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Shanghai's nightlife scene can best be enjoyed and imbibed in easily walkable neighborhood jaunts, by visiting the former French Concession, the Bund, Xintiandi, Sinan Mansions and Jing'an. The city also has a variety of music venues for every ear.
The French Concession has a plethora of low-key lounges, live venues and pubs. At the intersection of Yongfu Lu and Fuxing Lu you'll find several Shanghai staples such as El Coctel, which boasts a seated bar and one of the best Old Fashioned's in town, The Apartment, which has poppy dance tunes and a trendy 20-30s something crowd, The Shelter, a long-standing underground mecca of dubstep, hip hop and drum and bass, and Bounty Rhumerie, a pirate bar that offers tasty bottles of very strong rum. Arcade, a funky indie bar with fantastic cocktails (try the Shizojito) is just around the corner and conveniently situated across from JZ Club, one of the city's best Jazz Clubs. Boxing Cat Brewery, an American micro-brewery with some sports coverage and great food, is down the street and Bikes and Friends is a small hole in the wall with unpretentious two-wheeling enthusiasts. Over on Donghu Lu there's Dakota for a stiff drink and Sichuan Citizen has delicious spicy food and a basil martini that will make your mouth water. Plus 88 (Ba Ba) is just down the street for late night shenanigans and more tacky flair than you've ever witness before.
Hop over to Hengshan Lu (still in the French Concession) to find O'Malleys, a large beer garden and pub with live music just about every night of the week, The Camel, which plays every football, rugby, hockey, you name it game around the clock, Sasha's and Zapatas, which have a great garden and one of the most notorious ladies nights around town. Head there on Mondays or Wednesdays for a great turnout. The Beaver, an awesome little dive owned by Aussie Kit, has great cheeseburgers and a rocking late night dance party. Hollywood Shanghai keeps the party rocking til the wee hours with a house DJ.
Just south down Yueyang Lu turn onto Yongjia to stumble upon Mural, a cool underground cave bar, Lola, a Spanish-owned boutique club, Brownstone, a cool lounge with decent food and drinks, The Roof, which has a fantastic terrace and makes a mean Sidecar. Further on you'll find Chalet for good wine deals and Inferno if you're into heavy metal, billiiards. They've got Rogue Dead Guy on tap, too.
On the other side of town you'll find the swankiest of swank at the Bund. Bar Rouge is a must-do for first timers, with a gorgeous view and high priced cocktails. For the same view and cheap prices hop to Captains Hostel just down the road. The Peace Hotel's Shook restaurant has historic Shanghai covered and a lovely rooftop bar and on the north Bund you'll find Hyatt on the Bund's Vue Bar which is a spectacular spot overlooking the city. Brix is an Austrian beer house and Zeal is another fun club with electronic funky beats and house hits. The Waldorf's Long Bar is great for a cigar and a sazerac and just off the Bund is M1NT, where you'll find models, players and wannabes glammed up with tables and bottles until sunrise. Make sure you're on the list and book a table if you want to be able to breathe.
Xintiandi is a very touristy version of Shanghai's nightlife offerings, with solid live tunes, delicious restaurants and outdoor seating when the weather permits. Brown Sugar has great live tunes for adults of all ages and Kabb has one of the best bloody Marys around town. Wander through the various live venues and see if any of the Filipino bands strike your fancy. Club GPlus can be found in the south block of the mall, which stays open after everything else in the hood has died down. Just a few blocks north is M2, debatably one of the city's best Chinese clubs any night of the week with dancers, DJs, tables, girls in ridiculous outfits and plenty of insanity. This show is not to be missed.
Sinan Mansions is a new development with some serious cocktail bars like Alchemist, Chicha (a Latin favorite), Bounty X (more on the rum) another Boxing Cat, and Yucca, a 1930s inspired watering hole driven by one of the city's best mixologists.
Up in Jing'an you'll find mostly sports bars like Big Bamboo, Malone's and the Spot, as well as Windows Too, and a classier option, CVRVE, in the Portman building. Just south of Nanjing Lu (bordering on the French Concession) you'll find fun bars for drinking and dancing at SUGAR, The Geisha, Rabbit Hole and Velvet and the Room as late night options.
As for music venues, beyond previously mentioned Shelter, JZ Club and Brown Sugar, Dada plays good electronic and funky mashups, Yuyintang has a variety of local bands and Chinese acts from folk to punk, MAO Livehouse brings in some big names for international DJs and Chinese favorites and Shanhai Livehouse, with experienced management and legit promoters has some interesting shows and shenanigans. House of Jazz and Blues is a legendary spot and Jazz Bar on the Bund is worth checking out just for posterity.
Oh, and if you find yourself out in Hongqiao for a conference or visiting an international school, hit up Hongmei Lu Pedestrian street for easy expatriate pubs. Over in Pudong the Kerry Hotel's BREW has some of the best craft brews around and the Ritz Carlton Pudong has an incredible terrace with arguably the best view of the city and phenomenal drinks.
www.smartshanghai.com and www.cityweekend.com.cn give great updates of Shanghai nightlife events and listings and have maps in Chinese you can show to taxi drivers.
www.shanghaisideways offers tours of Shanghai Nightlife by sidecar (2 pax per motorbike + driver)
www.pubcrawlshanghai.com offers public pub crawls every Thursday and Saturday as well as private whisky flights and brewery tours.