Gent's Clubs and KFC: A History of 2 on the Bund

By Lucas dos Santos

Standing tall and proud at No. 2 on the Bund, what we now know as the Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund has seen some sweeping changes over the past centuries. The famed historical site's identity has truly spanned impressive lengths, from an elite social club fallen into disrepair, to being named the first KFC.

The Shanghai Club

The building started out as the Shanghai Club, a British gentlemens club (the first, in fact) back in 1861. It wasnt even the second decade of the International Settlement yet, and Shanghai had been besieged by the Taiping rebels. Foreign troops, allied with the Qing army repelled the rebels the following year despite being outnumbered. None of that commotion seems to have hindered the British elite from establishing a club to sip tea and play pool, or whatever it is people did in those places.

The building that stands there now, however, was only built in 1910 after the clubs original headquarters were torn down. British architect Betram H. Tarrant designed the exterior in an English Renaissance, Baroque Revival style, with Corinthian columns and arched windows on a whitewashed faade. The interior design was the work of Japanese architect Shimoda Kikutaro. 

The Long Bar

Apart from ballrooms, smoking rooms, and its large library, the Clubs most famed area was the so-called Long Bar; at 33.5 meters (110 feet) long, it was the pinnacle of luxury.

If the Club was the utmost expression of Shanghailander (as they called themselves) high society, then the Long Bar was a microcosm within this palace of wealth. The Clubs membership was the most exclusive in Shanghai, and with it came a social hierarchy. 

How did you know where you stood? This became apparent at the bar. As the Waldorfs June Seah puts it, The crme de la crme of Shanghai enjoyed the privilege of sitting on the east end of the bar, which accorded a view of the Huangpu. Moving from one end of the Long Bar to the other signified an elevation of status.

Throughout the decadent but golden age of the Pearl of the Orient in the 1920s and 30s, the Club embodied the lavish urbanism of the age, as well as the oppressive power and elitism of the Shanghailanders.

From Glamour and Glitz to Fried Chicken

It would all end sooner than many expected. As the International Settlement was occupied by the Japanese in December 1941, the Club came to house the invaders. Upon the Communist takeover, it was remodeled as the International Seamen Club, catering to foreign sailors. In 1971 became the Shanghai Dongfeng Hotel. It eventually fell into disrepair, as many of Shanghais historical relics do, although it earned some claim to fame in 1990 by opening the first KFC in China.

By the time Hilton Worldwide bought the building in the late 2000s, as the city underwent a dramatic makeover for the 2010 World Expo, it was a shadow of its former self. The inside was abandoned and dusty.

But Now, The Legend Lives On

The legend of this building isn't over quite yet. 101 years after its inauguration, the building opened again as the new Waldorf-Astoria, entirely renovated and including a reconstructed Long Bar. The Royal Asiatic Society even reopened its library, although it isnt accessible to the public. But for the rest, no longer under the shroud of exclusivity and as opulent as ever, the Shanghai Club Building proudly enters its second century, the Long Bar restored to its former glory at the Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund.

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