A Night in the Life | Experiencing a Shanghai Bar Pre-Opening

Shanghai sees a lot of restaurant openings each month. Sometimes these periods, with a “soft opening” period where a place isn’t quite open until the big grand opening arrives, can be a bit ridiculous and confusing, as there isn’t really a set time for a soft opening to start and finish and, as noted by one of the city’s expat chefs, it gets silly after awhile. That being said, you know you’ve found a solid place if their soft opening only lasts a few days and they get right to the grand opening and into business.

The New Place

Such is the case with Sober Company, a new bar/restaurant/cafe hybrid from the brilliant mind of Angel’s Share owner Shingo Gokan, who, banking on the award-winning success of his first Shanghai bar Speak Low, is at it again with this wonderful place inspired by his experiences between Japan and New York City.

Taking a cue from the three-level approach at Speak Low, Gokan’s Sober Company is three different concepts on three floors: Sober Cafe (first floor), a black and white-tiled space with dark wood bar inspired by Manhattan’s West Village that serves up comfort food, coffee and Italian aperitif cocktails from morning until late night; Sober Kitchen (second floor), a dimly-lit space accented by brick, wood and Edison lights taking its inspiration from Chinatown and the chef’s unique fusion of American, Chinese and Japanese cuisine; and Sober Society (third floor), a quiet and classy bar that, not unlike the second and third floors of Speak Low, serves up a list of amazing and creative takes on classics – and new creations – that are tweaked with Japanese and Asian flavors.

The Pre-Opening

After reading about the opening we were instantly intrigued and was itching to get out to the big city and try it out. The chance came after Chinese New Year, when we were invited to the pre-opening party to get a feel for the establishment.

Having never been to such an event, it was quite an interesting thing to behold. Arriving at Sober we found our names on the guest list and made our way up to Sober Society, where we met the guest bartenders for the evening: Zdenek Kastanek of 28 HK Street and Steve Schneider of Employees Only. The menu they had for the evening was nothing short of amazing, utilizing all sorts of flavors and liqueurs to achieve an interesting balance between the reserved simplicity employed by Schneider and the often grandiose and loud flavors of Kastanek’s drinks.

After things got going the space was packed as we rubbed shoulders with all sorts of big names from the Shanghai bar scene and representatives for the Asian branches of various liquor brands, including a few familiar faces like Peter Gill, the China representative for Glenlivet.

Moving back and forth between Sober Society and Sober Kitchen, we even got to sample some of the restaurant’s amazing offerings, like the Shanghai Sliders (basically Chinese braised pork belly on a brioche bun) and “Ka’s Fried Chicken”, a very Asian take on fried chicken featuring spices like lemongrass and soy.

The best part of the evening was taking it all in. We had never been at such an event, filled with all sorts of interesting people, interesting beverages, interesting food. Dim lights and soft music filling the air as everyone, all enjoying the wonderful food and drink, let loose and became one with the night, voices flowing and people chattering, glasses clinking and laughter filling the air.

This was a slice of life that was at the same time new but that drew memories of childhood in similar restaurants and posh art galleries and openings in Phoenix, times long ago. It was an amazing concept from the amazing mind of an amazing mixologist that brought all these different people together, united for the purpose of celebrating the opening of one of the best new places in Shanghai, at least in our humble opinion. All for an evening that will live on in our minds, something to inspire.

The night winded on and we conversed and chatted, enjoying drinks like the Paper Tiger, a sweet and filling mix of mezcal, Cocchi Chinato, sherry and Campari, and the legendary Employees Only Manhattan, a well-balanced drink that relied on the reverse formula of the classic drink, with more vermouth and the addition of Grand Marnier.

It was a night to remember, and a welcoming visit to a wonderful city and a new bar, a new side of life and an exciting adventure to add to the belt of all the amazing things that happened in a place called Shanghai.

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