Speak Low

Words by Theodora Sutcliffe on 14-Jun-2015

Address: 579 Fuxing Zhong Lu, (near Ruijin Er Lu), Shanghai, China
Tel: +86 (0) 21 6416 0133
Website: Not supplied
Hours: Sun-Thu 6pm-2am; Fri-Sat 6pm-3am
Door: Make reservation
Style: Speakeasy
Recommended for: Cocktails
Price guide: High-end


In Shanghai, speakeasies are even more common than fake markets. A casual wander through the French Concession reveals bars nestled behind clothes shops, phone booths, vending machines, and more. But Speak Low, the brainchild of Shingo Gokan, formerly of NYC's Angel's Share, is a speakeasy of such textbook perfection that it set the bar for all the rest when it opened in 2014.

A very convincing fake bookcase at the back of a fake bar equipment store leads through a narrow brick tunnel, past a smoking area, hidden behind a dark curtain, to steps that lead to three separate bars of ascending formality and cost, all with a distinctively speakeasy feel to them.

The first floor hosts a lively, affordable good-time venue, with classically led cocktails - I liked a blend of gin, becherovka and vermouth over a lump of ice. Behind a sliding wood panel - in theory you press the map, in practise, on busy nights, a hostess operates it - the second floor is "Japanese style" (no standing), with a more inventive cocktail list and pressed tin ceiling. A third level, past the "Employees Only" sign on the stairs houses an even more exclusive space with exposed rafters and whisky lockers. You'll need reservations to access level 2 most nights, and contacts to gain entry to level 3.