menu misstep comes in the form of the One Night in Shanghai (78RMB), which features a shot of rum floating atop a mixture of lime, black tea-infused honey, grapefruit and baijiu. A valiant attempt to soften the belligerent Chinese spirit, the floating shot makes it a clunky drink to sip and the fruit and honey fail to take the edge off the base.
In the (tiny) kitchen, a graduate of Bund-side institution Jean Georges is playing with a modest clutch of bar snacks such as chicken wings slathered in a tangy sweet chili sauce (68RMB) and a small but satisfying chicken pie wrapped in buttery short-crust pastry (78RMB).
Midweek the music tends toward the quieter side (think a vocalist and an acoustic guitar), while at weekends you’ll probably find a full band set up and possibly the likes of local jazz stalwarts such as Coco Zhao and Jade Lee on the mic. But regardless of the music set up, you’ll find Heyday serves up some roundly excellent food and drinks. A visit is highly recommended.
By Jake Newby