New after hours club open until 9am on Huashan Lu
Dragon Bar is back. Well, kind of. The newly opened Amber Lounge has the same Japanese owner of the much-loved after hours club that expired last summer (‘due to a mix of personal and legal reasons’), and it certainly appears aimed at a similar crowd. But there are new faces on board and the tone, we’re told, is different this time around. ‘Some people have said that it’s going to be like an upscale DADA,’ says one of four of the bar’s partners Ivan Young optimistically. ‘But the most interesting thing is that it’s going to be a collision of different crowds and concepts – that’s why I’m here.’
Formerly the owner of now-closed Half and OZNZ, affable Australian-born Young’s background is dive-y, student bars. He runs rabble-rousing, ass-grab, open-bar nights at Soho and Not Me
. So, on the face of it, not the most obvious candidate to launch what the owners hope will be more of an upper-tier cocktail lounge, relative to Dragon’s somewhat chaotic late night atmosphere. But, he tells us, he’s been drafted in as a sort of playmaker. ‘I prefer “fluffer”, actually,’ he laughs. ‘I have a psychology background; I know how to fluff and tease people.’ But – really? ‘The [silent Dragon] owner pulled me in to create a down-to-earth, party atmosphere in a high-class setting. There’s so much bullshit in Shanghai, people trying to be something they’re not,’ he says. ‘And we want somewhere that cuts through that.’
The other partners, both Chinese, are Joel, former manager of Dragon Bar and The Room, and Alan, current general manager of gay club behemoths D1 and D2
. In that sense, we’re told, we can rely on a mixed, poly-sexual crowd from the get-go.
And they’re taking drinks seriously, too. Two Chinese barkeeps, K and Joe, have been hired from M on the Bund
and El Coctel
respectively, to serve craft cocktails for around 70-80RMB. ‘We want to hold our own against destination bars like El Coctel,’ says Young. ‘But the other main thing that will set us aside as a lounge and an after-hours bar is a heavy emphasis on dance and music.’
Deja vu? The last time we got excited about a new after-hours club was Mazzo which, up until now at least, has failed to make much of an imprint. Their promise of a go-to spot for forward-thinking danceheads hasn’t really come off. So that leaves two others. ‘The Room tried to copy Dragon, but it was only half-successful,’ says Young. ‘The problem is, do a headcount, there are always more prostitutes in there than anyone else.’ We can’t deny that.Shiva
, then, if only by default, still holds the laurels, and is not entirely undeserving of them. DJs like Mia and Acid Pony Club offer a reliably evolved setlist and big, peak-time clubbing until 5ish. Planning to stay open until 9am, Amber Lounge will have the same rotating guest DJs but not quite the same fail-safe, low-risk prospect. Shiva is free, but Amber’s cover is 100RMB (‘to keep the riff-raff out’) which might well mean that it becomes a sort of after-after-hours bolthole that, as with Dragon, doesn’t really start moving until everywhere else is winding up.
Which is no bad thing. But you have to wonder why, in that case, they’re trying so hard. Either way, Amber Lounge still has an appeal that other late-openers don’t. Even if you cut through the high talk, the layout looks promising. A low-lit, high bar and, further back, seating areas where Young hopes to import a dive-bar ethos of drink and dice gaming (‘we want to keep the crowds integrating,’ he reckons – we’ve got reservations). Plus, crucially, a large enough space to dance won’t force the same kind of sweaty, interpersonal compromises that Shiva does.
It’s well hidden, too, and has a certain back-street seediness which begins at a gate on Huashan Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu. Twenty metres back from the road, the entrance is a hole in the wall between a cheap hotel and some budget massage parlours with their pink fairy lighting and gauzy signboards. It’s how after-hours clubs should be, insists Young. ‘But hopefully we’ll be offering a different kind of happy ending.’Amber Lounge
is open by invitation only until May.Alexander Barlow