We’ve visited a lot of shops in Shanghai, and this is the first time that we’ve done so and been told that we are due to birth two sets of triplets and three sets of twins by a donkey in a dress – but then again, Woof Woof isn’t like many shops in Shanghai. Or, probably, any other in China.
Woof Woof achieves the feat of being simultaneously cosy and creepy: giant, grinning masks, the mounted head of a bear wearing a glittering crown, ventriloquist dummies, a baby Theseus with feathered wings strapped to pink plastic arms, a taxidermy goose in a bridal veil and pearls, and a crate full of dismembered doll parts are just some of the sights that make a cup of tea here seem like a hallucinogenic-induced nightmare.
The new antique store-cum-cafe on Taian Lu, just opposite Daga Brewpub, is the product of a life spent collecting the rare, the old, and the downright bizarre. The owners of this carnivalesque quarter are local couple Sam Sun and Lynn Yann, who are also the proprietors of several other cafes around the city, including Le Petit Jardin and La Petite Fleur.
This latest addition to their string of quirky, antiquefilled properties has a distinct, interactive angle thanks to an incredible collection of vintage arcade games and entertainment, ranging from the aforementioned fortune-telling donkey in a dress to a mutoscope (a wind-up motion picture device) spinning a Charlie Chaplin movie. Many of them are odd and eerie, and one – a contraption which purports to give a ‘full reading of a woman’s personality’ depending on the hair colour of the man who requested it – is surreally sexist.
While most of the machines are more than a hundred years old, the really good bit is that all of them work – just pay 20RMB for the correct coin (usually a nickel or a dollar) and experience all the joys of a 1920s fairground. ‘There are some risks – some kids put some Chinese coins in one and it malfunctioned,’ reveals Sun. ‘But it’s important that people get to enjoy them. It’s the sharing of it. Some of these are museum quality but if they’re privately owned, other people don’t get to see them.’
That being said, everything in the shop is also for sale (bar one piece; more on that below), although rarity doesn’t come cheap – the mutoscope will set you back 52,000RMB, for instance, and a Crook’s Salon shootout game, 175,000RMB. Many of the others don’t even have price tags, but if you’re interested you can make a proposal to Sun who will search for something similar for you if he’s not willing to part with it.
There are, however, lots of smaller bits and pieces – an authentic US naval captain’s hat for 2,800RMB, a vintage toy firetruck for the same price, or an antique Chambord perfume bottle for 1,600RMB. Hardly prices that invite a casual purpose, but certainly easier on the wallet than a 77,000RMB vintage bicycle that's also on sale here.
Even if you’re not in the market for an old Charlie Chaplin film reel or a silk dress modelled by a cow, you can eat and drink in Woof Woof too, with coffees starting at 25RMB for a small Americano, and a modest number of dinner items such as a seafood salad for 68RMB and an Angus beef pasta for the same price. Seating is cordoned off from the collectibles by wrought iron gates; round cafe-style tables draped in wax-stained cloths are surrounded by old crocheted chairs.