First published on 18 Oct 2011. Updated on 15 Apr 2014.
Classy cocktail bar with surrealist design and a great rooftop terrace
Kartel, the latest venture from the people behind Dr Wine, has already got people talking, or rather, typing. Its grand opening on September 7, caused a mini scandal on Weibo when it promised free drinks but ended up turning people away due to the crowds. Kartel subsequently emerged with a dubious distinction: the ‘new Bar Rouge’ – the similarities being a very French crowd, the touch of Bund-side-like glamour and, of course, perceived snobbery.
The space itself is huge, stretching over three floors of the failed XYOne complex where Xiangyang Lu meets Julu Lu: there’s a terrace, a fifth floor bar and the VIP fourth floor.
Designed by Dariel and Arfeuillere, the big-budget designers behind David Laris’ Funky Chicken and 12 Chairs (who we interviewed for our interior design feature), the decor is more gothic than their usual classic style but diners at 12 Chairs will recognise the signature candlesticks (think over-sized chess pieces) and other Dali-esque design touches. The surrealist edge runs throughout: taps stuck to concrete pillars, velvet sofas made from dissected bath tubs, and blue-red strobe lighting.
But the real creativity is in the drinks. The unique wine cocktails are created by Sebastien Bonnefoi and Geoffrey Gayton from the Urban bartender school, who use quality Ponthier fruit purées to create Asian-inspired drinks. For example, the firey but oddly moreish Sichuan Kiss (70RMB), with Sichuan pepper, white wine and grape juice; or the Sweet Lady (65RMB), with a mix of lychee with rosé and Dita liqueur that’s as saccharine as the name suggests. Standard cocktails are available too from 60-120RMB.
Kartel is trying hard but the Bar Rouge connotations are unlikely to be shaken off any time soon, and for that reason, it looks destined to be a bar that will divide opinion.