I’ve been to all but two of the brewpubs, bottle shops, and beer bars covered here, some of them a few times, though always just as a parachute writer in town a few days at a time, most recently May 2015. Still, though I may have missed a venue or two and readily admit to lacking a local’s long-term perspective, I stand by everything here because, well, because I know my shit.
These aren’t in any particular order, and the featured bars aren’t necessarily the best ones. If you only have time for a few, I suggest prioritizing those serving/making locally brewed beers: Liquid Laundry, Boxing Cat Brewery, The Bearded Bear, The Brew, and Shanghai Brewery–those are in particular order.
Former Time Out Shanghai associate editor Selena Schleh has a great write-up of this trendy spinoff of Boxing Cat Brewery, below, which opened in April 2014 on the second floor of KWah Centre. All in all, Liquid Laundry is the most well-rounded craft beer destination in Shanghai at the moment, a cool (almost to a fault) gastropub that thankfully eschews the tired sports-bar aesthetic in favor of something far more stylish and modern.
The 200-seater was bangin’ every time I visited–even weeknights–with DJs set up in front of the brewing facilities spinning occasionally brilliant sets of classic hip-hop and deep, dark house. The dapper staff, dressed in jeans, button-up white shirts, suspenders, and bow ties, somehow kept their collective heads above water throughout–I never had trouble flagging somebody down for a refill, and staff served foods and drinks without delay.
The food and drink, by the way, is pretty much all aces. From baked avocados stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms and salsa, to seared yellowtail, to a huge kale salad tossed with avocado, pumpkin seeds, and an addictive yogurt-based vinaigrette, the kitchen puts a much-welcomed gourmet spin on standard brewpub grub. Fifteen quality beers are on tap, a mix that includes Liquid Laundry’s exclusive brews, a few from Boxing Cat, and a rotating list of imports updated monthly that recently included Evil Twin Brewing, Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Nøgne Ø.
This is the type of place where you go out with a pack of friends, eat and drink with abandon, and slap down the credit card at the end of the night without worrying (too much) about the final tally, because it was worth it. As Schleh aptly noted, it’s a “a hear and be heard, see and be seen kind of place,” which means you may feel a little out of place eating and drinking with abandon alone. Then again, who gives a fuck–at least you won’t be sitting with, say, a stupid-drunk American expat* shouting across the table, over rumbling house beats, “How do you say Nebraska in Chinese?!”1028 Huaihai Middle Rd., Kwah Centre 2/F, +86 21 6445 9589. Daily 11am – 2:30pm; Wednesday – Saturday 5pm – 2am; Sunday to Tuesday 5pm – 12am.
The Tap House
The first time a hooker directly offered me her services was in a Macau hotel bar. She turned around at her table, we made brief eye contact, then she puckered her lips and made the “kiss kiss” face, which was more confusing than sexy, mostly because I’d never seen anyone but cartoon characters do such a thing. I smiled and shook my head no, trying not to laugh, she offered a business card, I shook my head again no, then watched her make the kiss-kiss face at men staggering out of the casino, headed for the restroom, for about 15 minutes until giving up.
The second time was while sipping a pint of Mikkeller Monk’s Brew, a quadrupel Belgian-style ale, at an outdoor table at The Tap House. I am white and was alone at the bar, which in many places around Asia translates to “horny white guy obsessed with Asian girls who will pay for it,” so the not-unattractive woman, wearing sunglasses at 10pm, breath scented like what I imagine the anal cavity of a man fasting on garlic and cigarettes for a month might smell like, swaggered over to me like she’d found an easy mark.
“So… where are you from?”
“Singapore, but I’m fine, just having a beer. Thank you.”
She raised her eyebrows suggestively, again like a cartoon character.
“Oh, oh. So… you like the Asian girls? You like the Chinese girls?”
“Yeah, I’m married. Just having a beer. Thank you, though.”
“Oh, oh… that doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. What hotel are you staying?”
“A friend’s house. Thanks, though. Think I’m just going to have this beer tonight.”
“Oh, oh… Singapore. Give me your number. I’ll give you my number. You call me later.”
Tap House has 18 draft beers–Mikkeller, Caulier, North Coast Brewing Company, and Rogue Ales dominated the menu when I stopped in–and is located on the expat-favored strip of bars on Yongkang Lu. The area reminds me of a shitty backpacker enclave you might see in certain areas of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Siem Reap, though catered more towards working twenty- to thirtysomething professionals. I’ve only been to Tap House once, but on that occasion there were a lot of very loud, very drunk post-frat Americans*. Always a pleasure. 74 Yongkang Lu. Open Monday – Thursday 4pm – late, Friday – Sunday 11am – late.
The Bearded Bear
In April 2015, The Bearded Bear landed less than a block away from The Tap House with a dubious, slightly shrill announcement on Reddit in which the owner (lightly) slagged off a few folks in Shanghai’s craft establishment:
Shanghai Brewery got you down? Can’t go another round with Boxing Cat? Tap House finally tasting as expired as it really is? Don’t you worry, Shanghai beer-loving Redditors! The BEAR is HERE!
Apparently there’s a story behind the comments, but I’ll leave further conjecture on this juicy scandal to the cutthroat beer gossip columnists. The bar itself is a tiny, non-descript joint outfitted with 27 taps, all of which may, one day, be connected to a keg, though as of May 2015 only six had answered their noble calling. The German-style beers tapped here come from Jintan-based craft brewery Zapfler Beer, which mostly deals in lagers but is apparently dabbling in the more ambitious world of ales, as well; their Green Grizzly IPA, single-hopped with tropical Citra, was quite good and bodes well for future forays outside the German comfort zone.
The Bearded Bear is right next door to Dean’s Bottle Shop, which stocks a fairly decent selection of (unrefrigerated) bottles from the likes of BrewDog, Mikkeller, Rogue Ales, and Brooklyn Brewery. The shop smells a little like those enclosed boxes for chain smokers set up in airport terminals. 42 Yongkang Lu.
Other Shanghai Beer Bars and Shops
+ The Beer Lady – “She’s a very smiley middle-aged Shanghainese lady with a very large selection of craft beers.” I haven’t personally made it here yet, but Smart Shanghai columnist Christopher St Cavish gives it a ringing, amusing endorsement.
+ Boxing Cat Brewery – Award-winning craft brewery with three venues around town. Excellent beers (try the Donkey Porter), great pub food, not a big fan of the sports bar settings. The Yong Fu outlet is the best one.
+ Kaiba – Recommended Belgian-focused beer bars with locations at Wuding Lu, Taikang Terrace, and Dingxi Lu.
+ Jackie’s Beer Nest – A small watering hole with a handful of beers on tap and somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 bottles; I haven’t been here yet, but it’s at the top of my next-time list.
+ The Brew – Enjoyed the beers, all of which are brewed onsite, but they’d taste even better if The Brew ditched the clear plastic mugs and upgraded to proper glasses. It feels a bit like Chili’s in there, which isn’t a good thing, and suffers from a fairly random, somewhat inconvenient location at The Kerry Hotel in Pudong.
+ The Brewer – Debuted in 2015 across the street from the Xintiandi F&B hub. It was getting a little late in the evening and hazy when I stopped in, but I remember that the IPA was fine, and my receipt reminds me that it was expensive (78 RMB); that a cover band ripped through “Sweet Child o’ Mine” while good-naturedly fending off an inebriated American* who wanted to get onstage and do the Axl dance; and that somebody puked their guts out in front of the bar’s fermentation tanks, which are actually just decorative pieces. If you’re in the area, choose this place over Paulaner Brauhaus across the street.
* This article was written by an American expat, one without an agenda to rag on other American expats. He just reports what he sees and hears, and it’s hard to miss the people who are always the loudest ones in the room.