In the not terribly distant future, we'll be talking about the Shanghai club scene the way we discuss Sydney, London, San Francisco, or any other major international destination. It's a matter of when, not if. For now, Shanghai has but a handful of gay hangouts, but just since 2006, the city's bar and club offerings have improved immensely. Replacing the slightly seedy, ubiquitously dark and smoky spaces of yore are a new breed of stylish, creatively designed bars and lounges catering to Shanghai's ever-growing, and ever-more-cosmopolitan gay crowd. What's the surest sign that Shanghai's gay scene is on the verge of exploding? You'll now see plenty of cool heteros as well as gays and lesbians at the top alternative hangouts.
Here's a primer on the burgeoning bar and club scene in gay Shanghai. For where to go in the Beijing (another city with a gay scene to watch, but one that's still at least two to three years behind Shanghai), see my article on Destination Beijing.
Many of Shanghai's gay bars are in the charming French Concession, west of the historic Old City and Bund areas, and south of the dynamic Jingan neighborhood. Most are along blocks either on or near the neighborhood's main east-west drag, Huaihai Zhong Lu. Unfortunately, the PinkHome complex, which included a hotel, is no longer open, nor is the long-running gay disco, Club Deep.
One notable spot in the French Concession is the intimate, arty, and decidedly stylish Shanghai Studio. You'll typically find a nice mix of cool locals, engaging expats, and gay Shanghai scene-makers in this underground bar - and it's literally below ground. You reach it down a flight of stairs, which leads through a mazelike hallway hung with intriguing art installations. You'll finally reach two groovy little lounges with mod bar stools and relaxing music at decibels that allow for conversation. Off of the main bar you'll find Manifesto, a slick and sexy gay menswear and undergear shop that carries a number of trendy imported lines. Many nights you'll find Manifesto's charming young owner, Kenneth Tan, in the bar. Shanghai Studio and Manifesto are at 1950 Huaihai Zhong Lu. As you approach walking west along Huaihai, turn right into the short driveway and walk to the back, where a sign will lead you to the doorway and stairs that descend into this one-of-a-king subterranean haunt.
Shanghai Studio is practically across the road from one of Shanghai's longest-running gay hangouts, Eddy's Bar, a laid-back neighborhood hangout that's less visually interesting than many of its newer competitors but is still a fun place to mingle with locals. It's an especially good place to kick off an evening of bar-hopping in the French Concession's little gay quarter. Also in this same vicinity of the French Concession, the cool, decidedly mod Transit Lounge (141 Tai An Rd., near Hua Shan Rd.) has soft lighting, sleek furnishings, and trance-y music. It's a nice spot to meet up with friends and make new ones.
A 10-minute cab ride east, you'll find Shanghai's closest gay bar to People's Park and the Bund, G8 Bar (399 Da Gu Road, just west of the skyway overpass that runs along Chengdu Bei Road, between Chengdu and Shi Men Yi), a swanky and comfortable spot with lounge-y seating and a separate "loft" section that caters mostly to lesbians. G8 is the re-incarnation of long-running Shanghai gay hangout Frangipani, which closed following a fire. The space has been handsomely redone.
Shanghai's hottest gay disco these days is a hip club called D2 (505 Zhong Shan Rd., in the trendy Cooldocks area near Fu Xin Rd. East). This glam space by Shanghai's newly tripped-out Harbor District brings in top international DJs to host circuit-style parties and all-night revelry. The success of D2 bodes well for Shanghai's continued development as China's top gay destination.
As Shanghai continues to develop into one of the world's great see-and-be-seen cities, many of its straight clubs and lounges are developing at least modest gay followings. These include the big-name spots along the Bund, such as M on the Bund and its giddy and touristy Glamour Bar (for a more dignified experience, skip Glamour Bar and sip cocktails in the low-keyed bar in the restaurant), and 1221, a swish restaurant and bar that draws a well-dressed international bunch.
For more details on the gay nightlife scene in Shanghai, check out Utopia Asia's excellent and very complete page on the city's GLBT scene.