Best dive bars in Shanghai

Best dive bars in Shanghai

Sometimes the night simply calls for a cheap beer, and good friends. You bring the crew, these places have the rest covered

You could hit the Bund every night and order bottle service or sip on RMB 80 cocktails. But the glitterati lose their sheen quickly and at some point, the only bottle you want in your hand has the word "REEB" or "Tsingtao" on it.

Although some locales live up to the cigarette butts and harsh fluorescent lighting image conjured up by the words “dive bar”, the best ones are places that simply keep the concept of a cheap drink, sans frills, close to the heart.

Here are eight of the best Shanghai dive bars in no particular order.


Shanghai dive bars -- c's barThink of the graffiti as a tramp stamp and it all makes sense -- relatively. Who you'll see there: Chinese bouncing to “Empire State of Mind”
What you'll drink there: A pint of Carlsberg for RMB 15, or Tiger for RMB 20
Best deal you'll find there: RMB 40 Jagerbombs

The grandfather of places that smell like your grandfather, C’s is a maze of crowded, sweaty rooms in the basement of an office building that are completely covered in graffiti.

Imagine that the wall art is an enormous tramp stamp and this place makes perfect sense.

We can’t go back because somebody in our party decided to start breaking light bulbs, which didn’t seem all that out of place at the time.

This is one of those places where there’s always somebody to talk to or hook up with.

Don't leave without: Writing something stupid on the wall.

C's, 685 Dingxi Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu 定西路685号, 近延安西路, +86 21 6294 0547, Sunday-Thursday: 7:30 p.m.-3 a.m.; Friday-Saturday: 7:30 p.m.-5 a.m.

More on CNNGo: Best after-hours Shanghai bars

Harley’s Bar

Shanghai dive bars -- Harley'sThese are the only two things you need to know about Harley's -- oh, and pet the cat.Who you'll see there: Older Americans, Chinese working stiffs lookin’ to kick off the Sunday shoes
What you'll drink there: Beam. Neat.
Best deal you'll find there: RMB 25 pints of Tiger, RMB 45 Heinekens, and RMB 50 Murphy's

In a basement next to an Internet cafe in Xujiahui, Harley’s takes its name and decor from the bar mat of Americana.

There aren’t any specials, the bartender is darped in a leather vest, and the pool table’s felt is torn and frayed. You got a problem with that?

Don't leave without: This might ruin the “Roadhouse” described above, but they have a really nice cat. Pet the cat.

Harley’s Bar, 265 Nandan Dong Lu, near Caoxi Bei Lu 南丹东路265号, 近漕溪北路, +86 21 5424 7317, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.

More on CNNGo: What your Shanghai bartender knows

Windows Too

Shanghai dive bars -- Windows TooThese should get you started -- and there's plenty more where they came from. Just don't order in Chinese.Who you'll see there: Sassy Filipino waitresses who reprimand you for speaking to them in Chinese. Don’t try Spanish either -- trust us.
What you'll drink there: Coors. They used to be RMB 10, but are now RMB 15
Best deal you'll find there: Other than the Coors? RMB 25 coronary in a Philly Cheese Steak costume.

Windows Scoreboard has better ambiance and view; Windows Underground provides a better assortment of degenerates selling chemical and flesh; but the Jing’an Windows branch is remarkable because it’s so damn unremarkable.

By not intruding with any hip music or decor (except that marvelous “Madagascar” mural), Windows Too allows drinkers to concentrate on the all-important union of beer and liver.

Don't leave without: Asking the manager to put on the new Gift Skateboards video.

Windows Too, 2/F, City Plaza, 1618 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu 南京西路1618号久光百货2楼, 近华山路 +86 21 6288 9007, 10 a.m.-4 a.m.

More on CNNGo: Bars for Shanghai's booze monogamists

Helen’s Cafe

Shanghai dive bars -- helensHelen's might be in Yangpu, but it hasn't figured out how to water down the drinks yet. Who you'll see there: Someone saying, “That’s what I love about these study-abroad girls. I keep getting older, and they stay the same age.”
What you'll drink there: They haven’t yet figured out how to water down the booze, so enjoy the RMB 15 shots
Best deal you'll find there: A free bottle of Tsingtao for the first five customers every Wednesday

If, in penance for some sin committed in another lifetime, you find yourself wandering the streets of Yangpu, grab a beer at this place.

Stupid backpacker accoutrements here aside, the place is brimming with students (from Tonji, Fudan, and Shanghai University of Finance and Economics) who are, in turn, brimming with cheap beer.

Don't leave without: Trying the cheeseburger (RMB 26, or RMB 16 before 6 p.m.)

Helen's Cafe, 49 Wuchuan Lu, near Wan'an Lu 武川路49号, 近万安路, +86 21 6536 8669, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

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Shanghai dive bars -- dadaA hipster bar built on irony.Who you'll see there: Girls with sidebangs and outfits lifted from the set of "Global Guts." Check if you don't know what we mean.
What you'll drink there: Almost all drinks hover around RMB 30, so take your pick
Best deal you'll find there: Chinglish Cocktail for RMB 25.

Dada barely made this cut. A dive cannot abandon earnestness, that's all it has. And Dada, at its root, is a hipster bar, one built on irony.

It's a little too smooth, the playlists too perfect to be a dive, but for some reason, it still is, and we love it.

Don't leave without: Checking out the Sub-Cinema Movie Night on Tuesdays (movie starts at 9:30 p.m.). Free popcorn, woohoo! 

Dada, 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu 幸福路115号, 近法华镇路, +86 150 0018 2212, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. (weekend till later)

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Not Me

Shanghai dive bars -- not meNot Me might just might be the Shanghai dive bar for you.Who you'll see there: Swedes, chicks with sidebangs and dudes outside asking for change
What you'll drink there: Standard drinks and brands you can spot in most Shanghai bars
Best deal you'll find there: RMB 80 all-you-can-drink deal and RMB 15 beers on Thursday

In the gutted carapace of a former talking-girl bar, Not Me shows that booze barns in Shanghai have second acts.

You won’t be drinking top-shelf booze, but it’s not like you deserve it.

A revolving schedule of theme nights and dance parties (electroclash and the like) keeps the place interesting. It’s hip, but not self aware enough to become a hipster bar.

Don't leave without: Talking to the San Franciscan owner, Sam Liem.

Not Me, 21 Dongping Lu, near Hengshan Lu 东平路21号, 近衡山路, +86 21 6433 0760, 8 p.m.-2 p.m.,

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I Love Shanghai

Shanghai dive bar - I love shanghaiPossibly the original Shanghai dive bar -- but its prices have aged with it.Who’s going: People with tourist visas
What you'll drink there: Surprisingly overpriced beer (RMB 35 for a Tiger)
Best deal you'll find there: Strong Island (RMB 50)

If dive is defined by lack of posturing, then this Jing'an institution doesn't fit the bill. But, if a dive is thought of by how little it changes over the years -- I Love Shanghai has it made.

With the perpetual adolescence of a frat house, "I <3 Shanghai" (as it is also known) embraces the seedy, mediocre side of Shanghai's nightlife that is quickly evaporating like so much spilled Carlsberg.

The beers are too expensive, and the lights too bright, but this place is still bizarrely popular and  is still considered a dive.

Don't leave without: Adding a tallymark to the absinthe shot bar.

I Love Shanghai, 2/F, 1788 Xinzha Lu, near Jiaozhou Lu 新闸路1788号, 近胶州路, +86 21 522 86899, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.

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Shanghai dive bar - mokkosDon't let the Japanese drinks fool you, the guy at the end of the bar with the guitar is a dive bar giveaway. Who you'll see there: Hip Japanese, people who love ska but hate Bob Marley, and anyone else who happens to wander down the random alley it's on
What you'll drink there: Shochu
Best deal you'll find there: RMB 35 for wheat shochu and grapefruit juice

The first time we went to Mokko's, the bartender walked up to the table and said, “I’ll be your menu.”

He wasn’t kidding, they have no menu, so have faith in your waiter or you're S.O.L.

The tight-knit waitstaff know their stuff though, so you’re in good hands, allowing you to relax as you sip, listen to old Trojan records and be content.

“We love ska with shochu, they’re both so smooth,” says Kanoko, our waiter, part of the tight-knit waitstaff, whose service is so unpretentious you can only experience it at a dive.

Although it’s odd to think of a Japanese bar like this making a dive bar list -- this tiny, clean and tidy bar still does even though it hides it dive-y aspects well.

Take the bathroom for instance. Look past the graffiti to the Japanese toilet. Look at all those kinky functions. Pure dive, only the best way.

Don't leave without: Asking La Mu (拉姆), the Tibetan woman behind the bar, to sing you a song.

Mokkos, 1245 Wuding Xi Lu, near Wanhangdu Lu 武定西路1245号, 近万航渡路, +86 21 6212 1114, 7 p.m.-2 a.m., (closed on Tuesday)

More on CNNGo: Decoding the Mokkos shochu shelf

Did we miss your favorite Shanghai dive bar here? Nominate your favorite in the comments section.

Hunter Braithwaite is a writer and editor based in Miami. Before that he lived in Shanghai. He edits the Miami Rail and blogs at

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