The cocktails of Cross Yu, who for the last few years has been mixing at Muse on The Bund, have always been worth shouting about. Perhaps that’s why on our visit to his new cocktail bar EPIC on Gaoyou Lu, just opposite the original branch of Lost Heaven, we can forgive one rowdy gaggle of drinkers for making so much of a racket that we were initially tempted to ask the staff if they’d kindly tip them out of the window of the second floor bar.
Other than the presence of our noisy neighbours (who we escaped from when a waiter eventually offers us a spot on the plush, intimate roof terrace that normally requires a reservation), the bar room was warm and welcoming. Subtly-lit lamps give the exposed brickwork a pleasant glow and the angled walls lend a cubbyhole affair to most of the space (although sadly they’re not so good at absorbing noise).
The cocktails are twists on classics – currently a common theme in Shanghai – but they are well-considered twists rather than derived of novelty factor. The Penicillin (78RMB) features home-made honey syrup and tones down the trademark medicinal whack of the original, which was spawned in 1992 in the New York speakeasy Milk & Honey. The results are spectacular.
The Scotch-based Move West (78RMB) is another highlight. Invented by Yu in 2012 and named after actress Mae West, it is justifiably one of his most popular creations. There’s a pleasant lingering aftertaste of coffee and fruit to complement the whisky base.
Away from the drinks, the tapas and burger menu provides sustenance when the cocktails induce a longer stay than planned.
As crucial as the composition, the drinks arrive in top condition even when Yu is not behind the bar. With so many Shanghai cocktail bars falling short when the head barman takes a night off, it’s refreshing to see such thorough training. This may be due to the relatively small size of the specials menu (just 10 cocktails featured during our visit), although staff are happy to rustle up any classics too. ‘I don’t want them to make a hundred drinks a day for now,’ Yu tells us when we call after our visit. ‘I want them to start making quality drinks.’
EPIC is a straightforward concept, but no quirks or gimmicks are required when the cocktails and setting are as strong as this. With this opening, Shanghai just strengthened its case to be truly considered one of the most exciting cocktail cities in the world right now.