It's 1910. Shanghai's Bund is about to be graced by a renovated classic that will be home to the city's highest standards when it comes to the Good Life—cigars, whiskey, fine wine and world-class cuisine, along with the amiable companionship and lively conversation that accompany them. Sidle up to the world's longest bar and take your place at the British Shanghai Club...
100 years after the changes that saw the British Shanghai Club rebuilt with a distinctive three-story neoclassical facade, this historic temple to cultured luxury, which has occupied its choice Bund-side location since 1861, is set to open once more. This time under the aegis of the world-famous Waldorf Astoria brand.
Shanghai's Waldorf Astoria Club threw its doors open to the press last Friday in anticipation of its October 1 soft opening.
It is fitting that the Astoria Club is housed in the former Shanghai Club, once Shanghai's most exclusive men's club and home of the Long Bar—a 115-footer that used to double as a kind of tape measure for status: the crème de la crème sat near the windows; the merely affluent would sit further back.
A hotel GM's dream
After an in-depth tour of the premises and a Waldorf Cocktail or three, we met with the hotel's GM, Mr. Dirk de Cuyper, a man whose affability and clever smile hint at a life of refinement and enjoyment of the finer things. A 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry, de Cuyper once held quite the enviable position: managing the beautiful Hilton Hua Hin Resort in Thailand.
From there, de Cuyper's move to the Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa made perfect sense. Sanya's booming economy and postcard perfect beaches allow for continuity in terms of sublime natural scenes and career trajectories, but it's the subsequent move to Shanghai that surprises some (as it did me) at first. I live in Shanghai and love it, but hardly a day goes by when I don't dream of a pristine beach, clear waters and sunshine. What is it about Shanghai that beats a beach paradise?
Though I couldn't make sense of it at first, hearing de Cuyper describe his passion for Shanghai, and the Waldorf brand's perfect synergy with the historic gentleman's club the Astoria Shanghai now calls home, made everything clear as Baccarat crystal. It's a hotel manager's dream: history, luxury, sophistication and an amazing location all combine to make the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai one of most desirable hotels in one of the world's most dynamic cities.
Shanghai's new heyday
Shanghai in 2010 has come about full rudder, the city's eyes as a-glitter with cash and exuberance now as they were during its Jazz Age glory days.
Unprecedented boom times are yielding heretofore unthinkable levels of opportunity and wealth, propelling Shanghai's evolution as a trade and cultural hub of international import forward at what seems like an exponential pace, even as much of the world is stumbling financially.
And, of course, on the coat tails of big business sweep in hoards of designers, artists and entrepreneurs of every stripe whose visions change the face of the city on a near-daily basis.
An historic international brand in China's most cosmopolitan city
All of which brings us back to the Waldorf Astoria Club. What better place for people with big money to mingle with people with big ideas? Long synonymous with fame, status and luxury the Waldorf in its long and illustrious history globally has hosted everyone from royalty (the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) and notorious gangsters (Frank Costello) to mega-stars like Marilyn Monroe, and the list goes on and on. And in fact, the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York changed the hotel industry and how people socialize forever, transforming hotels from places to sleep into places to meet, eat well, celebrate and mingle.
Combine the Waldorf Astoria tradition with the old Shanghai Club's own richly unique history, and you've really got something. During Shanghai's "Paris of the Orient" days, the old Shanghai Club, too, hosted visiting heads of state (including US presidents) and was a favorite haunt of well-heeled gangsters ("Big-Eared" Du Yuesheng and Huang Jin Rong, who was also chief of police for a while, among the most notable). You can, in fact, sit in the same chair as an erstwhile crime lord, found today at the Long Bar's south east corner table. Welcome to the Club: Waldorf cocktails, oysters, cigars... and the Bund view
The Waldorf Astoria Club, the all-suite portion of the hotel situated in the Shanghai Club heritage property, is accepting reservations starting October 1. Guests of this attentively restored historical gem will find the absolute pinnacle of luxury and comforts awaiting them, from the Waldorf's signature four-poster beds, to marble-finished bathrooms featuring claw-foot bathtubs, double vanities and separate showers. Just out of doors, dedicated butlers attend to any need, 24/7.
The Club's suites, Shanghai Club Ballroom, Long Bar and Salon de Ville venue are all privy to some of the grandest and most direct views of the Bund and Lujiazui in the city, situated as they are almost directly across from that unmistakable Pudong icon, the Oriental Pearl Tower.
The Long Bar and Salon de Ville are already currently open to the public and worth a visit for a taste of things to come. The Long Bar is the only place I've ever been to in Shanghai where they actually ask you how you'd like your Manhattan. If you love Manhattans like I do, definitely try the Waldorf Cocktail, it's a Manhattan plus absinthe and bitters, ingredients which masterfully up both the Manhattan's pleasure and alcohol quotients. While there, also try chef Andrea Sacchi's delectable oysters.
Sacchi offers Kumamoto oysters—popular for their sweet, fruity, buttery flavors; Eld Inlet—distinguishable for their creamy yellow color and richness; and Eagle Rock, which feature distinctive Totten nori tones.
These go beautifully with classic shallot and vinegar dressing and horseradish cream, but there is also a Thai lime and fish sauce and Virgin Mary dressing. Of course Tabasco sauce, pepper and lemon wedges are available for purists to enjoy as well.
You'll also find 500 fine wines hand picked by the Waldorf's own resident sommelier as well as a selection of excellent Cuban cigars.
Du Yue Sheng's favorite table was free when we visited, but expect it to be in high demand in the weeks, months and years to come.
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund
Add: 88 Sichuan Zhong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu
Tel: (086 21) 6322 9988