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


Which cities are leading these changes?

Everywhere is changing at once. Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Chengdu are each the champions of their own respective quadrant of the country, all with a different focus. Shanghai is China's glitzy lifestyle capital with a heavy focus on high-quality, photogenic, beautifully prepared F&B with no expense spared. Taco Bell has a cocktail bar here (Shanghai). Even Red Lobster had to turn fancy before opening a Shanghai outlet. Beijing is king of lounges and community-driven bars. The city has terrible traffic and gets extremely cold in the winter, and so Beijingers have a tendency to find a bar they like and camp there early and often en masse. 

Chengdu is China's nightclub capital, with scouts making frequent trips to Vegas and Dubai to study lighting and sound design. Check out Sichuan for the high energy and gravity-free lifestyle. Shenzhen is easily China's fastest-expanding city, and that applies to cocktails as well. By my count, Shenzhen has opened one serious cocktail bar every five days for the last 2-3 years. Due to its proximity to Hong Kong, the drinks in Shenzhen tend to be the most European/American. Much more straightforward, higher volume and fast-paced, Shenzhen is China's Silicon Valley, and so drinkers in this city start early in the day and don't mind spending the night bar-hopping with friends, snacking on low-abv cocktails as they go.


Do you think China could become a leading destination for global bar culture?

Yes and no. It is certainly true that China is currently the most exciting country in the world for cocktail industry growth and future potential. It's amazing to take it all in. Google, Facebook, Instagram, and most western websites are all blocked, so most of what happens in China stays in China, confined to China's insulated internet servers. This makes outward PR a challenge. Perhaps due to that lack of global interaction, China's bar scene has grown in a way that solely caters to a local audience; if you don't have the Chinese apps and Chinese language skill to download and navigate China's app infrastructure, it's near impossible to find and participate in China's newest and most-exciting bars. 

The best bars in China right now don’t advertise or write about themselves in English at all. As a result, the most internationally famous bars in China aren't necessarily the country's best, but are just the ones that comfortably cater themselves to a western audience. China's more cutting-edge bars, meanwhile, are content to be unknown to the broader global cocktail community.

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