Peace Hotel Jazz Bar – Shanghai, China - Gastro Obscura

The Peace Hotel is, alone, worth a visit. The historic art-deco behemoth is a centerpiece of Shanghai’s picturesque riverside Bund area. The hotel bar’s house band is just the cherry on top: The primarily octogenarian “Old Jazz Band” is likely the oldest living and longest-performing musical group alive today.

The bar and its band are an encapsulation of a pivotal era in Shanghainese history. The arrival of jazz in the 1920s brought about an embracing of Western culture throughout the city known as the “Paris of the Orient”: Men began wearing suits, ties, and mechanical watches, and gelling their hair, while women assumed tight-fitting cheongsams with high heels. The band’s repertoire of mostly nostalgic tunes from the ’20s and ’30s is an homage to a bygone era that birthed what’s known as “Shanghai style,” a singular blend of East meets West, old meets new.

Several musicians can likely attest firsthand to the period’s pathos; the “younger” of the bunch can recall practicing their forbidden instruments in secret during the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s. At any rate, the “Old Jazz Band” that began playing here in 1980 is the same one that plays today. The average age of the house musicians is currently 82, a number offset by the rotating, often younger “sultry female vocalist” (according to the hotel website) who joins the band at 9:00 p.m. each night.

That the bar itself was originally an English-style pub is evidenced in its darker features, from the bar stools to the wooden tabletops, suited to an ambience of weighty refinement persistent throughout the hotel. Photos of famous politicians visiting the legendary bar line the walls, including Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Bill Clinton (did you know he played saxophone?) once famously joined the band for a stand-in solo.

While the bar is open to the public, care is taken to evoke a sense of exclusivity. Returning guests’ preferred food and drink order, as well as their table and cigar selection, are memorized by staff. A menu of snacks accompanies a cocktail list inspired by those of the ’20s. Grab a martini and french fries and enjoy this living slice of Shanghai history. The band goes on each night at 6:30 p.m. If the charm brings you to tears, it’s dark enough that no one will notice.

Know Before You Go

A RMB300 (about $43) cover charge is credited toward drinks.

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