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Cocktail culture is sweeping Shanghai and there is no finer example of a proper cocktail bar / lounge than El Coctel.

Seemingly hidden in speakeasy style, El Coctel is located up an unmarked narrow staircase in the French Concession district of Shanghai. The soft spoken Japenese bartender Munne-san makes cocktails in the traditional Ginza style. In fact Munne is no ordinary bartender, he is a mixologist in the classic sense of the word. No nitrogen or molecular gastronomic elements, simply perfect cocktails, everytime.

When I ask Munne about what makes for a perfect cocktail, I learn that it is a lot more considered and thoughtful than I ever expected. While Munne is exceedingly modest, he is a world class bartender who can look at a bowl of fruit and know how much it will yield and if extra is needed for the night. Fruit is peeled or squeezed to order, so that drinks are at their freshest. He is as meticulous about the order of ingredients as a chemist. There is a very precise reason why some drinks are shaken (to add air and make it smoother and colder) -vs- stirred (keep a clear, crisp taste to the drink). Like an artist, he has studied color theory in order to bring this knowledge into his cocktails. He even hand makes the ice for each cocktail. It turns out that it has it has a huge role in the quality of the resulting drink. Whisky gets a single, large round sphere of ice – it melts slower, keeping the whisky in its proper neat form. Summer drinks like the Campari Basil Smash get crushed ice – to enhance refreshment. Other ice is hand cut from a large block of ice – these large chunks are perfect for drinks like a classic Gin & Tonic.

So, I am curious…I ask Munne what the most popular cocktail is at El Coctel, “the mojito,” he says. “And what about in Tokyo,” I inquire. He instantly shoots back, “classic Gin & Tonic.” I also favour the Gin & Tonic myself – but with Hendrick’s cucumber scented gin. Hendrick’s is nearly impossible to find in Asia…but they have all manner of exoctic rums, gins and whisky at El Coctel. Turns out the G&T is also Munne’s favourite cocktail and he gives me a hint on how to make a softer and rounder G&T. He suggests to add fresh lime juice (in addition to the traditional wedge) to tone down the sweetness of the tonic.

And on top of this Munne serves his classic cocktails in one of the most comfortable and cozy places in Shanghai. El Coctel, for me, is like cool speakeasy meets plush lounge. The soft lighting casts a golden glow on Munne and his customers as they sit in a mish mash of antique chairs and table and sip his masterful cocktails. Also what is unique about El Coctel is that the environment is lively enough to feel festive, yet quiet enough to have conversation. But make a booking, this is not a place you can just walk into and have a seat – ever since it opened almost 2 years ago, El Coctel has been a runaway hit.

(P.S. Insider tip – try the sandwiches, they are melt-in-your-mouth divine. I like the Asparagus & 3 Cheese or the Italian Ham & Mozzerella Cheese with Truffle Oil.)

El Coctel
2/F, 47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
Shanghai, China
Telephone: +86 21 6433 6511

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