Sweet tooth? Head to Candy Lab for unique homemade sweets. You can even design them! Move over, fruit pastilles.
In recent years Tianzifang has undergone a transformation, becoming one of Shanghai’s artsy areas, full of bars, cafes, design studios, galleries and boutiques. All of these are set among legacy residential buildings and factories, especially the old Shikumen houses and atmospheric lanes running between them. Tianzifang is the perfect antidote to Shanghai’s mega malls and daunting skyscrapers.
Shikumen houses, literally stone door houses, surged into Shanghai in the 1920s-1930s. Their distinctive stone door frames and solid wooden doors became extremely popular, and people began to elaborate the stone frames with engravings. Alongside the Shikumen houses there are also many French style houses, testament to Shanghai’s confluence of architectural tastes, a result of being a flourishing port in the 19th century.
However, Tianzifang drifted out of fashion over the following decades; 1998 was the year it made its comeback. Chen Yifei, a renowned contemporary Chinese artist, took over two abandoned factories and turned them into his art studios. More artists followed, and soon it had become a thriving art scene in Shanghai. The very name Tianzifang was coined in honour of Tian Zifang, the earliest recorded painter in China.
Over the last ten years locals and tourists have begun to flock to the Tianzifang, but it retains an original and organic feel, partly because it has avoided mass reconstruction. You still see the lovely buildings and narrow alleys of the old French Quarter with a later Chinese twist. Prices may have gone up recently, but it is still an excellent place to eat out. All sorts of independent outlets have sprung up: head to Balthazar for an outstanding French brasserie, or to Cafe Dan for a lesson in the art of coffee making.
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