Birds of Paradise
What It Is: What happens when Austin Hu (Heritage) and Yao Lu (Union Trading Company) team up again. Evidently they've both been harboring dark, secret cravings for spam, palm print shirts and drinks with little gardens growing out the top.
Tiki's a whole movement. It's a state of mind, man. A design philosophy invented in the early 20th century, for American servicemen nostalgic for the Pacific Islands and office workers escaping the monotony of an economic boom, displaying all the nuanced understanding of native cultures that the US was famous for in the 50s. Shanghai has dabbled. Did you know there was a Trader Vic's here? That listing's from 2007. Then there was Tiki China from Vance Yang (Chinese cocktail pioneer at Yuan) in 2014. Bounty Rhumerie had shades of it. You'll still find tiki mugs or a Zombie on a menu around town, but it's always "tiki-inspired," not like... "tiki" tiki.
Austin and Yao's neo-modern-fusion-whatever take on tiki revival is keeping it simple. Refined. Bamboo foot rest under the bar, wicker seats and palm leaf prints on the roof, but no tiki torches, leis or grass skirts. Nothing that'd come across as too gauche. It's also in super-duper soft open.
Eight dishes, eight drinks. As per The Law, there is a Mai Tai (98rmb) and a Zombie (118rmb), but there's also a Missionary Downfall (108rmb) and a Jet Pilot (118rmb), which has three kinds of rum and absinthe in it. Not very subtle cocktails. Noooot subtle. Overproof rum this, absinthe that, peach brandy to taste. Powerful fruit juice and orgeat flavors don't mask the fact that you will get capital Fucked up if you don't pace yourself.
Austin's doing his signature East-meets-West tomfoolery in bar snack format; Spam Katsu Sliders (2pcs 68rmb) and Charred Edamame (48rmb) with a truffle and sweet soy dressing, etc. Limited for now, the plan is for malasadas in the morning, spam, spam, wonderful spam, plate lunches and the whole kaboodle. That'll be rolling out over the course of the next month or so.
First Impression: Does Shanghai need a tiki bar? Of course it does. Stupid question. Shanghai needs everything, and tiki is the sort of light cultural appropriation that Shanghai is built on. Why wouldn't we have one?
Glad to see Yao playing with an interesting genre of cocktails. The Mai Tai is chicken soup for the soul weary of concrete and rain, as is the Funky Kingston. The Zombie borders on "too boozy to enjoy" territory—dark, uncharted waters—but that's what it was designed for. This is the drink they'd only let you order one of at the original Don the Beachcomber restaurant.
Not a Scorpion Bowl in sight. I assume that'll be added post-haste. Post-haste, I say!
Still, 118rmb for a drink, even an overproof one, even one from Yao Lu, even in a skull cup... the Jing'an expat ghetto is not starved for places to get cost-effectively comatose without sacrificing quality.
But! I've developed a simmering year-long craving for bold froufrou drinks and no one else is serving me three rums as a base in the braincase of a Polynesian god! Birds of Paradise might've opened a couple weeks early, but it feels like it's on the right track. Not too earnest, not too goofy. I'm glad it's these two proudly flying the tiki flag rather than anyone else. Okole maluna, duuuuudes.
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