The speakeasy is alive and well in Shanghai. Step into new sandwich shop The Press to find its hidden gem. Martine Beale reports.
Located at street level in the centre of the former French Concession in Shanghai, The Press is a modern sandwich shop with a floor to ceiling window that allows pedestrians a clear view of its sleek, modernist décor – and a bright red and white coloured Coca-Cola vending machine that is actually the entrance to a hidden speakeasy lounge called Flask.
The Press and Flask are a modern take on the traditional speakeasies found in the US in the 1920s and 30s, whereby a shop would often act as a front for a concealed bar selling illegal alcohol during the prohibition period.
Although the alcohol sold at Flask may be legal today, the concept of a façade, in this case the sandwich shop and its hidden speakeasy still holds intrigue.
The Flask welcomes patrons into a minimalist-styled shop with a colourful countertop, raw concrete floors and walls, contemporary blond wood and white furniture, and bright neon signage.
Step through the Coca-Cola vending machine entrance and along the connecting passageway and these elements segue into an intimate space with a very different décor and vibe.
Here, darker shades and more traditional styled furniture hark back to the speakeasies of the past. Long, low leather sofas sit alongside high-back chairs and dark coloured poufs set around wooden tables. Dark wooden flooring gives way to lighter shades at the bar where guests can sit on high wooden bar stools.
“We created partitions in the seating area that transition with natural ease,” says Alberto Caiola, the interior design firm behind this project. “Looking from one side of Flask to the other, the height of the seat and table surfaces are lowered and raised in increments to create a dynamic landscape within a compact, enclosed space.”
The design studio also created two installations that pay homage to the main component of any speakeasy – alcohol.
“The first is a floor to ceiling shelving unit positioned right at the entrance that features 25 litre whisky bottles fitted with built-in spotlights that illuminate the amber glow of the whisky inside.
“The second is a wall installation featuring rows of flasks that are hidden behind a mysterious layer – like the speakeasy itself – with only their outlines giving the viewer an idea of what lies beneath.”
Adding a touch of modernity is a drop ceiling composed of an array of angular cubes that cascade towards the entrance to create a “mysterious allure”. These are given a soft amber glow from copper lighting structures suspended from the ceiling. Lighting is kept low throughout to create a personal, intimate ambience.
A slanted mirror set behind the bar gives the illusion of added depth and reflects the bottles of booze on display. It also faces the entrance, so when patrons enter they see themselves in addition to the overhead cubes that appear to wrap around their heads.
Positioned on a wall on the far side of the space, a large convex mirror reflects this modern-day speakeasy back on to itself – and echoes a bygone era.