Shanghai Where Bomb Shelters Become Bars

When you hit the town in a major world city, you look for certain things in the bars and clubs you go to: perhaps a cool underground vibe; or a place that you know is safe and relaxed even if otherwise the night out is blast. Well, in Shanghai you can be doubly sure of ticking these boxes by frequenting one of two nightspots there that in times past led a rather different life as a bomb shelter.

Underground vibe: Shelter

The straightforwardly named Shelter is a cavernous, down to earth dive that draws a mixed crowd and isn’t recommended for the claustrophobic. Clubbers enter a narrow room containing the bar and dance floor via an even narrower winding passageway. The low curved ceilings are constant reminders of the purpose this space once served.

Ooh la la: drag party at Shanghai Studio

The city’s other best-kept secret hotspot comes in the shape of Shanghai Studio. It’s less dingy and earthy than Shelter, and not quite as proud of its previously more sheltered existence. Inevitably, though, it’s a subterranean labyrinth of a club to explore, this time with art adorning the corridors, and catering to a more flamboyant clientele.

Burrowing back in time

The story behind Shanghai’s hidden haunts goes back to the bygone era of 1930s, as Newsweek reported this week. Bomb shelters were dug when the Japanese carried out air raids during their conflict with China, and through the later years of Civil War and then Cold War insecurity many more were built.

Industry to art: steel factory turned sculpture space

According to Newsweek, these days things are different, and the repurposing of abandoned structures in Shanghai isn’t limited to bomb shelters. A recent design revolution in the city has seen a slaughterhouse reborn as an art hub, flourmills moulded into art galleries, warehouses revamped as rock clubs, and a steel factory reshaped into a sculpture space. Yes, as China opens up to the world, industry is moving to the city’s outskirts, while creativity and commerce take centre stage.

A picture preserved: old cinema still in use
Good architects appreciate the value of preserving the original character of a building even when it is restored to perform a new, modern function. If the history of the Shanghai Studio and Shelter nightclubs has survived their respective transformations, then thankfully no nights here will ever bomb out badly.

Shanghai old and new

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