Kunshan offers a dynamic drinking scene, with new bars coming and going all the time. Sophie’s Bar – a longtime favorite of many expats here – closed its doors for the final time earlier this year, as its owner was tiring of the long hours. Roundhouse, a swank new entry to the Kunshan bar scene, didn’t last long, and shut its doors in August.
Still, some newer entries have helped fill the void. Meanwhile old standbys like The Oasis, Wonderful Too and Fridays continue to draw crowds of regulars and newcomers alike. For those looking for a comfortable hotel bar, you can choose from a 5-star resort setting at the Fairmont’s Curve Bar, or a classy business lounge at the Swissotel downtown.
Take a look below to find a bar that’s right for you. Don’t drink and drive, though: China’s begun a strong crackdown on drunken drivers, with even first-time offenders getting “automatic” six-month prison sentences. Happy bar hopping!
If “Cheers” had been filmed in Kunshan rather than Boston, then the Oasis would have been the setting for the show. The bar lives up to its name, offering a slice of home, a place where regulars come because people know their names; a great selection of food, complimentary popcorn, billiards and foosball are icing on the cake.
The atmosphere is laid back and comfortable. The music usually old-school rock, and there’s no live band (so you can actually have a conversation). The bar was opened in 2007 by owner Jeff Baci and his wife Landy.
Oasis has a number of special events, such as fireworks on the 4th of July and sports-viewing parties. The bar is located on #60 Zhongyin Street, near Bailu Road. Open from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekdays and from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m. on the weekend (though Jeff says his real policy is never closing if a customer is in the bar). Oasis has a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parking is on the street. For more information, visit their website at www.oasiskunshan.com
Fridays is located at #109 Lai Yi Plaza. It’s easy to get to and surrounded by restaurants and other bars that are all foreign friendly to some extent.
Friday’s was founded by a Chinese woman, Eileen, who has lived overseas for many years. Friday’s opened way back in 2003, so is one of the elder statesmen of the Kunshan bar scene.
Friday’s is louder, darker and more “energetic” than Oasis is, and caters to a more single (and single wannabe crowd). They have a live band Tuesday-Sunday, and a good happy hour from 7:30-9:30 p.m.. Friday’s doesn’t offer food, but with so many food establishments nearby that’s usually not a problem.
The bar is in a complex with a number of Chinese clubs and bars, so the adventurous can start their evenings at Fridays and venture off to other locations easily. It’s also within walking distance of Oasis, so bar hopping between two of Kunshan’s best foreign bars can be done without having to flag down a taxi.
Friday’s is open from 6:30 until the last person leaves. You can get more info at: www.friday-pub.com.
The newest addition to Kunshan’s foreign-friendly drinking scene, the News Tree bar opened on October 12, the product of local Kunshan lady Ms. Tao. The bar is a casual place with a small music stage, a food menu (food served from 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) and a very reasonably priced Suntory beer on draft (15 rmb).
New Tree is open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. It’s in the Hushi Plaza on North Heilongjiang Road (behind the Exhibition Center), a few doors down from Wonderful Too (see below) and next to the newly opened western BBQ restaurant Unicorn.
A couple of doors down from the Starbucks in the Hushi Plaza on North Heilongjiang Road, Wonderful Too is owned by Mr. Wang, a classically-trained pianist that later played keyboards in some rock bands and a native of Jiangxi province. There was a Wonderful One, which he opened in 1999, but it closed down. Version 2 opened at the end of 2008.
Wonderful Too is in a plaza with some great restaurants and next to a park. It opens at 5:30 and has live music Monday-Saturday. There’s a menu of western bar food, and two floors of seating, but no happy hour. A pool table is on the 2nd floor.
The bar doesn’t have a website, but is easy to find and very straightforward. The clientele is a pretty balanced mix of locals, Taiwanese and westerners.
A newcomer, 80s Bar opened in 2010, the product of German national Mansred and his wife Yuki. The bar is an intimate two floor place with a music stage on the first floor and more seating and a billiards table upstairs. Open from 6:30 until 2:30 every day, with live music Tuesday-Sunday nights.
There’s a good list of cocktails – with some unusual ones (egg whites in a cocktail?) – and a buy-one-get-one happy hour on some cocktails.
No food, but some shops and restaurants nearby. The place is clean – probably the cleanest bathrooms in Kunshan – and intimate, but very hard to be in once the music starts, unless you’re deaf or wish to be; for those that can’t speak sign language, you can escape to some tables outside.
There was no internet in the 1980’s, so aptly the 80’s Bar doesn’t have a website. Hopefully, they’ll move into the ‘90s soon.
GastroBar is much more Gastro than Bar, but it does have a club/bar atmosphere and has special music events (Trance Night, House Night, etc). Founded by a Singaporean in 2010, GastroBar also offers an extensive menu of western food (and we’re not talking nachos and burgers, but foie gras and caviar).
I’ve been a bit befuddled by my visits to GastroBar. I love the outdoor seating, but wonder why the tables are built so that customers outside all face the wall rather than the skyline behind them; the place can’t seem to decide what it wants to be – bar, club, restaurant – so it tries to be everything, something that rarely comes off well. Drinks are expensive – more expensive than many of the food items – and there’s no happy hour to offset the expense.
GastroBar is located at Kun Tai Road in a plaza fronted by the Noble Steak House. They’re open from 11:30 to 10:00. For more information, check them out at www.gastro-bar.com.
The Curve Bar at the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake is a nice place to unwind and enjoy some million-dollar views. The bar has pool and foosball tables, and is next to the Essence Restaurant, so food is readily available. Patrons can also elect to enjoy their libations outside; on a nice evening, sitting outside the Curve Bar looking onto Yangcheng Lake, you can feel you’re on the beach in Hawaii or Bali.
The Curve Bar is also family friendly, and the Hotel uses the space to host family movie nights on occasion. It’s also a very good place for corporate events.
The Curve Bar is open from 6:30 to 2:00 a.m. They have a special happy hour from 2:00, but only for guests staying on their Gold Floor. You can find information on the Bar and Hotel at www.fairmont.com/yangchenglake.
The Crystal Lounge on the lobby level of the Swissotel is a peaceful and comfortable place to start a night out in Kunshan. The Lounge offers comfortable seating and a quiet respite from the downtown crowds and (occasional) chaos. Many a business deal has been sealed over drinks in the Crystal Lounge, and you’re almost sure to find some of the city’s movers and shakers mapping out business or government strategies there.
The Hotel’s Café Swiss Restaurant is next door, and offers an array of Chinese and western food to indulge in either pre- or post-drinks.
The Lounge is open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. There’s no happy hour, but drinks are reasonable for such a high-end place. The Swissotel is located downtown, on Qian Jin Road. Check them out at www.swissotel.com/kunshan.
Likewine is a club that opened in 2010. It attracts a small group of westerners, but has English on its menu, plays western music, and has an atmosphere that most younger foreigners would enjoy. It even has two Russian professional dancers that gyrate on stage while you’re enjoying your drinks and marveling at the global trade between these two communist countries.
Located on Huang He Road, near the Swissotel downtown and next to a large Kentucky Fried Chicken on the corner, Likewine is more club than bar, but the distinction isn’t profound. Likewine doesn’t have a cover charge, and has both live and DJ music every night of the week (they’re open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. 365 days a year). They have food, a wine list, and specials for the heavy drinker (35 rmb Budweiser’s, or a bucket of 12 for 350 rmb).
The club has a number of specials for members. Becoming a member simply requires purchasing a Club debit card (starting at 1,000 rmb) that can be used to purchase things in the club or in the spa nearby that the company owns. Members can have birthday parties in the Club, and get free drinks and food from time to time.
The thing that distinguishes Likewine from other clubs – as if Russian dancers weren’t enough of a distinction – is that it plays its music “at bearable levels” (according to the manager of the club); they don’t crank up the volume until the speakers burst, and you can actually have a conversation at Likewine without leaving the building hoarse.
Likewine has a website, in Chinese, at _ www.jszisun.com .