Shanghai’s most popular art, design and cafe precinct is off Taikang Lu in the French Concession, between Ruijin Lu and Sinan Lu. Five years ago, this place was home to just a meagre handful of photographers, artists, and shops. Now, it’s a scene. Lane 210, Tianzifang, is the most well known. Come for a wander!
First stop is the photography gallery of Deke Erh, one of Tianzifang’s earliest residents, who specialises in black and white photography of Shanghai’s architecture, and also photographs city’s human side. His long term collaborations with people like historian and writer Tess Johnstone have given Shanghai an incredible legacy of books about Shanghai’s last century.
Adjacent to the gallery is an antique filled cafe, the Old China Hand Reading Room and Cafe, a quiet spot to sit and think, and read one of their many Erh/Johnstone publications.
The intertwining lanes are best explored slowly and patiently, because there are many other treasures to be found. The whole block was an old sweets factory once, and some of the original residents remain, although how they cope with the constant stream of art and design tourists I have no idea.
Further down Tianzifang is a branch of Woo scarves – whether you need a stunning cashmere wrap, a hand-embroidered silk throw or an affordable cotton sarong, it’s all here at Woo. I love the black cashmere opera scarf embroidered with peonies, and when I’ve saved a gazillion yuan I’ll buy it.
The lanes are packed with restaurants and bars too, and on a warm evening there is nothing better than hopping from one to another for a glass of riesling or shiraz and a good sticky beak at the passing human traffic. It’s always entertaining, because Tianzifang seems to attract the most avant-garde fashion tourists in all of China, who have rightly heard that this is the place to see and be seen. While you sip there will always be a fashion shoot or wedding being photographed to keep your eyes busy.
I feel reluctant to recommend a single place to eat or drink, because restaurants come and go in this precinct just like the changing tides of fashion. As they say in Shanghai, don’t get too attached to a place, because it might be gone tomorrow. For sheer longevity and consistency though, you’d be hard pressed to find better than Kommune – it has an open air courtyard, a great barrista, an excellent breakfast menu and the friendliest waiters ever. You can find it just off to one side of Tianzifang.
Oh! On your way out have a wander around the Taikang Lu wet market, a small but perfectly formed version of Shanghai’s bigger wet markets. That’ll bring you down to earth with a thud after all that art, design, shopping and coffee. Would you like a freshly skinned bull frog with your latte?