Shanghai: The Bund Revived
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Huangpu, China’s most famous riverfront is regaining its glory
rises from what was once farmland across the water in Pudong (meaning “east of the river”), echoes of Shanghai’s glory days get stronger with each passing year, increasingly receptive audience.
Shanghai is a city in love with its past, and now, with the openings of The Peninsula Shanghai, Fairmont Peace Hotel, Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund and The House of Roosevelt – all along the famous Huangpu River – the glamour of old Shanghai has jumped from the pages of books into a reality that can be tasted, experienced… and slept in.
Stretching along the river’s western bank, the Bund, an iconic strip of Shanghai, has reclaimed its status as the city’s entertainment hub with end-to-end renovations. With its feng shui-infused waterfront location, neoclassical granite-block architecture and views of the restless Huangpu River, the Bund provides an entertainment-friendly combination of sweeping vistas, classic buildings and urban vibe that no other location can match.
A Bridge in Time
The Bund’s revival began in 2008 when the classic twin-looped Waibaidu Bridge lights and returned to its landmark location spanning Suzhou Creek at the north end of the riverfront boulevard.
The gently pulsating neon lights outline the graceful steel trusses of the 104-year-old bridge, turning this simple but elegant structure into one of the city’s top free-of-charge attractions. If you’re not lucky enough to be gazing at the bridge from a suite at The Peninsula, the historic steel span is best viewed from the Zhapu Street bridge a block to the west.
The Bund’s makeover continued with the 2010 waterfront renovation, which added broad sidewalks in front of the historic buildings, a spacious riverfront promenade and noise and commotion.
Further improvements are under way at Rock Bund, a Xintiandi-style remake of architecturally diverse old buildings at the north end of the Bund along Suzhou Creek. The project is anchored by the Rockbund Art Museum, a contemporary art museum which opened in 2010.
Meanwhile, various landmark openings have added further luster to this essential city showcase. The Peninsula is a new-build property that incorporates the essence grande dame of Shanghai hospitality, a faithfully restored 82-year-old Art Deco icon.
The Waldorf Astoria combines the best of both worlds, with the Long Bar, Pelham’s New York restaurant and 20 suites located in a century-old English Renaissance heritage building on the Bund, while guestrooms, lobby and other amenities are in a newly constructed tower that opens onto Sichuan Road, a block west of the Bund.
The hotel’s signature Long Bar is a heritage revival of an institution of the 1920s located in the same building. Big enough to convey a sense of grandeur but small enough to generate a rich sociable warmth, the modern version is wrapped in its own ambience, enhanced by live music, raw oysters and classic mixed drinks. The Zaza cocktail, an intoxicating swirl of gin, Dubonnet and Angostura bitters is sure to catapult drinkers back to the previous century.
The hotel’s heritage building, complete with the signature neoclassical cupolas, columns and gables of its era, is connected to the new tower wing by a long skylight
atrium. Soaring above the alley is a spacious courtyard that is highlighted by the
A few blocks farther north, Canada’s Fairmont group has made a bold $64 million gamble, betting that modern travelers will embrace genuine 1930s-style ambience, Fairmont Peace Hotel, those bygone days and nights under the starry skies of eastern China have been faithfully re-created on the Huangpu waterfront.
To modern eyes, this property is subtle and understated rather than grand and sweeping. Its rooms and chambers unfold like a series of jewel boxes, all on a human scale and all with eye-catching details and dim, almost ghostly lighting. At the back of the hotel, Fairmont has built a new luxury lobby where cars can drop off guests; entering the building from the bright new lobby is like walking from broad daylight into peaceful twilight.
Overall, the design detail is superb: in every direction lie vintage-style lamps, dogs rendered in stained glass or perched atop octagonal columns – dog racing was founder Victor Sassoon’s favorite pastime – wrought-iron scrollwork, etched crystal
Yet inevitably, such a process involves compromises. The building’s classic Art Deco design, with its emphasis on smooth linear exteriors, vertical lines and axial symmetry renounces balconies, while its 1929 pedigree has left it with small elevators, tiny windows and pocket-sized public spaces. Nevertheless, in this cookie-cutter world, the Fairmont Peace is resolutely atypical and absolutely unique, and how often can that be said of any property?
Just north of the Fairmont Peace is the House of Roosevelt, by far the least ambitious 2,500 labels and more than 20,000 bottles of wine displayed in a nook-and-cranny layout that rewards exploration. The Roosevelt’s cellar is a wine drinker’s delight that has, somewhere back there, a vintage to suit every taste and budget.
In the back of the house is a little-used courtyard that showcases the ever-present Naugahyde chairs and fake-wood veneer tables make this feel more akin to a casual family restaurant than to its more glamorous Bund neighbors.
The casual décor is redeemed by the house’s reasonable prices and vast outdoor balconies. But Roosevelt’s chief virtue is location: it sits along the lazy loop of the Huangpu that lies closest to Pudong, so guests can admire up-close views of the endless churn of barges, coal boats and tourist ferries that ply the river, and of the bright and crazy skyline of Xujiahui on the opposite shore. Surely old Shanghai had its
At once nouveau-artsy and Shanghai-chic, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel occupies the painstakingly restored 1908 building once known as the Palace and later as the Peace Hotel South. The concept blends art with a retail environment and hospitality. The hotel the artist residency consists of 18 modular apartment-workshops where gifted artists from around the world, including China, live and work at no cost.
Although the newcomers have seized the headlines, the original waterfront purveyors of gilded Shanghai elegance – the Glamour Bar and its partner-in-chic, M on the Bund restaurant – remain as classy and popular as ever. Bund 18 is still there as well, with its ever-changing suite of high-end restaurants and nightclubs. And Three on the Bund, with its resolutely modern interiors and vertical selection of restaurants and bars,
The 21st center of gravity and as a symbol of a rising Shanghai. But there’s no doubt that these established names, with the addition of the newcomers, are pulling the city’s entertainment spotlight back to the waterfront, where the action was more than a century ago.