In many circles, Shanghai, China’s capital for… well, just about everything, isn’t yet considered one of the top international locations for food and drink. There’s Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles. But Shanghai, despite earning a few spots in last year’s Michelin Guide, hasn’t quite made the cut yet. Which makes no sense to me, because you can find everything here: gyros, craft beer, soul food, epic burgers… and of course, cocktails. When it comes to those cocktails, Shanghai has begun to make a name for itself, and thanks to imaginative bartenders like Shingo Gokan, things are getting even better.
Having made his mark in the bar world years ago with New York’s Angel’s Share, Gokan is now doing the same in Asia. After his project Speak Low was named 15th best bar in the world by Drinks International, he’s back at it again with Sober Company. The café/restaurant/bar hybrid, which grand opened on February 14, draws upon the owner’s experiences in Japan, New York and other parts of Asia.
Upon entering, you’ll find a world inspired by New York City’s West Village, all starting with Sober Café, an Italian-style café serving aperitif cocktails, coffee and light meals. It’s a bright space with white walls and a dark brown bar filled with plenty of Campari, Aperol and more Italian aperitifs and digestifs.
Sober Café is a great place to start the evening before heading upstairs through a door marked “Hungry” and into Sober Kitchen, inspired by Chinatown. There I enjoyed a soft-opening menu complete with Shanghai Sliders (basically Chinese-style braised pork on a bun, nothing short of amazing) and Ka’s Fried Chicken with Asian spices like lemongrass and sesame. The mixed drinks complemented the menu, with favorites being the East River, a complex drink made with globe amaranth-infused vodka, genmai-cha (Japanese brown rice green tea) syrup, lime, peach bitters, sesame oil and soda; and the Michelada, much like the Mexican drink of the same name, but with tomato miso swapped for juice, and Goose Island’s 312 wheat ale swapped for the typical lager.
Going back down to the first floor and up a larger staircase, you can enter through a door marked “Full” into Sober Society, an elegant cocktail bar with classics and oddities spiced up with some Japanese flair. An example is their Whiskey Sour, made with Japanese whisky, yuzu juice, caramel, egg white and bruleed foam; and the Godfather III, a riff on the classic Godfather featuring Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch, hoji-cha (Japanese plum tea), apricot brandy, bitters and a garnish of candied prosciutto that was smooth and fruity.
Sober Company is a cross-cultural exploration of what experiences Gokan–as interpreted by bar manager Atsushi Suzuki and the rest of the hard working staff–has taken from his journey across Japan, New York, China and elsewhere. And it’s certainly the newest hip spot to visit in Shanghai for quality cocktails and food.