Shanghai Social Club – Allston, Massachusetts

First Taste: Hai Time

Some 32 years ago, Doug Bacon sat at the bar of Our House on Comm. Ave., pint in hand as he watched the Eagles take on the Raiders in Super Bowl XV. Today his elbows lean on that same bar, though it’s topped with a new black and red granite slab. There are other changes in the space as well, such as the four-foot-high gilded Buddha that sits behind the bar and the imported antique Chinese wooden doors, emblazoned with the double happiness symbol just inside the entrance. Bacon, too, has changed. No longer a patron, he now owns the restaurant, and in July he will relaunch the space as Shanghai Social Club.

“I have a personal connection to this space,” Bacon says, “and I know the neighborhood very well.” Shanghai Social Club is something different for Bacon—who also owns four other restaurant/bars nearby, including Harry’s Bar & Grill, the White Horse Tavern and the Last Drop—and the area, which has an array of ethnic restaurants but few with full liquor licenses.

“I’ve recently come around to understanding how much more important food is than I originally believed,” says Bacon, which is why he’s brought on Bob Botchie (Myers + Chang, Erbaluce) as executive chef. The menu size is moderate, offering classic Chinese food and a few modern takes, such as the signature Shanghai spicy chicken with wok char and a scallop dish served with XO reduction (a fermented sauce made of dried shrimp and scallops), bok choy and a rice cake. Botchie also brings a selection of bao, including a cold Asian lobster roll, lion’s head meatball (made with ground pork, ginger and scallions), spicy beef short rib, pork belly and—Botchie’s personal favorite—a salt-and-pepper chicken skin bun. This is topped with a Chinese slaw of Napa cabbage, carrots and mushrooms and dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette.

Patrons can wash it down with one of the eight beers on tap, including Tsingtao, and a selection of classic Asian-inspired cocktails made with fresh juices. With a 2 am liquor license, Shanghai Social Club will serve food until at least 1 am, which Bacon hopes will give locals a better late-night option. “There are a lot of people in this neighborhood in their mid and late 20s and early 30s who have solid income, serious people [with] discerning tastes, looking for a better-quality experience,” Bacon says. “And I’m hoping to give it to them.”

Shanghai Social Club 1277 Comm. Ave., Allston (617-208-8909)

This article originally appeared in the June 19, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.