Shanghai Bar Review: Birds of Paradise

By Erica Martin, August 2, 2019

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Shanghai is a far cry from a tropical paradise, but in peak summer the temperature is as balmy as any South Pacific island. The remedy for the hot sticky exhaustion of August has arrived in the form of Birds of Paradise, a new tiki bar in Jing’an from barman Yao Lu and chef Austin Hu

WechatIMG32.jpegImage courtesy of Birds of Paradise

Their previous collaboration, Union Trading Company, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. UTC is a cocktail bar institution that regularly lands in Asia’s 50 Best Bars list thanks to its blend of friendly, unpretentious hospitality and excellent cocktails. With Birds of Paradise, Lu and Hu have given that same winning formula a cheeky tropical twist.

According to Lu, the tiki bar idea stems from a desire to playfully toe the line between tackiness and retro fun, as well as to make use of his expansive collection of Hawaiian shirts, which he accumulated years ago while working at Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, when one of the bar’s regulars used to trade them to all the bartenders for free drinks, much to the owner’s chagrin. 

WechatIMG26.jpegImage by Cristina Ng/That's

The drink menu encompasses all the classics of the tiki genre first invented back in the 1930s at spots like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, including the Mai Tai (RMB95) and the Suffering Bastard (RMB95). The former is tasty and booze-forward thanks to a generous mix of three types of rum, while the latter, one of the few classic tiki drinks without a rum base, shines thanks to the satisfying tang of fresh ginger rounding out its blend of gin, bourbon, lemon and bitters.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Of the original drinks by Lu and his team, the arrival of The Hermit (RMB95) to our table turned heads all over the bar thanks to its elaborate glass, a grumpy ceramic hermit crab in a barrel. Its distinctive tangy flavor, which comes thanks to Cachaca, absinthe, yogurt and hawthorn marmalade with powdered plum on the straw rim, is a unique alternative to the fruit-forward tiki classics. 

WechatIMG31.jpegImage by Cristina Ng/That's

Another strikingly original drink is Walk the Plank (RMB110), a stiff mix of Jameson and Cocchi Rosa with seaweed flakes and pickled jalapeno that smells like the ocean and has a rich umami flavor mingling with its boozy base.  The Lighthouse Keeper (RMB105) is a twist on more classic tiki fruitiness, with coconut water, banana, a sprig of dill and a vodka base; its clean, refreshing flavor is ideal for the hottest days of summer.  Also on offer for larger groups are three ‘Shared Bounty’ cocktails that serve between four and five people.

The food menu, courtesy of chef Hu, features playful takes on a variety of Asian cuisines, including Spam Katsu Sliders (RMB68 for two) that nod to the processed meat’s prominence in Hawaiian food thanks its pervasiveness during WW2.

WechatIMG32.jpegImage by Cristina Ng/That's

The undisputed standout here, however, is the Okonomiyaki Fries (RMB58), an extravagant bar snack of crispy thin-cut fries that never get soggy despite being piled high with Kewpie mayo, savory-sweet brown okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed and umami-rich ribbons of katsuobushi, or dried, fermented fish. When a woman at the table next to us saw us tucking into the dish, she leaned over and said, “aren’t those fries dank?!?” — a ringing endorsement if we’ve ever heard one.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Perhaps most important of all, the level of hospitality and customer service that have always set Lu’s and Hu’s venues apart from the pack are intact at Birds of Paradise; servers and bar staff are all kind, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and your water glass is never empty. This attention to the important details, paired with the bar’s playful energy and winning drinks, makes Birds of Paradise a welcome new option for boozy summer escapism.

[Cover image courtesy of Birds of Paradise]

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