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Shanghai or Beijing? Answer carefully. It?s one of those decisive questions ? Yankees or Red Sox, Pattinson or Lautner ? that split the world into mutually exclusive, and equally zealous, camps.
Shanghai is New York City to Beijing?s Washington, D.C., the Chinese national epicenter of design and style where beautiful things are made and consumed with identical fervor. From the chic boutiques of the French Concession to the twinkling megamalls along Nanjing Road, the city absolutely seethes with commercial activity. But there?s flair to commerce here, a knack for turning mere transactions into meaningful lifestyle choices. So choose well and often, and come prepared with a resilient credit card.
The Puli Hotel
Your first choice is where to stay and the correct answer ? if you poll the well-shod crowds that show up this month for Shanghai Fashion Week (April 11-17; Shanghaifashionweek.com) ? is the Puli Hotel (1 ChangDe Road, +86-21-3203-9999; thepuli.com). You?ll see why as soon as you?ve stepped into the impeccably polished lobby. Punctuated by enormous flickering lanterns, a black-tiled runway stretches past seating areas where handsome guests lounge beneath monochromatic nudes by artist Li Jing Bin.
This is a hotel that sweats the small stuff. Perfectly spaced phalanxes of bamboo border the sceney terrace bar, and the library?s towering shagreen wall will send design lovers into paroxysms of envy. In your room, Nespresso pods nest in their own purpose-built resin box, and hours could be whiled away adjusting the custom lighting system. But rest up; you?ve got a lot of ground to cover.
No one would ever accuse China of being sentimental. And yet, an air of fashionable nostalgia prevails here. Not far from the hotel, Spin Ceramics (360 Kangding Road, +86-21-6279-2545; no website) ? one of the city?s best boutiques ? melds traditional techniques and modern design with stunning results. Prices are remarkably affordable, so splurge on a set of "eggshell porcelain" (so thin they?re translucent) votive holders that echo the shapes of classic Chinese vases, or a cup and saucer patterned after ancient Chinese coins.
You might be surprised to learn that Shanghai has the most Art Deco buildings of any city in the world, and it?s only fitting to visit them via period-appropriate transportation. Shanghai Sideways, an ingenious tour company owned by dashing Frenchman Thomas Chabrieres, will whisk you around the city in a restored 1930s motorcycle sidecar (from $127 for one-hour tour, +86-138-1761-6975; shanghaisideways.com). Be sure to make a pit stop at 1933 (10 Shajing Road; 1933shanghai.com), a mindboggling Art Deco edifice that once housed the city?s largest slaughterhouse.
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai
Opt to be dropped off on the Bund, Shanghai?s atmospheric riverfront, which is currently experiencing a new wave of commercial colonialism. The grand buildings that once sheltered foreign banks now house foreign luxury brands from Armani to Zegna. Just off the main drag though, you?ll discover local shops like Suzhou Cobblers (17 Fuzhou Road, Room 101, +86-21-6321-7087; suzhou-cobblers.com), which handcrafts silk slippers for your inner Orientalist dandy. You might even don them for a tipple at the nearby Waldorf-Astoria (2 Zhongshan Dongyi Road, +86-21-6322-9988; waldorfastoriashanghai.com), once home to the city?s most esteemed gentlemen?s club in the 1930s?and, rather incredibly, a KFC in the early 90s. The hotel?s Long Bar pays homage to the former with alabaster lamps strung from the coffered ceiling and old-school cocktails like the Zaza (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and absinthe).
Once adequately lubricated, set out for Shanghai?s latter-day gentlemen?s clubs. Everyone starts at Eddy?s (1877 Huaihai Zhong Road, +86-21-6282-0521;), the oldest gay bar in the city, which still attracts a diverse crowd of locals, expats and tourists. Across the street is Shanghai Studio (1950 Huahai Zhong Road #4, +86-21-6283-1043; shanghai-studio.com), a former bomb shelter with a small but rowdy dance floor. If bigger is better in your book opt for Angel Shanghai, a weekly mega-party held on Fridays and Saturdays (location varies; check angelshanghai.com for current info).
Crawl back to the hotel and slide right into bed. The answer is obvious, isn?t it? Lautner. I mean, Shanghai.