Shang­hai: The Bund Re­vived

Mean­while, on the other side of the Huangpu, China’s most fa­mous river­front is re­gain­ing its glory

Business Traveler (USA) - - INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS - By Brent Han­non

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

His­tory Re­newed

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.

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