The Cool Docks, Shanghai

Despite the fact that most of the world is tightening its financial belt, young expat Shanghai, feeling insulated from the crisis “back home”, continues the hunt for new hangouts where the cocktails are sweet and pricey and the music hot and loud. Eager to join the fray, I headed to where I hoped the trendy throngs would be gathered – The Cool Docks.

Ladies, if you are waiting for the perfect occasion to unveil your little black dress and killer heels: a visit to The Cool Docks might just be it. With its sleek bars and haute cuisine restaurants, it is easy to mistake this chic sliver of eastern China with the Upper East Side of New York or the West End of London.

A view of the Cool Docks. Photo credit - dixsonlv

A view of the Cool Docks. Photo credit - dixsonlv

Exploring The Cool Docks, Shanghai
We went on a Thursday night and, while the place was surprisingly empty, we were grateful for the opportunity to do that very rare thing in Shanghai: stroll. Without the usual heaving mass of jostling crowds around to dictate our pace, my companion and I were able to amble around the docks (they aren’t really docks, that’s just the name) and take in the crisp, wintry air at a leisurely pace.

Stylish new constructions throughout the Cool Docks. Photo credit - Dennis Deng

Stylish new constructions throughout the Cool Docks. Photo credit - Dennis Deng

The Cool Docks, just a few months old, are gorgeous, sparkly, cool, spacious, classy, elegant – just a few choice words my companion came up with as I prodded for details of her first impression.

Continental Influences
As you walk around the red brick courtyard, taking in the brightly lit fountains, the opera music blaring out of invisible speakers and the glittering shop fronts with fanciful names like Pure (Wine Bar), Spring Sunrise (Sports Bar), Banni (desserts), Mythos (Mediterranean restaurant) and Caffein (café), you are struck by how very un-Chinese it all seems.

We started off in Spring Sunrise, a sports-themed bar where you can catch live action from the various wide-screens as you enjoy a hearty western meal and a jug of beer. As we made our way out to move on to the next establishment, the smiling waitress came and thrust a few fliers into our hands. Open bar for ladies on Christmas day. As we found out throughout the evening, friendly staff and mouthwatering promotions are par for the course at The Cool Docks as it tries to lure revelers from the more established entertainment hubs of Xintiandi and the Bund.

The view of river Bund, Shanghai. Photo credit - china guccio

The view of river Bund, Shanghai. Photo credit - china guccio

Our next stop was Pure, my newly crowned “Favorite Wine Bar”. The prices are as fantastic as is the décor. Plush leather sofas, polished antique furniture, an authentic-looking gramophone and gleaming crystal cases packed with 500RMB Cigars. Pure’s host, Jackson, was keen to assure me that, in six months, The Cool Docks would be the thriving entertainment hub that their location deserved.

The Cool Docks can be found at 505 Zhongshan Nan Lu, a stone throw from Shanghai’s world-renowned Bund with its idyllic views of the moonlit Huangpu River and sleepily drifting boats. It may be quiet around these parts now but that won’t remain the case for long. Make this your very first stop for a luxuriant taste of Shanghai’s soft, romantic side.

Another spot to check out is Shanghai’s “new heaven and earth”, hip modern Xintiandi, a hotspot of entertainment, shopping and nightlife that really lives up to it’s name.

Iris Jumbe. A roving writer, devoted blogger and ardent cake lover, Iris lives in China and splits her work time between feeding her blog and working as a freelance copywriter/editor. In Shanghai for just over 3 years, her playtime is spent exploring the schizophrenic city. She has a tempestuous love-hate relationship with China but usually only writes about it when they’re firmly in love. Which is often. Phew.


15 Comments on "The Cool Docks, Shanghai"

  1. daniel on Tue, 24th Feb 2009 7:06 am 

    Truly a beautiful city.

  2. Yangzi Man on Wed, 15th Apr 2009 4:36 am 

    My Cool Docks Experience

    Last Friday, April 10th, I visited the new Cool Docks (Lao Ma Tou) complex of restaurants and shops in the South Bund area of the Huangpu River waterfront as part of the research for a new Shanghai travel guide book I’m in the process of writing for an overseas publisher.

    I’m in agreement with other online postings that this new development does seem to have a lot of potential, and could be a nice place to eat a meal or enjoy a cup of coffee, especially when sitting at an outdoor table in their large courtyard area. The layout of the site is obviously copied from Xintiandi, right down to the fake Shikumen house standing in the center of the courtyard. And it was relatively empty of customers on that sunny Friday afternoon.

    Unfortunately, despite its potential as a nice place, my visit to the site was marred by some unpleasant treatment from the development’s over zealous security guards.

    Since the shops and restaurants are located across the street from the Huangpu River and are rather low-level structures, you need to cross the street to actually view the waterfront. The Cool Docks developers have chosen to locate a large parking lot right on the waterfront, and from this parking lot you would have unobstructed views of the Huangpu River, the Nanpu Da Qiao and the Pudong skyline across the river. But you could only enjoy this view if the development’s security guards would allow you to actually enter the parking lot area, which is protected by a wall and gate.

    In my case, despite repeated polite pleading in Chinese, the security guards refused to let me enter the parking lot, although I clearly explained to them that I simply wanted to take some photographs of the Huangpu River and Pudong skyline. In fact, they even ridiculed me in Chinese, saying that, “Oh, he’s just a tourist!” Meanwhile upper class Chinese customers kept driving their luxury sedans in and out of the parking lot, to which I was refused entry. The message seemed to be no foreigners, no tourists, and no photographers allowed.

    This impression was only deepened when I crossed the street back over to the shops area and approached another security guard who was protecting the entry to the building housing the development’s property management office. This guard confirmed that the parking lot on the waterfront belonged to Cool Docks and that the guards protecting it were also employed by the Cool Docks development. When I asked him in Chinese if I could talk to someone working in the property developer’s office I was told that I could not. Next, when I tried to photograph the outside of the building housing the property developer’s office I was told by the guard that taking pictures was not allowed. When I tried to take a picture of the outside of the building anyway, the guard actually pushed me from the side in order to jostle my camera and ruin my shot of the building.

    All in all I was left to conclude that Cool Docks does not welcome foreigners, tourists or photographers. They seem to see their target market as exclusively being upper class Chinese. It’s safe to say that unless I receive an apology from the property management company Cool Docks will not be receiving any positive publicity in my forthcoming Shanghai travel guide book, and judging from the empty tables at their restaurants I’d say they could use any free advertising they could get.

    The message for the property manager is teach your security guards some customer service skills.

    The Yangzi Man

  3. Nik on Thu, 16th Apr 2009 8:04 am 

    Hi Eric,

    So sorry for that sucky experience. I haven’t exactly been to The Cool Docks myself but I was appalled with how the security guards have treated you! I’ll have to ask Iris if she had similarly nasty experiences while she was there, but from what I heard last time she had a fine service. Just that the crowd and atmosphere was quite.. lacking.

    All the best with your upcoming Shanghai Travel Guide. You must let me know when its out, so I can tell my readers about it!



  4. Iris Jumbe on Thu, 7th May 2009 6:22 pm 

    “… Cool Docks does not welcome foreigners, tourists or photographers. ”

    I’m afraid I couldn’t disagree with you more, Yangzi Man. As Nik said, it really is unfortunate that you had such a bad experience and the story you described leaves much to be desired about the way you were treated. But the sweeping generalization I quoted above is just not accurate.

    When I went to the CD to research this article, I, like you, went camera in hand. As you can tell from my picture, I could not possibly look more “foreign”. I took at least 40 shots, from all over the place and no one approached or tried to bar me. I’m not really sure from your description exactly which bit you were prevented from entering and I’m certainly not going to do PR for the CD but I have been there several times since and, while it’s still far from being the entertainment hub that Xintiandi is, I’ve noticed a mix of locals and expats and always been treated fairly.

    If your article hasn’t been submitted yet, maybe it’s worth trying again? Perhaps it was just a particularly unpleasant security guard you met on that day. I hope you do manage to get your shots. Good luck! :)

  5. Stuart on Fri, 14th Aug 2009 9:43 am 

    I have to agree with our Chinese speaking photographer that the staffing inside and out of this complex was not hospitable at all
    (very rude in fact).It gave my group of friends the impression that the staff had a greater interest in talking to their friends and not wanting to serve us. They only showed interest in how much we spent.
    If you want good business have good service and be polite.
    We are residents of Shanghai and go to everything new that comes up and think that the Cool Docks has great potential but it lacks a pleasant energy flow and seems blocked off in parts.
    I(We) will not go back until we hear that things have improved.

  6. Iris Jumbe on Sun, 16th Aug 2009 7:10 am 

    Thanks for the feedback, Stuart. Haven’t been to the CD in a few months. Sounds like it is worth a revisit.

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  11. ledwrks_cg on Fri, 24th Sep 2010 11:34 am 

    I was able to visit at least some of the’CD (Sep 21, ’10) – in a single word, barren. In fact a good majority of the facilities are still empty or under construction. Especially the further south you go (toward the ferry station).

    It isn’t there yet, but could be in time.

    As others have mentioned I was struck by how empty the entire area seemed to be not just the’CD proper. So, I can’t say the guards were rude. In fact I didn’t see anyone while I was there. It was in the mid-90’s, both temp and humidity, and therefore I don’t blame anyone for that either.

    Though I encourage early adoption in an effort to find the trendsetting spots, in anything. You need to be aware that if you read “up and coming” in a tour book or map – this phrase sits at the far and very open end of interpretation where the Chinese are concerned.

    I think whether actually stated or not this loose definition contributes to more than a few expat’s love-hate relationship with China, maybe even Iris’.

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  13. Anonymous on Sat, 8th Oct 2011 4:07 pm 

    A good lesson to be learned. Be respectful, If a guard says not to take pictures, don’t take pictures. You won’t have any trouble if you do not cause any.

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  15. Rita Henry on Mon, 6th Aug 2012 12:17 am 

    This was on our list to go to in a couple of weeks…Now I won’t miss it…sounds too good. Love Xintiandi and Tai Kang, now I will add this to my favorites.

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