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Ascending the marble staircase to the Shanghai Club, located on Shanghai’s famous Bund, was once the preserve of eminent elite members. But today, 100 years after the opening of the most exclusive social institution in pre-war Shanghai, I’m doing exactly that.
It’s an exhilarating feeling as the bellboy waves me into this hallowed neo-classical gem that has been refitted for 21st-century purposes. In spring 2011, after three years of renovations, the building that formerly housed the Shanghai Club reopened as the first Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Asia. It is one of the architectural jewels on Shanghai’s famous Bund.
At the top of the expensively carpeted staircase, a chandeliered, cream-colored marble lobby retreats left to the Long Bar. This faithful recreation of the Shanghai Club’s legendary watering hole comes replete with a replica 110-foot bar counter, once the longest in Asia. The club also boasts the Oyster Bar, an original feature, as well as a layout and detailing that are instantly recognizable from the old photos hanging around the wood-paneled walls. To the right of the lobby is the classically styled Salon de Ville, a satin-draped lounge for high tea that could resemble those at a Paris chateau.
The lobby leads into Peacock Alley, a palatial marble hallway and lounge with high ceilings and a stairway leading down to the Grand Brasserie below. The Peacock Alley serves a duel purpose as it also connects the heritage Bund building — which also features 20 lavish Waldorf-Astoria Club suites — to a new tower housing 252 rooms and suites.
The Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund and its near neighbor, Fairmont Peace Hotel — which similarly reopened after three years of renovations in late 2010 — are the highest profile adaptations of 20th-century Shanghai architecture. They are certainly not alone, however. In a city that reveres glassy skyscrapers more than most, reformatting old for new is a hot trend.
A 15-minute stroll away from the Waldorf-Astoria, the ambitious Waitanyuan redevelopment is beginning to take shape. Two blocks back from the north section of the Bund, this venerable cluster of 19th-century warehouses, office buildings and mansions is located where the Huangpu River meets Shanghai’s second waterway, Suzhou Creek.
The first Waitanyuan venue to open was the Rockbund Art Museum, located in the former Royal Asiatic Society building. The impressive six-floor museum counts four galleries featuring contemporary Chinese and Asian art, installation and photography exhibitions and a top-floor cafe. Also open on the same street are the upscale nightclub, Drop, and the Hui Residence, a sleek, contemporary Chinese restaurant.
On the Bund side of Waitanyuan, adjacent to The Peninsula Shanghai hotel, is the classically styled mansion and leafy gardens of the former British Consulate. Renamed 33 Waitanyuan, the former consulate building has been lavishly revamped and functions as a state-run guesthouse to host and dine visiting official dignitaries. It is off-limits to visitors, but the gardens are actually a public right of way and well worth a visit.
Inland from the river, Shanghai’s downtown Xintiandi district catalyzed a slew of similar historic redevelopments in cities across China. Although, modeled on the Shikumen lane-style residential neighborhood that used to occupy the land, Xintiandi is actually a rebuilt replica, with plaza spaces created and the houses enlarged to fit restaurants, cafes, bars and retail boutiques. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011, Xintiandi now has a serious city rival: Sinan Mansions.
It’s a short walk, or an even shorter cab ride, from Xintiandi to Sinan Mansions, but the similarities and contrasts are immediately clear. This collection of heritage mansions on tree-lined Sinan Road in the former French Concession has been converted into a hip nighttime hub of bars, restaurants and cafes. There is also a museum, a few stores and a residence-style boutique hotel. The renovated houses are interwoven with glassy new-build structures that neatly fuse old and new Shanghai. It is, essentially, Xintiandi 2.0 — except for one key factor, the prices, with some exceptions, are not quite so high.
That’s not to say the Sinan Mansions are priced in the budget category — very little in Shanghai, except for taxi and subway fares, is these days. It just seems that prices are targeted more squarely at residents, as opposed to Xintiandi’s focus on tourists, so the value is better.
Among the top picks at Sinan Mansions are Apothecary, a classy lounge serving classic and speciality American cocktails and Creole-influenced cuisine; Chicha, featuring tasty Peruvian and Latin American fare; and Boxing Cat Brewery, a U.S.-style microbrewery and Cal-Tex restaurant.
Also located at Sinan Mansions is Hotel Massenet, comprising individual European-style 1930’s garden villas. The luxuriously decorated accommodations share the street with the former residences of Dr. Sun Yat-sen the founding President of the Republic of China in 1911, and 1930’s Beijing opera virtuoso Mei Lanfang.
Given the stellar address, accommodation doesn’t come cheap here. Hotel Massenet’s villas start from approximately $5,875 per night. How about that for modern-day luxury?
Fairmont Peace Hotel86-216-321-6888www.fairmont.com/peacehotel
Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund86-216-322-9988www.waldorfastoriashanghai.com