As you may know, Google does not work in China. Savvy travelers would know to install a VPN service on their phones before taking off into China. We were not savvy. So I guess we got the REAL Chinese experience: Page not found.
This situation made getting around challenging and finding Speak Low was no exception. Luckily there was an article on the Time Out Shanghai site about Speak Low so we were able to track down the address.
There were only a few places on our list in Shanghai, as we did not know anyone who lived there. The list went something like this: Zhongshan Park, foot massage and Speak Low. The tip about Speak Low came from a Japanese friend in Berkeley.
Speak Low (Kanji Bilou in Chinese) opened last year and is owned by Shingo Gokan, who also founded Angel's Share in NYC. Speak Low is the name of the drink that won him the Bacardi Global Legacy Cocktail Competition in 2012. We were lucky that it happened to be just a 10-minute walk from our hotel.
The Time Out article described finding the address, than locating a bookshelf and then sliding it open. But it wasn't that esoteric. Everything kind of clicked as we approached.
As co-founder of Umami Mart, it would be next to impossible to pass up a well-lit store called Ocho: Your Bar Tools. This HAD to be the place.
This tiny shop could not have been more than 200 square feet.
Packed with Japanese bar tools and books, it was comforting to see all these familiar products in an unfamiliar land.
And there's the bookcase:
You may enter:
The other hint we had was that there are three floors and the one worth going to is on the top. So we went through the bookcase. And went up some stairs and saw this sign:
This is the second floor bar with more casual and more "affordable" drinks:
Then we went up some more stairs...
There is a framed map when you arrive on the top floor. Press "Shanghai" (it's pretty worn so you'll know where to push) et viola!
We were greeted by this:
The menu laid out some ground rules. The drinks were categorized creatively and presented alongside a small bites menu. At 110-120RMB (around $20) per cocktail, this was probably the most expensive thing we paid for in China -- more than the hour-long massage we got earlier in the day.
I will have to go back for the Queen Bloody Mary.
Crawford was our bartender for the night. His English was very good and patiently answered all of our questions. His barback was also stellar, following Crawford's every move, diligently preparing and washing at the same time. It was like watching a ballet!
I had to get the Speak Low cocktail. This matcha cocktail (they actually whisk the matcha) is combined with 2 parts Bacardi 8 year rum, 1/2 part Pedro Ximenez sherry and 1 tsp Matcha green tea powder. This whisked mixture is then poured over a large chunk of ice in a thin rocks glass. The rim of the glass is dusted with kinako (roasted soy bean flour) brown sugar, and is served alongside two thin dark chocolate wafers.
The Speak Low cocktail was like dessert in a glass. It was so Japanese but tropical at the same time. Everything just melts together into a smooth, rich matcha mixture. The ice makes this drink refreshing even though the ingredients all have its distinctive personality.
Washi ordered the East of the Sun. I cannot remember what the base was, but it was served with Thai basil and chilis in a mortar. You muddle as you go for more spiciness.
We also got some pickled eggs and vegetable pickles.
Next up, following the Japanese theme, I ordered the tequila-shiso drink served in a masu. Here is Crawford making the drink:
This was a very summery drink that popped. Although it was pleasantly air-conditioned in the bar, it was still a welcome refreshment in humid Shanghai. I like the aroma of the shiso colliding with the hinoki wood fragrance coming from the masu. There was also a little pinch of ume salt on the corner of the masu.
Washi went off the menu and asked Crawford for a smoky cocktail made with whiskey. Crawford presented us with a show. The result was the cocktail Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
This was a bourbon based cocktail with bitters, smoke chips and a side of bacon. Whoa.
Bacon and chocolate:
Washi and I had planned to go to another cocktail bar after this, but Crawford definitely had the final word on that night.
My image of Shanghai before going there was mainly of the Pu Dong area full of skyscrapers and banks -- but hanging out in the French Concession, poking our heads into dumpling shacks in the day and then into 5-star bars in the night made for an ideal vacation. Places like Speak Low emphasize Shanghai as a city full of discoveries.
This page has been found.
SPEAK LOW (aka Kanji Bilou)
579 Fuxing Zhong Lu, Xuhui
near Ruijin Er Lu