It all began when I was travelling in Beijing a few months ago. Strolling around the Sanlitun area alone around dinnertime, I stumbled upon a little place called "The Bookworm". I spent the evening there over a delicious meal and surrounded by a sea of books of different genres from history to biographies, from poetry to modern literature all free for browsing on the bookshelves.
That’s when I first fell in love with book cafés.
Upon returning to Shanghai, I immediately began searching for similar venues that would allow me to spend weekend afternoons with a cup of coffee or tea and a nice novel. The following are two of my favourite book cafés that I visit regularly here in Shanghai.
Old China Hand Book Room
1) Old China Hand Book Room (Han Yuan) 汉源书店 View In Map
A friend of mine introduced me to this cozy spot in the French Concession by the name of Old China Hand Book Room, also known as Han Yuan, the Mandarin pronunciation of its Chinese name (汉源书店).
Han Yuan is owned by world renowned Chinese photographer Deke Erh. Since its opening in 1997, Han Yuan has become one of the most famous book cafés in China. Its clientele spans across multiple demographics from foreign expats to local students to retired seniors to superstars like the late famous Hong Kong movie star Leslie Cheung.
The ambience of Han Yuan pays tribute to the glorious prewar days of Shanghai. Decorated with gramophones, vintage wooden dressing tables, chairs and bookshelves, it’s almost like you’ve been transported back to the 1930s to the home of a glamorous and cultured socialite. History could be touched on the shelves carrying books that have gracefully aged with multiple shades of yellow on their pages and the slightly worn book covers.
Amongst its newer book selections, you will find owner Deke Erh’s photography book collection featuring Shanghai from a bird’s eye view which allows readers to see Shanghai from a rarely seen angle. While most books in the store are available for browsing and for purchase, the amount of English books in its library is relatively small.
When you visit Han Yuan, be sure to try their Chinese and Western herbal tea selection (between 40-50 RMB per pot). A personal favourite is the lavender & mint tea as the combination of both herbs has a soothing, calming flavour which is perfect to enjoy over reading.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for visiting Han is finding a table all for yourself. On a typical weekend afternoon, all seats are filled by around 15:00. However, if you’re flying solo, you may be able to squeeze into one of the larger tables shared with other patrons.
Add: 27 Shaoxing Lu, Luwan District, Near Ruijin’er Lu, Shanghai
地址: 上海市卢湾区绍兴路27号, 近瑞金二路
Tel: 021 6473 2526
Opening hours: Daily, 10:00 – 00:00
Getting there: Nearby Metro Station: South Shanxi Road Station (Line 1 & 10)
Price Range: 50-100 RMB per person (food and drinks)
L’s Book Café & Wine
2) L’s Book Café & Wine View In Map
Another one of Shanghai’s most well-known book cafés is L’s Book Café & Wine. This lovely little shop is located at the corner of Changde Lu and West Nanjing Lu, right underneath the historical Changde Apartments building, most famous for being the former residence of Chinese writer Eileen Chang during the 1940s (1920-1995).
For those who aren’t familiar with modern Chinese literature, Eileen Chang was a Shanghai-born novelist most famous for her romantic love stories served with subtext of characters’ inner struggles with living in Shanghai and Hong Kong during World War II period. Some of Chang’s most acclaimed works have been adapted as motion pictures, the most recent and memorable one being Lust, Caution (2007), starring Tang Wei and Tony Leung and directed by Ang Lee.
As you enter L’s, you will find Eileen Chang’s portrait and some of her most notable novels (in both Chinese and English) featured at a special section by the entrance. Overall, it has a more contemporary book selection and a large selection of English books. You can easily pick up a novel by Stephen King or Jodi Picoult to read in the shop or to purchase.
As for food and drinks, L’s feature a wide selection coffee and tea as well as wines and cocktails. You can also enjoy simple sandwiches or pasta dishes along with a slice of their delicious cheesecake or chocolate cake during your stay. They also provide reasonably priced afternoon tea sets with both savoury and dessert options, served with coffee or tea, available everyday between 14:30 and 18:00 (about 60-70 RMB per set).
Compared to the upper-class ambiance of Han Yuan, the décor of L’s is more approachable and modern. Its warm and brightly lit rooms, golden cream coloured wallpaper and classic Chinese paintings on the walls create a very homey environment for customers to enjoy reading over drinks and snacks.
Add: 195 Changde Lu, Jing’an District, Near West Nanjing Lu, Shanghai
地址: 上海市静安区常德路195号, 近南京西路
Tel: 021 6249 9006
Weibo: http://weibo.com/u/1940157890 (@张爱玲咖啡)
Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 10:00 – 22:00; Sun, 12:00 – 22:00
Getting there: Nearby Metro Station: Jing’an Temple Station (Line 2 & 7)
Price Range: 50-100 RMB per person (food and drinks)
After visiting these two establishments in Shanghai, it reminded me of a conversation I had with the manager at The Bookworm in Beijing. I asked him whether they have plans of opening a location in Shanghai. The response given was that Shanghai is a bit too commercial and they would rather open locations in cities with more culture like Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu.
I believe that the existence of places like Han Yuan and L’s definitely makes a strong counterargument to the general misconception that Shanghai is ONLY a commercial hub of the world’s fastest growing economy. But the truth is there’s always a little bit of culture in every city if you look carefully.
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Keywords: Book cafes Shanghai old china hand book room Shanghai L’s book café and wine Shanghai book café culture Shanghai
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