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Asia travel

The LGBT guide to Shanghai - seven places to go in Pride week, and any time, to tap into social scene in China’s biggest city

In the third of our LGBT city guides, we uncover the best gay-friendly hangouts ahead of the annual Pride celebration in Shanghai and talk to locals about the social scene there

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 8:01am

For a city with more than 24 million inhabitants, Shanghai’s LGBT social scene is small and scattered, but this just makes the community friendlier and more unified, especially during June’s annual Shanghai Pride (shpride.com) event.

As it’s held under the watchful eye of the local government, co-founder Charlene Liu and her volunteer team have to be creative in programming the celebrations.

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“We’re not really allowed to parade; it’s China and there are cultural and political reasons,” she says.

“Each country has its own culture and methods, and we realised there are other ways we can show visibility and send a message. So we had the idea of a Pride Run, because it still means we’re out on the streets.”

The first Shanghai Pride event was in 2009.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” says Liu, who’s from Malaysia. “But afterwards we got so much amazing feedback from people discovering the community, coming out and finding love, that we knew we had to continue.”

Organising the city’s Pride events also turned out to be a personal journey for Liu.

“I’ve accepted myself, I came out completely and I met my wife in 2013 during our first ever Pride Run – she literally ran into my life.”

This year Shanghai Pride will be focused over four days, from Thursday June 15 to Sunday June 18, with the Pride Run and a big party taking place on the Saturday.

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The run will include six routes of different lengths across the city, the longest 15km, and there will be a film festival on the Sunday at the British Centre, with Chinese short films and international films being screened.

“After Pride, we’ll do a roadshow around the country, reaching out to communities and sharing stories,” says Liu. “Our fundraising money goes to help local organisations around the country, for PFLAG China [the local branch of the American NGO – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays], Aids/HIV institutions and the LGBT centre in Beijing, which is registered as a health institution and has full-time staff.”

While Shanghai Pride only comes around once a year, there’s a need for year-round support and community, which is why Gabby Gabriel decided to start Les Queers (Facebook: lqshanghai), initially a network for women in Shanghai but inclusive of the whole LGBT community.

“We’re an online WeChat community, but have many offline events including monthly barbecues and weekly discussion groups about many different subjects,” says Gabriel, who hails from the US city of Cleveland and has lived in Shanghai for five years. “For example, we just worked with the American consulate, which hosted a queer economic policy forum. We already have around 800 people in Shanghai and my goal is to have Les Queers in every city in the world.”

The places to go in Shanghai

Daliah

A fun, airy Austrian/European restaurant during the day – with floor-to-ceiling windows, rocking chairs, swings and a slide from the first floor to the ground floor – it also hosts regular events at night. Its motto sums the place up: “Celebrating food and weirdness.”

“I definitely don’t want people to think of this just as a restaurant, because we also have our parties at night,” says Viennese owner Daliah Spiegel, who originally arrived in Shanghai over 10 years ago. “We do cinema nights, host performance art and poetry slams, we’ve had great Halloween and Womens’ Day parties and we once had a sex shop pop-up upstairs with free condoms, which was all about entertainment and sex education.”

SNAP! is the all-inclusive bimonthly Friday party at Daliah – “no matter what letter you are, you’re all invited” – run by Hunan-born marketing consultant Jing Shi and friends. “There’s a huge gay community here, but life can be a little underdeveloped, Jing says. “We don’t have as many gay clubs here for the size of the city; it’s not as developed as in New York, but it definitely has the potential. That’s why we started having these parties.

“Daliah is a great host and it’s a cool, open-minded space that adds a lot to the community. We’re the only party that plays fun pop music; it’s doesn’t matter how cool a neighbourhood or a club is – a place still needs to be fun.”

Daliah, 408 Shanxi Bei Lu (near Beijing Xi Lu). Tel + 86 21 6288 8773

Facebook: DALIAH.shanghai

Facebook: snapshanghai

Roxie

Opened by Dutch-born Ting Ting, who also owns heavy metal bar Inferno, Roxie is Shanghai’s only lesbian bar, “but we never turn anyone away,” says Ting Ting.

“We opened two years ago and are open every day, which is important, to tell girls that we’re always here and we’re a community. We focus on the drinks and the music, just like a mainstream bar, but we always have fun events.

“We always get our crowd involved somehow. There’s the pole in the middle of the bar, there’s a queer pop quiz on Wednesdays and DJ nights on the weekend.”

Roxie, 2/F, 359 Kangding Lu (near Shaanxi Bei Lu). Tel + 86 152 1669 5765

Facebook: RoxieShanghai

Lucca 390

Open since 2012, Lucca 390 is Shanghai’s best-known gay bar and club, with a top drinks and EDM and techno music on the decks; it’s also close by other LGBT-friendly bars.

“We aimed to create a venue where people felt at home and mixed with their friends and people who became their friends and also visitors to the city. Many love stories and friendships have started here,” says Jack, who prefers not to give his full name, and says his job description is to “make sure the customers are happy, looked after and the drinks are top class”.

“We’re open every day. Sunday and the beginning of the week is relaxed, dialling up on Thursday and getting really busy on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Lucca 390, 390 Panyu Lu (near Fahuazhen Lu). Tel +86 21 5295 6979

Facebook: Lucca-Cafe-Shanghai

Smash

A newly opened DJ bar from the China Social Club, this friendly place has a great music policy of fun disco and house, starting off at 5pm every day and becoming more clubby later into the night. They’ll be celebrating Pride with a party on Friday June 16, and they’ll start their monthly gay night, Spectrum, on July 1.

685 Dingxi Lu (near Fahuazhen Lu). Tel +86 21 6282 1395

Facebook: smashshanghai

The Parrot

This is a fun, LGBT-friendly funky disco bar, which gets busy at the end of the week and spills out into an outside alleyway, which becomes a social micro scene of Shanghai. SNAP! (of Daliah parties) curate Thursday “Thirstation” nights here from 9pm.

7 Donghu Lu. Tel +86 21 5466 0026

Funkadeli

This Italian bar and bistro offers easy drinks and great food, and is a great summer scene-and-be-seen streetside hangout – plus it’s just around the corner from The Parrot.

291 Fumin Lu, near Changle Lu. Tel +86 21 6439 9582

Elevator

Much more than other venues in Shanghai, this small club, named after the tiny four-person elevator you take to reach it, focuses on electronic and techno music. It’s young, hip, dark and has a ping pong table.

4/F, 218 Xinle Lu (near Donghu Lu)