The most populous city in the world is bound to have a present as fractured as its past. Beneath the sparkling surface that appears to be running full-tilt into the future lives a multifaceted and labyrinthine root system that mashes together influence and affluence, the current and the ancient, locals and expats. That leaves us, your humble nocturnal nomads-in-command, with the unique task of effectively navigating Shanghai’s high streets, boulevards and back alleys in search of a taste of the complex and kaleidoscopic city. It may be impossible to see it all in one night, but we can bask in the exuberance of this latest city that never sleeps in our attempt to.
4 P.M. Pudi Boutique Hotel
Photo Courtesy: Pudi Boutique Hotel
You may not be sleeping tonight, but you’ll need somewhere to lay your head come sunrise. In this mash-up city, you’ll find sanctuary in a hotel that follows suit, a beacon of modernity in the heart of the historic French Concession. The Pudi is an eclectic art deco beauty with all the design touches of a boutique hotel. But in the details, this luxe establishment pays homage to Old Shanghai-style service. You’ll be waited on hand and foot from the moment you enter, and again tomorrow morning when you’re served champagne-scrambled eggs in the Pudi’s stunning Belle Epoque bar and restaurant, disheveled though you may be.
8 P.M. NanXiang Steamed Bun Restaurant
Photo Courtesy: Kent Wang
Not exactly the most glamorous of hot spots, nestled into the neighborhood surrounding the famous City God Temple, this Shanghai institution is nonetheless a required stop for any hungry traveler. Though it may suffer in local public opinion due to the never-ending line of tourists, we can’t fault them for perfecting their craft. And with its xiaolongbao (which literally translates to small steaming basket), Nanxiang has achieved perfection: each bao is a marvel of pork or crab meat, brined in a mouthful of soup, encased in a delicate flour skin and steamed into tender transcendence. A quintessentially Shanghai meal, ideal for warding off the lethargic aftermath of a long flight and preparing any thirsty vagabond for a long, sleepless night.
11 P.M. Bar Rouge
Photo Courtesy: Bar Rouge
From low to high. Perched in the midst of the Bund, a vestige of Shanghai’s colonial past, amidst dozens of former embassies and world banks, Bar Rouge overlooks the Huangpu River, providing its affluent patrons with the best view of the city’s skyscraper-dense core. Considered far and wide to be one of the best bars in the world, Bar Rouge’s reputation for swank and society calls out to a singularly beautiful and wealthy crowd that comes to see and be seen, all the while dancing to some of the best house DJs anywhere. BR’s famed “Caviar Champagne,” a mouthgasm of sharp acidity and impossibly light bubbles of fruity flavor, is an indulgent must-try.
2:59 A.M. The Shelter
Photo Courtesy: ctot_not_def
You’ve sated your appetite for the haughty high end of the after dark scene. Now it’s time to dig deep underground for the, shall we say, grittier side of Shanghai nightlife. Housed in an abandoned bomb shelter in the ultra-hip Xuhui district, once the premiere residential district for the upper crust, The Shelter is a dark, sweaty lair, a place not to be seen but to immerse yourself in the emerging sounds of underground dub, techno and hip-hop. Dance in the dark until even the darkness leaves and in comes the light.
5:30 A.M. Dajing Lu Market
Photo Courtesy: Ferreting Out The Fun
Where better to end a night spent largely on modern decadence than in some of the oldest, most history-lined streets of Shanghai? The lifeline of Shanghai’s peasant past runs through the Old City, where Shanghai’s native inhabitants rise early to buy and sell the freshest produce and street eats. Roast duck, dumplings and fried river fish doused in rich, savory/sweet sauces, historically the food of those who could not afford more lavish meals, are now something of an everyday delicacy, considered by some to be among the best food in the world. A tasty and cheap way to wind down and tame the beast within. Time to sleep.