The old Shanghai Club building had been closed for quite a number of years. Its transformation and re-opening in the Waldorf Astoria hotel happened with much less hype than the renewed Peace Hotel down the Bund. However, restoration of this piece of history has been very careful and the result is matching the highest expectation.
Built in 1911, this is the second building of the Shanghai Club. The male only British Club was the center of power and wealth in Old Shanghai. A few meters down from the main banks, trading houses and administrations, the club was the second home for the rich and powerful people of the International Settlement. The building contained all that was needed by its members, including bowling alleys, billiard rooms, a barber, restaurants and the long bar, supposedly the longest bar in the world. The top floors where occupied by 40 en-suite rooms for the residency of the members. The club membership was the cream of Shanghai businessman, drinking on the long bar with a carefully selected order.
The richest and most powerful would stand near the front windows, when the griffins (or newbies) would be relegated towards the back end of the room. Climbing Shanghai’s social ladder also meant going up the Long Bar. The Club also had massive dining room on the 2nd floor with giant portraits of the British Royalty. Besides the Italian marble staircases, a small lift was installed for the convenience of the members.
Unfortunately, the building suffered quite a lot in the 50’s to 80’s period. It became the seaman’s club serving a very different clientele from the dignified British gentlemen that occupied it before. The upper floor was turned into a hotel, also of much lower standard. The Long Bar was destroyed at some point and little remained of it when the ground floor was turned into the first KFC in China. Although this brought masses to the place, it is clear that no care was taken of the remains of splendor of this old lady of the Bund. Fortunately, the hotel renovation has been done with great care, recreating the Long Bar in its original location. I am sure that this piece of Old Shanghai will soon become one of the hangouts of the rich and famous of new Shanghai. The massive ball room on the 2nd floor has been renovated into the hotel main ball room. Although the British royalties portraits are long gone, the place still has a lot of majesty (except for the horrible new carpet) and gave a real official turn to the ceremony I recently attended. This would make an incredible location for one of my conferences on Shanghai history. The higher floors of the building have been turned into luxury suites that will surely attracted a very wealthy crowd. As the Waldorf Astoria is not fully open, the building still had a cozy a private atmosphere that matches the old club style. This is the best time to visit it, as the full opening of the hotel will surely change that.