Speak Low

Speak Low, Shanghai is number 20 in The World's 50 Best Bars

China bar scene's 'unimaginable future'

27 February, 2019
Christopher Lowder

Christopher Lowder

The booming bar scene in China is growing at a breathtaking pace and former bartender and now Asian businessman Christopher Lowder, talked to Shay Waterworth about the future of the industry.

China is a priority target for global drinks brands, distributors and importers due to the revenue potential of its immense population. But what about its on trade industry? Speak Low in Shanghai is currently the only bar in mainland China in the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars, but is this likely to change in the near future? Christopher Lowder, general manager at Proof & Company, recently moved to Shanghai and he gives Drinks International his insight into China’s bar and spirits industry.  

In what ways is the Chinese bar industry changing?

The Chinese bar industry is changing in all ways at once. With many cities opening one or more cocktail bars per week on average for the last several years, there is truly breakneck growth in China's bar industry. Originally, these bars were designed and operated in heavy reference to international flagships like PDT, Angel's Share, or their Japanese Ginza counterparts. But over the last few years of rapid expansion, China's bar scene has grown in every direction at once, blending elements of artisan coffee culture, nightclubs, lounges and social clubs into all possible permutations. 

All this free-wheeling expansion has also merged with Chinese cell phone technology, which is much more advanced than what we have in the US or Europe. The result has been a new wave of cocktail bars that is no longer immediately recognisable to the West, sort of like a different species that has grown in the deep ocean or the dark side of the moon. Bright and photogenic, these bars are built around moments of mobile-first lifestyle design. Professionally photographed cocktails are beautifully featured on digital menus accessible via your phone's payment app. Groups of excited young Chinese consumers can browse through vivid menus, being prompted to try new drinks based on last week's selections, scrolling until they find just the right drink for them, then clicking and paying immediately with their phones and earning points onto their cocktail bar membership card. 

Vacuum-clear ice, fresh juice, and even a whole menu of garnish can be cheaply ordered by the bar via similar B2B mobile apps, all with hour delivery so bar prep can be handled from your cell phone within the afternoon of service. China has created a whole ecosystem to support this breakneck cocktail bar expansion, ensuring that the growth can continue sustainably moving forward. It's an amazing time.

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