As suspected, the entrance to Chinatown Club Shanghai is an unmarked door on a residential street, the de rigueur clandestine touch of all such speakeasy-themed establishments. I’m ushered into a dark theater adorned with red velvet drapes, candle-lit tables, and a cast of scantily-clad characters amping up the crowd, a mix of ex-pats and locals. As soon as I order a cocktail, the host, “Chinatown Charlie,” takes the stage. The lightly-choreographed dance pieces, one-act sketches, and self-aware camp transports me to post-Mao Shanghai, with Chinatown Dolls in corsets performing their hearts out to burlesque numbers.
The experience—Chinatown Club’s take of Hollywood’s take of pre-war Shanghai—is refreshing. It’s also a place for Shanghainese locals to get a taste of New York City as designed by Norman Gosney, who was responsible for burlesque institutions The Box and The Slipper Room. If you don’t know by now, Gosney is that guy who lived in the Chelsea Hotel for twenty-two years.
A former Buddhist temple, Chinatown Club Shanghai gets more lavish the higher you go. The second floor has private rooms with balcony seating; a swanky VIP area on the third floor with a private bar overlooks the stage. Considering Shanghai doesn’t have major attractions like Beijing (Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Great Wall), Chinatown Club is an adventure in itself… and all that jazz.