How bad is the air in Shanghai's bars? Better -- and worse -- than you think

How bad is the air in Shanghai's bars? Better -- and worse -- than you think

We tested the air quality in popular Shanghai bars and found the best and not-so-best places to take your lungs for a night on the town
Shanghai air quality
Okay, so you may not need a mask, but the air quality in some establishments was pretty poor. And that wasn't in the bathrooms either.

Why do so many people take up smoking in Shanghai? To filter the air.

Although that's often said in jest, no one debates that Shanghai is not known for its fresh air.

Smoke-filled local bars and clubs are some of the worst places in town to breathe. Too bad we can't stay out of them.

To find out which Shanghai bars pose the highest risk to our lungs, we asked IQ Air’s Dave Young and his trusty air tester to come along while we paid for drinks around town.

According to Young, average readings of ambient air quality across Shanghai hover around 230,000 ppm (parts per million of criteria pollutants), more commonly referred to as "230." To put that in perspective, the United States FDA says 150,000 ppm is the high end of the “safe” air zone.

So which Shanghai bars fared best and worst when put to Young's exacting standards? We sucked it up and found out.

6. The Shelter

Shanghai air quality -- The Shelter

Known for cheap drinks and marathon sets by international DJs, this converted bomb shelter is Shanghai’s most popular underground bar -- literally and figuratively.

Sniff test: Imagine your grandmother's basement three months after a summer flood. Now triple that. And throw in a dead pet.

Reading: 350. It wasn't so much the smoke as the mold and mildew that made us gag as soon as we walked in.

Official reaction: Gaz Williams, general manager: “It’s been a long, humid summer and it's pretty tough to stop the mildew since we're underground and it gets damp very easily. We are closing in December for three or four weeks to install a new ventilation system, renovate the toilets and put in a new floor. Not only will the air quality in The Shelter be improved, but this will help remove the damp and thus help solve the mildew problem.”

5 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Lu 永福路5号, 近复兴路

5. C's

Shanghai air quality -- C's

This classic basement dive has some of the cheapest drinks around.

Sniff test: Like camping next to a row of outhouses.

Reading: 260 on the dance floor, charitably distant from C's infamous bathrooms.

Official reaction: No comment from the owner, who merely gave us a look suggesting that when you're paying RMB 15 for a beer, you forfeit the right to complain.

685 Dingxi Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu 定西路685号, 近法华镇路

4. Glamour Bar

Shanghai air quality -- The Glamour Bar

Home to both the Shanghai International Literary Festival and international DJs, this “bar for grown-ups” strives to provide a refined atmosphere where people can converse (and breathe) easily.

Sniff test: It smells like Shanghai. The nicer, cleaner parts of Shanghai. But, still, Shanghai.

Reading: 220. No doubt Glamour's open windows and location on the sixth floor of 5 on the Bund help keep its air quality roughly the same as the rest of the city.

Official reaction: Corey Croft, bar & operations manager: "We open up our large windows to air out the Glamour Bar every day. We're extremely vigilant about changing filters in the heating and cooling system. We also have an extraction system for the tobacco smoke, which really helps."

6/F, 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu 中山东一路5号6楼, 近广东路

3. Velvet Lounge

Shanghai air quality -- Velvet Lounge

The cozy and incredibly popular Shanghai bar for the upwardly mobile stays open till sunrise, thanks in part to great late-night pizza.

Sniff test: No issues other than the aroma of pizza being cooked.

Reading: 202. Cleaner than outside -- an impressive feat considering the bar's small size.

Official reaction: Tommy Patton, general manager: “We clean all of our AC units once a week. We also make sure to clean the rest of the bar really well with disinfectant. Any time you have water and moisture around it’s gonna get moldy, so we make sure to stay on top of those issues.”

1/F, Bldg 3-4, 913 Julu Lu, near Changshu Lu 巨鹿路913号3-4号楼1楼, 近常熟路

2. Mural

Shanghai air quality -- Mural

This well-insulated underground bar has sand-covered walls designed to resemble a half-recovered archeological discovery.

Sniff test: The most immediate smells come from the smoke of flavored tobaccos pouring out of hookahs. Lingering apple fragrance as opposed to secondhand essence of 555.

Reading: 177. Slightly above the U.S. FDA's safe level, but cleaner than the air outside.

Official reaction: Steve Bamford, general manager: “That reading is great. We just put in a pretty expensive machine to help with air quality and on a busy night we’ll run it about three times every hour. It just turns on and sucks all the old air out of the place.”

697 Yongjia Lu, near Hengshan Lu 永嘉路697号, 近衡山路

1. Sin

Shanghai air quality -- Sin

With a suggested dress code and striking lighting and decor, Sin shoots for a classy clientele.

Sniff test: No stink at all, unless you count male cologne.

Reading: 122. By far the cleanest, freshest air we found anywhere in the city, indoors or out.

Official reaction: Eric Pang, floor manager: “We have a huge central AC unit which helps. Also, our ventilation is tied into the main building, the Want Want Tower. And we have really high ceilings, so it makes for a lot of air in the room.”

23/F, Want Want Bldg, No. 211 Shimen Yi Lu, near Weihai Lu, next to the Four Seasons Hotel 石门一路211号, 旺旺大厦23楼, 近威海路, 四季酒店旁