First Insights in Shanghai’s Night Life

Yesterday night, a Saturday, we tried the first time to take part in Shanghai’s night life, Britta, Thomas, and myself. We chose Maoming Nanlu (茂名南路) for this first test. “This street has become a night-time magnet” according to Lonely Planet. At least the taxi driver knew the road right away, which made navigation a lot easier. The road is very long, but the pubs and clubs are located at there southern end (“nanlu” = southern [nan] part of the street [lu]).

Our city guide books list a lot of bars there. While walking down the road after being dropped off by the taxi we did see a couple of neon advertisements, mostly in both English and Chinese. But to our western eyes many of the houses presented themselves fairly dark, leaving the impression of being closed. Not to much about a pulsing night-life so far.

Just by chance, a colleague was in the same area the night before. During breakfast he kind of recommended a club called Babyface. It couldn’t be overlooked while walking down the street. At that time, about 22:00h, only few people grouped before the entrance, which was marked with a sign “Proper dressing required”. This became the nights reoccurring discussion topic: What do Chinese mean by “proper dressing”?

We couldn’t find a place named Buddha Bar, which according to our guide book review should become our first place to go. On the other hand, there were a couple of bars not mentioned in the guides. It seems that locations keep changing here, which would be quite normal. Certainly, books have trouble keeping up-to-date.

Amber, 184 Maoming Nanlu

Eventually, we decided to start at the only pleasant looking bar at the very beginning of Maoming Nanlu called Amber. From outside it looked a bit like a lounge, which made it a perfect start for a potentially long evening.

An attentive and smiling bar keeper greeted us on entry. We picked a table at the far wall with leather sofas and were given a Chinese and English cocktail menu. Although not listed, Britta also got her favorite Absolut Vodka / Red Bull. Through the evening, it needed some negotiations back and forth to convince the bar keeper of the right (or at least: Britta’s favorite) mixture. But the still smiling bar keeper did his best. He actually was the first service person to smile all night in this land said to be the one of everlasting smile. He wore jogging slacks, which we decided not to resemble “proper dressing”.

While enjoying our drinks (my Singapore Sling was not really fantastic, but OK) we scanned the interior and the guests. Despite the good impression from outside it turned out on second sight that tables and chairs could well have been stolen from the next university canteen. But the music was great (a mix across a couple of genres, but nothing extreme) and the location filled up more and more.

And it filled up with expatriates. By far, we weren’t the only ones. Right the other way round: Asians were fairly rare. Many of the expats seemed to know each other. But Asians and expats didn’t mix, if we do not count the one attempt of a large group of Chinese girls to get in with an American-looking boy.

The high expat rate could also account for the fairly good English knowledge of our favorite grinning bar keeper. Despite his kindness it must also be noted that he was in no way able to handle multiple things in parallel like for example taking an order of another table and keeping in mind that he just saw us signaling that we wanted to leave more money in his house.

It turned out that the Amber had another large room upstairs, spacy interior, dark, with dimly glowing tables (certainly colorful, Chinese love colors, the more the better). Yesterday that room was deserted, but I can imagine that that’s also a nice place to spend one or two hours–if the bar upstairs would be opened…

It stays a bit unclear what the name of the bar has to do with it. I cannot remember anything special colored amber, orange, yellow, or the like.


The Amber was nice, but the night long. After two drinks we stepped out again and tried to make up our mind which of all the closed-looking places should be our next stop. I don’t know what drove us in the end to enter the Chicago, maybe the lady at the door asking us in played a role. I mean, who should you follow if you have no idea at all? At least, through the dark windows we saw people dancing in there.

One thing was obvious the second we passed the heavy curtain covering the entrance: We wouldn’t have more than one drink here. The place was very dark, which by itself could be OK, but it was also fairly small, smaller than seeming from outside. And the dancers turned out to be drunk locals dancing on a table next to the stage.

We occupied a table not too close to them, but still with good view across the place. The cocktails were really small, served in just normal beer glasses, and were even a little more expensive (Y45 instead of Y40) than in the Amber. The next few minutes we did some interesting field studies about locals’ and lonely expats’ Saturday nights. Looking at it that way it was a funny time…

Music was quite western and the drunk dancers tried their best to entertain the crowd. The only positive way to describe their dancing style would be “funny”. One of them even tried to strip, but was stopped in mid-action by a young woman, who we thought of as his girl-friend. That girl was kind of angry! She needed several attempts to get his boy-friend down from the table and even longer to put him on his t-shirt again. Back on safe ground he could not stand upright, not talking about walking alone. As he was not the slimmest she needed quite some efforts to force him to the door. In the end it was only doable with the help of another drunken friend. Interestingly, she stayed after the boys were gone. But we didn’t see her smile again…

Whenever there was a short moment, during which no guest embarrassed himself on the dancing table, a hired dancing-girl took over that part. She was not that much better, but her appearance at least did not offend our eyes, although not pleasing them either.

A western man was standing at the bar embracing an Asian girl. Or to put it more correctly: She hang on him while he stayed fairly cool while enjoying his–am I allowed to say ‘catch’? Based on his appearance, dark-blond hair, short but long enough to comb it to form a parting, long face, mustache, we tried hard to think of any country in the whole wide world he could possibly have come from if not Germany. We didn’t succeed…


Finally, we thought it’s time for a club. We have been warned that we westerns might be told that the house is full while locals were still entering. Personally, I can understand when club managers try to level their audience a bit and do not let too many foreigners in at once. So we needed to wait a couple of minutes before we were finally allowed to enter the Babyface, thanks to Britta’s insisting.

The club was small and pretty packed, full of locals, we didn’t see more than a handful foreigners. We stood a while at the edge of the room, next to a corner with sofas and tables. We were certainly familiar with being pushed back and forth while guests try to make their way through the crowds. But it did surprise us a bit to be hit by a cleaner! Even at around 01:30h in a full club they keep their habits of wiping floors continuously like in all the office buildings. Has advantages, too: We did not step in any broken glass…

Music was house, a bit on the techno side, which didn’t convince us fully. Without drinking anything we left after maybe 15 minutes, caught taxi right in front of the door a headed back ‘home’.

Conclusion: The Amber is a nice place to start, but then you might have to head for another area…but there are more areas to test in the near future.

Categories: Shanghai

Originally Created: 11/07/2004 11:17:46 AM
Last Edited: 11/07/2004