In search of old Shanghai

Shanghai's Peace Hotel asserting its stake as the most definitive chunk of surviving art deco in town.

Shanghai’s Peace Hotel asserting its stake as the most definitive chunk of surviving art deco in town.

The bartender poured through the strainer and the lemon peel danced in the rapidly filling cocktail glass as a six-piece jazz band played “Shanghai at Night”—a tune all the rage in the 1930s—for an audience seeking a sense of Old Shanghai, which included myself and the pretty interpreter I’d managed to drag along with me.

I was there to write a story about the Old Jazz Band, famed throughout Shanghai and beyond, which has played the famous Peace Hotel for four decades (the average age of the band’s members was 75 years old).

The Peace Hotel is the place to be in Shanghai. Originally called the Cathay Hotel, it opened within the International Settlement in 1929 and was owned by Sir Victor Sassoon, a British property and finance tycoon with a passion for the high life and known for throwing fabulous parties and flamboyant costume balls.

Every table in the bar was full as the wait staff—matched in pin-striped trousers and waistcoats over white shirts—wove in and out of the crowd carrying silver trays loaded with Sidecars, Daiquiris, Manhattans and other drinks while the years melted away and old Shanghai swirled in through the doors of the Jazz Bar.

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