What: A rockabilly bar in Jing’an
Why: For unique cocktails and a cool atmosphere
Where: 2/F, 359 Kangding Lu, near Shanxi Bei Lu. Tel: 5121 3849
Joint owners of heavy metal bar, Inferno, Martin Aamodt and Ting Ting, have once again collaborated to bring you their latest venture, Hepcat. The bar is the result of an impressive regeneration in June, which transformed some empty offices into a rockabilly bar oozing the glamour and rebelliousness of the 1950s. Themewise, it’s a place you could easily stumble across in a drunken haze and wonder if you haven’t just slipped into a time portal to post-war America. But, that’s only if you notice the retro signage glowing discreetly through the trees on the second floor. Hepcat is neither showy nor pretentious; instead it’s a sanctuary for local Jing’an-ers who don’t want to travel all the way across town for a decent drink.
Hepcat is Ting and Aamodt’s answer to Shanghai’s noticeable absence of rock bars, and though the bar will undoubtedly attract less of a niche crowd than Inferno, their love for rock’n’roll permeates all aspects of the design, to the point where even the drink names bear influences from rock lyrics.
Every detail in the room is thoughtfully selected, from the tiny Betty Boop lurking among the liqueur bottles to the Crosley jukebox you see as you walk in, right down to the menu itself. The drinks are simple and refined, each cocktail as enticing as the next. Aamodt claims that all of their 26 cocktails are unique, and to simplify things you’ll find drinks divided in the traditional fashion into mild, medium and strong strength categories.
For those who want to get straight to it, we recommend Red Hot (RMB 75), a stark combination of gin, white aperitif wine, Pimento Dram liqueur, fresh red chilli and lime juice served straight up in a martini glass. You get to request how spicy you want your drink, so the trick here is to not select more than you think you can handle. We ordered an extra hot and were left weeping as we struggled through it with clenched teeth. For an idea of the taste, imagine what Satan would take as a nightcap. Alternatively, there’s Heels On Fire (RMB 80), which is no less strong, but the Fireball whiskey really takes the lead, providing its familiar cinnamon sweetness and giving it a slightly more bearable edge. Regardless of what you pick, both drinks will leave your mouth searing – and trust us, you will feel the heat.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can pick out delicate options like the Bettie (RMB 80), which contains gin, peach syrup, grenadine, lemon juice, strawberry jam and egg white. It has a silky-smooth consistency that’ll no doubt leave you coming back for more. For those caught inbetween, head over to the limbo realm of drinks, where you can find cocktails like the Pink Cadillac (RMB 80), a mix of gin, Aperol, lemon bitters and cucumber juice. They’ve also got punch bowls (RMB 420) for groups, which contain around six servings each.
Hepcat offers an un-missable oyster deal on Thursdays, where you can get yourself a dozen oysters for RMB 188 (shipped in fresh each week from the shores of New Zealand). What’s not to love?
What: A cosy craft cocktail bar
Why: For intimate, after-dinner conversations
Where: 3/F, 99 Taixing Lu, near Wujiang Lu. Tel: 6256 3587. Web: www.elwillygroup.com
El Ocho is perched above tapas bar, Tomatito, in the new Taixing Lu complex, both of which are part of ‘sexy’ chef, Willy Trullas Moreno’s, El Willy Group. This bar is the perfect continuation from the downstairs restaurant, with quirky design accents and retro Spanish knick-knacks dotted around the venue. The watering hole is large and airy upon arrival, with a long bar situated in the centre of the room and open, breakout spaces with comfortable lounge chairs, conducive to intimate conversations and gatherings, spread all around.
The drinks menu is long, at 34 pages, and one for the “cocktail nerds” as they so eloquently put it. Cocktails certainly take centre stage here. Head barman, Aaron J Feder, started work in the kitchens rather than behind the bar, which seems to have laid the groundwork for his focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients. Feder discovered the art of craft cocktails in his hometown of Boston, during a time of resurgence in classic drink making processes, and worked under many award wining master bar tenders before taking his unique skills to Shanghai.
We sipped on a D.L.B (RMB 88), with gold rum, Fernet Branca, fresh lemon, sugar and bitters, the perfect balance of sweet and sour and an excellent after dinner drink. We also couldn’t finish the night without a Pre-prohibition Old Fashioned (RMB 78/98). Made with rye or bourbon, this classic tipple oozed with confidence and continued our merriment.
Hearty snacks are also available, this is Moreno we are talking about, but the plates only serve the purpose of complementing the drinks, rather than attempting to be a dining destination. If you want to feast on Spanish fare, head downstairs to Tomatito first, before wetting your whistle at El Ocho.