7 Excellent Low-Key Cocktail Bars in Shanghai

By Betty Richardson, July 4, 2017

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It always seems to be the popular, noisy bars that capture the lion’s share of media attention in Shanghai, and while it’s true that upbeat ambiance is the secret ingredient of a good time, it can sometimes mean that their quieter counterparts fly under the radar.

We’ve spent some time scouring Shanghai for the best low-key bars the city has to offer. They also happen to be places where you’ll find some of the best cocktails and service in town.

1. Southern Cross

Southern Cross Shanghai Bar

Hidden in plain sight on Huaihai Lu, the grand concession-era villa in which Southern Cross is situated immediately sets the tone for this excellent little bar. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by dulcet jazz via a vinyl record player and an eight-seater bar with a warm, glowing backdrop of illuminated whisky, rye and bourbon bottles. 

Southern Cross Bar Shanghai

Bartender Keifer, who speaks fluent English and is particularly friendly to Manchester United supporters, whips up both classics and special cocktails with quiet, speedy confidence. This place has vibes for days and is highly recommended to make you look good in front of a hot date or business client. 

Southern Cross Bar Shanghai

See a listing for Southern Cross

2. Bar Module


Run by Mongolian-born, Japan-raised and English-speaking female mixologist Moe (pronounced ‘Mo-é’), Module Bar is effortlessly classic and off-beat at the same time. 

Walking inside the tiny eight-seater space is like stepping back in time to an era that you can’t quite place your finger on. The eye wanders over shelves lined with vintage ornaments, bottles and illustrations of the bar staff (contributed by customers), while an excellently curated soundtrack of Motown and soul sets the mood. 


Moe serves an ever-changing menu of special cocktails that play with seasonal fruits and riff on the classics (which she’s also equally adept at), though you’d be remiss not to try her award-winning signature ‘Sakura’ cherry blossom and Cointreau number. 

See a listing for Bar Module

3. Bar Telas


Literally on the same block as aforementioned Bar Module, Bar Telas is a hidden spot that is unlike modern day speakeasies in that it wants to stay that way. The place is run by a trio of Japanese-speaking female mixologists headed up by Yuko Onimaru, with subtly gothic interiors that create an air of quiet mystery. 

Telas Shanghai Cocktail Bar

Comfort is king here; guests enjoy comfy armchairs at the bar, plush couches, polite service and some of the most immaculate bathrooms we’ve seen outside of Japan. Yes, they most definitely have the fancy TOTO toilets. 

You’ll find only classics on the menu, but the staff are more than capable of creating specials, such as an inspired Canadian Club, plum liqueur, Cointreau and soda number they made for us. The menu is in English, but the staff speak only Japanese or Chinese. Clientele is nearly entirely Japanese businessmen.


See a listing for Telas

4. Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Shanghai Cocktail Bar

The Japanese-style bar here is one of the best-kept secrets among drinkers and bar communities, we suspect it’s been that way for so long because most people think of Mardi Gras as a rather ordinary French restaurant. Don’t be fooled; the second floor of this former French Concession villa houses one of the most impressive bars we’ve found in Shanghai, with a dramatic double-height ceiling, candelabras and seriously well-made drinks. 

Mardi Gras Cocktail Bar Shanghai

Cocktails are classic leaning, though some are made with imported seasonal fruits like lychee and mango. Like the other bars mentioned, requests for special cocktails are greeted enthusiastically, and delivered with panache. 


See a listing for Mardi Gras

5. Avenue Joffre

Avenue Joffrey Shanghai

Run by English-speaking Japanese mixologist Harada Munenori, Avenue Joffre is an institution loved by Japanese expats and locals equally thanks to the affable head barman’s insistence on quality and consistency. One of the roomier establishments on this list, the lounge area seats larger groups of clientele, though obviously the polished wooden bar affords the best view in the house. 


Along with classics and original compositions, Avenue Joffre makes some of the best seasonal fruit drinks, focusing on one solo flavor and balancing it perfectly in a cocktail – see the above apple and rosemary margarita for an example. You’ll be able to see what’s available from the bountiful fruit basket behind the bar. 

See a listing for Avenue Joffre

6. Bar XYZ 

Bar XYZ Shanghai

In unlikely surrounds on Dagu Lu, now home to a number of lively craft beer spots, Bar XYZ continues to do what it does best: old school drinks made the right way. The vibe here is relaxed and un-fussy, you’ll find a simple but extensive bar filled with a bottle selection large enough to entertain all but the most particular drinkers.


With English service and menus, Bar XZY represents one of the better ways to drink in Jing’an, and is an appropriate when deep conversation is paramount to flair. Look for an inconspicuous grey shop front, marked only by a small, square illuminated window with a cocktail shaker and stemmed glass inside it. 

See a listing for Bar XYZ

7. Oji Whisky & Cocktail

Having burst onto the scene last year, this minute Japanese bar is the only on this list that technically counts as a speakeasy – entrance can only be gained by dialing ‘zero’ on an old school telephone inside another bar – Zhang Yuan’s El Ocho. 


What Oji lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character, all handsome wooden bar, white tuxedo clad bartender (the eponymous Naoji Oji), fresh flowers and luxurious Spanish ham carved straight from a leg at the bar. The cocktails here are surprisingly smooth, and you’ll notice that Oji achieves such formidable results by using a surprisingly entry level band of spirits, including a Bond-worthy vesper made with Smirnoff regular. Whisky, of course, is a different story, and the bar stocks a good range of single malts for grain drinkers. 

See a listing for Oji Whisky & Cocktail

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