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3 Shanghai Theme Cafes You Should Hit Up Before You Die



Ben Cost

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Food and Drink

Every city has its share of theme cafes, but in Shanghai they're on every corner. And people can't seem to put their finger on them. Are they novel concepts redefining the city's cuisine scene or yet another cheap gimmick to cash in on nouveau riche Shanghainese sensibilities? We decided to separate the wheat from the kitsch by reviewing several theme cafes every week for a month. Here goes....

Zoo Coffee

Zoo Coffee is where you imagine all those Shanghaiers who still wear panda hats at 35 go for their morning latte. In accordance with its name, this watering hole features a menagerie of naturalistic stuffed animals from giraffes to gorillas. Think if Sumerian coffee mated with a Natural History Museum's gift shop. Don't have a date? Eat with Babar on Cialis....

Zoo's selection of fare isn't half-bad either with every coffee drink from A to Z,  croque monsieurs, and a Berry Berry Waffle, a hulking breakfast nosh divided into four quadrants.  We were especially partial to their toast squares, which were so big and fluffy they could be used to break the fall of a building jumper. No need to make a cross-town pilgrimage to Zoo; throw a rock in any direction and you're bound to hit one. 

Find it: Multiple locations

Line Cafe

You'd think basing an entire cafe around a Japanese messaging app with an innocuous green logo would be a tall order -- on par with making a successful movie based on Disneyland's Pirates Of The Caribbean ride. They've managed to make a successful movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Line (or whoever's behind the concept) basically took all its emojis, blew them up into life-size figurines and stuffed them inside a cafe. All your favorite characters make cameos here, including Moon (a manjū-headed man who loves the moon), Cony (a rabbit who likes dieting) and Leonard, an alleged moon-gazing frog that looks more like he's perpetually peeping on someone relieving themselves at the urinal next to him (below). Think 4Chan's Pepe The Frog with a side of Wasabi. They even have a gift shop where you can purchase all of them in stuffed animal form. 

The food is not nearly as vibrant as the atmosphere: cloying red velvet cakes, saccharine lattes and a burger so plain it evoked something they'd serve at a diner at a nuclear test town in New Mexico. Oh, and it comes with tortilla chips for some reason. But if Line users want to stroke their nostalgia boners, there's no better place. 

Find it: SOHO Fuxing Plaza,B101, Block B, 388 Madang Lu (near Fuxing Lu) 马当路388号 (近复兴路)

Pirate Jack

When we learned of a pirate-themed restaurant in Shanghai, we pictured a DVD cart that also served food. Thankfully, that was not the case. Pirate Jack's is essentially if the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride were a restaurant with a two-story fake cavern plastered with pirate paraphernalia galore from cutlass-toting Long John Silver statues to pirate ship-inspired food vessels. And the staff are dressed as, you guessed it, buccaneers. Well give them an A for flair. The first time we walked in we thought they were speaking Beijing Hua; they were actually practicing their "arrrrrrrrrs."

Pirate Jack offers a veritable treasure trove of dishes seemingly pillaged from every mall restaurant ever. Craving mango pizza, king crab, and American-style baby back ribs with a side of Japanese hotpot? They've got you covered! We'll give them credit; most of the seafood comes live in tanks rather than thawed from the permafrost like you'd expect at a congruent venue in the US. Wash it all down with yohoho and a 4-liter tower of Stella Artois....

Coat hanger abortions? No, Captain Hook-themed kebabs!

Unfortunately, the fare was, for the most part, 'bland ho.' The calamari rings on our surf-n-turf "squid, pork and skewer plate" (above) tasted like Live Strong bands and the rest weren't exactly smoothed sailing. The sausage platter was jumble of savory Polish-style wieners and sweet Taiwanese sausage whose flavors dueled in your mouth like pirate cutlasses. Pro tip: stick with the fried rice. 

The pirate theme also extended to the bill which was a whopping 400RMB for a measly three dishes and a beer tower. We recommend striking this kitsch ship off your bucket list before they scuttle 'er.

Find it: 1/F, 2620 Xietu Lu (near Lingling Lu) 斜土路2620号星游城1楼 (近零陵路)

Related: Shanghai's 4 Craziest Theme Cafes

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