Our Shanghai guide to all things LGBTQ
Shanghai’s queer scene is small but burgeoning, with an ever-changing and growing gamut of spaces and events which cater to an increasingly confident and visible LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, these spaces also have a difficult time surviving long enough to become established in China, and it can be difficult to keep track of which gay-friendly venues are actually still operating. So we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to Shanghai’s current scene, including all the prime spots and organizations aimed at bringing the LGBTQ community together for a good time, wherever you are on the spectrum.
While the range of gay nightclubs might be limited, there’s plenty of venues and organisers throwing regular parties across the city which cater to LGBTQ people of all tastes.
The up-and-coming Medusa party promises “pansexual realness” and usually plays at the end of every month at Elevator. Dance music junkies of all genders and sexualities are invited to explore their “nastiest” fantasies in one of Shanghai’s hottest spaces, set to techno, house and disco from the city’s most talented DJ’s.
If you’re in the mood for a classic Fire-Island-style topless dudefest, complete with all the glitter and leather pants that could possibly be crammed into one space, Angel throws one of the most high-profile parties in town. Brought to you by the same team that ran the now-defunct ICON club, Angel parties have a different theme every month and you’re encouraged to adhere to it in the most outrageous way possible. The party constantly tours Asia to bring their unique brand of fabulousness to the masses, and when they’re in Shanghai you can usually catch them at Modern Sky Lab.
One of the newest and most inclusive queer parties to hit Shanghai is Spectrum which started in June 2017 and takes place at hipster haven Smash every month. The party aims at distorting the boundaries of gender and sexuality one chic BDSM outfit at a time, creating a space free of heteronormative restraints where partygoers are encouraged to let loose to classic disco anthems and “handbag house” beats. Definitely one to watch.
If you’re looking to get down and dirty to your favorite old-school pop anthems, Snap is a regular queer party which is more focused on giving people a space to turn up to Britney and the Backstreet Boys in a house party setting. It takes place at Daliah every other Friday, occasionally including performances from some of Shanghai’s leading drag queens and queer performance artists. Snap is one of the most popular LGBTQ events in town and it never takes itself too seriously. Dressing up is encouraged.
For rainbow-colored fun every single weekend your best bet is Shanghai staple Lucca, located in the heart of the closest thing this city has to a gaybourhood, those few streets in the Changning District that are lined with a handful of LGBTQ-friendly venues. Featuring topless male pole dancers and throngs of sweaty muscle jocks cramming the dancefloor from dusk ‘til dawn, jumping up and down to the same three Katy Perry songs, this place is definitely more aimed at dudes.
When you’re not lip-synching for your life on the dancefloor, there’s plenty of more chilled out spots for LGBTQ people to socialise and relax among their fellow queer peers.
For the ladies, Roxie is the only lesbian bar in the city and is a chilled-out place to sit back with a masterfully crafted cocktail and strike up a conversation with the patrons. It’s a drama-free space with a neighbourhood feel and some of the friendliest bartenders in Shanghai, who occasionally throw some more tantalizing parties at the weekends. They also run the Roxie Cinema once a month, screening classic gay films for free alongside heaps of popcorn.
Another more relaxed gay watering hole is the recently-opened Moon Bar in Xujiahui, which seems to be trying to recreate the vibe of the dearly-missed and legendary gay bar Eddy’s, helped by the fact that the head bartender has moved to this place. They have a rooftop terrace and friendly staff who emphasise Moon Bar as a place to make like-minded friends in an intimate and comfortable setting.
For laid-back, local vibes Asia Blue in Xuhui is a good choice for all ages and orientations. It’s a spacious bar with reasonable prices and very friendly staff, the kind of place where you can either grab a cocktail and a quiet window seat with your BFF or grab the microphone and belt out your best rendition of “Like a Prayer” to the polite group of regulars crowding the bar.
If you’re more interested in meeting people then the ever-popular Rice Bar in Changning is the place to be. This trendy offshoot of the famous establishment of the same name in Hong Kong caters mostly to men seeking men, but always boasts a good mixture of people. An intimate space with a trendy crowd, worth stopping in for some open-minded fun.
For those pretty young things who want somewhere a bit more high-energy to make some fabulous new acquaintances, then Happiness 42 is the current frontrunner for the hippest gay bar in town. Run by the same guys behind Lucca, this calmer younger sibling features traditional Chinese décor including a giant bed in the center of the room, in case you really hit it off with someone. Happiness 42 also aims at becoming a focal point for the queer community, regularly hosting events such as film screenings, drag performances (with a standout being their drag bingo night) and talks from some of the scene’s leading figures.
For a look at a strictly local side of Shanghai’s gay community, Lai Lai Dance Hall is an experience you won’t forget. Open only at weekends, this shabby and muted space is where the city’s older gay men go to meet discreetly and dance together to some old-school Mandarin classics. This place is a haven for closeted men who wish to meet others in a safe space, and discreet, understanding foreigners are more than welcome.
During the daylight hours you can head to M Cafe, the only queer cafe in Shanghai and a great spot to grab some decent coffee and cake in an informal, mellow atmosphere. Located in the same venue as Lucca, this daytime equivalent is where you can find the usual partygoers when they’re not twerking on a podium and covered in glitter, as well as members of the LGBTQ community of all stripes.
There’s more to Shanghai’s LGBTQ scene than drinking and dancing, with a growing number of organisations providing a variety of daytime activities and services for the entire community.
When you’ve had a few too many cocktails and feel like getting your health back up to scratch, Feel Good Fitness on Dagu Lu occasionally runs LGBTQ workout classes for those wanting to keep in shape and enjoy tunes from all your favourite gay icons. The sessions are irregular and it’s recommended you get in touch with the venue to find out when their next one is.
If you want to mingle with the people who are currently driving queer culture in the city, then keep updated on the frequent events run by CinemQ a film collective that shows screenings of gay films at various venues across Shanghai, with appearances from the biggest queer artists and drag performers. These are the same guys who are behind the upcoming first edition of the Shanghai Queer Film Festival which will be running in September, featuring an entire week of screenings, workshops, parties and discussions. All the events are free and open to all, and will focus primarily on Asian and particularly Chinese queer culture and history.
Females should also check out Les Queers, a coalition of local activists who organise meetups and events aimed at bringing Shanghai’s lesbian community together. Alongside various parties and meetups they’ve also held open mic nights and performances by female artists. A great place to get involved in the community and establish a solid support group. Similarly, Open Doors Shanghai is a social activity group aimed at bringing together all members of the LGBTQ community for various participatory events such as game nights, vegan buffets, group picnics and dance parties. Open to all.