When discovering Shanghai Bund marvels, one is often told about the Shanghai Club Long Bar. This actually used to be themeeting place in the 1920s and 1930s for the British elites, but not only them, as the Club was open to foreigners. It was however closed to Chinese citizens and to women who were only invited once a year!
The first Shanghai Club, now part of the Warldorf Astoria Hotel, was built in 1864 to provide the newly arrived group of British businessmen with an exclusive place to meet and discuss current affairs, on the very model of clubs in England. Admission fee was not a fix one, which meant the higher you pay, the more chance you had to become a permanent member. Candidates had to submit three months in advance and be introduced by a minimum of two long time members. The ballot used white and black balls with one black ball in five excluding. The unlucky candidate was then "blackballed". One of these unfortunate, though very rich, applicants was Victor Sassoon, who finally preferred to put his money into a new type of venue, today's Peace Hotel.
Let us go back to our long bar topic. This one was created inside the club house in 1911, when the new Shanghai Club was built. The oak paneled bar was extending its 110 foot 7 inches length on the whole South side of the building. It very soon became a social status barometer, as lower position executives or new comers in town called "griffin" had to in the dark remote side of the bar, the side facing the Bund being reserved for more senior members. The word "griffin" designated a Mongolian young pony horse, not tamed yet. The tradition was to wait one year, one month, one day, one hour and one minute to become a real "Shanghailander"! When traveling to Asia, I was surprised that the club and bar culture inherited from the British had survived. There is a famous long bar too in Singapore Raffles, similar bars in Tianjin Astor House, Rangoon's Strand Hotel, etc... In Kuala Lumpur, I found the Coliseum Cafe (photo right) quite typical. Most of these places still have their sometimes original ceiling fans, slowly bracing the air while you are having a nice evening drink. So it is rather easy to travel in time there!
The most popular drinks in those days were scotch or gin, as they were easy to ship long distance, although some old colonials claim they were meant to kill tropical germs! Above cartoon by Austrian Jewish immigrant Friedrich Schiff shows westerners at the Shanghai Club Long Bar with the title "the longest bar in the world". This slogan, as attractive as it is, cannot be less true. The longest bar in the world in the 1940, when this drawing was made, was probably the one of Mexicali Beer (last photo below) in Tijuana Mexico, stretching its 231 foot-length from the early 1920s already. In 1938, another serious competitor was the Mildura Working Man's Club in Victoria, Australia, with 299 feet, although this one was T-shaped! Anyway the Long Bar of today's Warldorf Astoria is far shorter than the original, since it has been cut in half in 1956 when the place became a Seaman's Club. The remains of the bar were then used to serve greasy chicken feet in 1990 at the opening of Shanghai first KFC (left picture of Chinese dressed in workers white shirt enjoying their first American food!). Still, there are many stories floating around the bar like reports of occupying Japanese troops having to shorten the Club billiard tables to play at ease or famous characters like John Keswick, the head of Jardine Matheson Company (now House of Roosevelt on the Bund), who used to come here. These are stories which still resound in modern Shanghai and confer the Long Bar the status of real urban legend!
-Shanghai, a handbook for travellers, Darwent, Charles Ewart 1920
-The Bund Shanghai, China faces West, Peter Hibbard, 2007
- A last look: Western architecture in old Shanghai, Tess Johnston, 1993
- Site Virtual Shanghai, Christian Henriot