Walking into a really good bar or restaurant is like embarking on a journey. Whether that journey takes you to another time and place altogether, an oasis in which to leave your work day behind, or simply off the gross streets of Allston all depends on the specifics. At Shanghai Social Club, they're hoping to accomplish all of the above.
“We really wanted to have the music, the lighting and the ambience kind of transport you to another place,” manager Bill Golden explains. “You come in, walk down the stairs, off one of the busiest streets in greater Boston, walk through the authentic Chinese doors, into the nice, deep red lighting, and you start to get transported. Next thing you know you forget where you are, you're in that time period, that era, place.”
As for whether the restaurant, which opened in August in the old Our House space, actually nails that authenticity is hard to say – I've never been to pre-prohibition Shanghai. But one thing it does do is stand out from the glut of standard, fratty bar options nearby, many of which — like The White Horse Tavern, The Avenue, and others — are owned by the same people. “Everything around here is very open, very airy, with windows that open up, TVs everywhere, sports on, that same menu. We're different than that,” Golden says.
He's right about that. The compartmentalized layout of the room — with private dining rooms, tucked away alcoves and lounge seating all bedecked with ornamental Chinese statues, low candle light and sexy ambience to spare — feels much more Back Bay than the collegiate bro-date style most places in the neighborhood adhere to.
That's exactly the post-college market they want, Golden says. “Up until we opened there weren't really a lot of places they could go and have a dinner with level of service we're offering. Same thing with cocktail program. People who have been coming in are a little more sophisticated drinkers than what we see at our other locations.”
What those sophisticates are drinking is a selection of tiki classics, many inspired by the genre's founding father, Don the Beachcomber – Mai Tais, Fogcutters, Zombies, Painkillers and the like.
Originals like Foo Dogs Barking — made with bourbon, lime, ginger syrup, Falernum and Angosturra — are boozy, spicy fun, like tiki should be. Options like the Tiki Merchant — made with aged Bols Genever, Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, Lillet Blanc, Lustao sherry and Bittermens Tiki Bitters — show a commitment to constructing a cocktail list with the right building blocks. And, while I wouldn't rave about this place as top of the line craft tiki joint, there is no denying that its arrival marked a big step up for the neighborhood. That's a journey of ascension worth starting.