36 hours in Shanghai

(New York Times)
Updated: 2007-04-23 11:22

On a cool autumn night, Shanghai is drenched in light. Billboards are flashing, highway lights are pulsing, and tall buildings seem to have been converted into giant television screens. China's showcase city appears to be showing off, decorating itself as though it's Asia's Las Vegas. This is China's financial capital, its fashion center and, clearly, its coolest metropolis. Be prepared for a city on steroids, and one banking on long-term hyper-growth. In a country increasingly populated by grimy, characterless cities, Shanghai is also far and away China's most attractive city, particularly after nightfall.


6 p.m.

The most spectacular view of Shanghai can be seen at night from the Bund, a historic waterfront area that sits on the west bank of the Huangpu River. Hulking stone structures built in the 1920's and 30's by the colonial powers that once dominated this city have been handsomely renovated and transformed into upscale bars, restaurants and retailers. Walk along the promenade and look out across the river toward the city's booming financial district, Pudong, which is packed with futuristic skyscrapers and flashy neon-lit billboards. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, now known as HSBC, once had headquarters on the Bund, and the building's foyer at No. 12 is gorgeously restored with murals and carvings. Also notable are the Custom House and the Art Deco Peace Hotel (20 Nanjing Road East, 86-21-6321-6888). A building known as Three on the Bund, however, is in perhaps the city's most impressive location (86-21-6321-7733). The interior was elegantly redesigned by Michael Graves. On the ground level is Giorgio Armani. On the third floor is the hip Shanghai Gallery of Art, where one gets a nice view of the building's splendid atrium.

8 p.m.

A nice way to start off a trip to Shanghai is with dinner at Laris, one of the superb restaurants at Three on the Bund. It is decorated in soothing colors and cool marble. From your table, you can often catch a glimpse of the river and Pudong's space-age skyline. The chef, David Laris, who is Australian Greek, likes fresh ingredients and international flavors. He serves up some wonderful raw oysters; also try the sumptuous beef tenderloin with pancetta and the foie gras terrine with porcini mushrooms (dinner for two, about 790 yuan, or $100 at 8 yuan to $1). On the building's fifth floor is the Whampoa Club, whose Art Deco entrance with a touch of Asia is exquisite. Another winner is Jean Georges Shanghai, the restaurant on the fourth floor named for its creator, the internationally recognized chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. You can also visit the top floor and New Heights, which has outdoor seating for dinner or simply drinks.

10:30 p.m.

You don't have to leave the Bund to find a great bar and lounge. Across the street from Three on the Bund is No. 5 on the Bund (entrance on Guangdong Road), home to M on the Bund, a popular dining spot for foreign visitors and China's nouveau riche. On the sixth floor, the Glamour Bar is one of the best places in the city to relax with a drink. The lounge (86-21-6350-9988) has a 1930's style decoration with a hip, contemporary twist. Try the litchi martini for about 67 yuan. Just down the road, at No. 18 on the Bund, is Bar Rouge, another stylish fashion bar, often crowded with China's equivalent of the Hollywood set.


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