The recent three-day Happy Beer Festival drew throngs of laowai (foreigners) on LaoWaiJie (Foreigners Street) in west Shanghai.
Zhang Yajiang, founder of LaoWaiJie, is continually trying to develop the area into “a place where all foreigners go.”
“On weekends, LaoWaiJie is the most popular place for expat families,” Zhang says. “It has good security and an exotic ambience.”
The 480-meter-long street, a former railway line, crosses Changning and Minhang districts. It was turned into a leisure street in 2002 and now is filled with stylish modern restaurants, bars, boutiques and other outlets.
“Careful renovation has preserved the original winding path and we integrated commercial construction with elegant simplicity in design,” Zhang says.
This development was intended to compensate for the lack of cultural and recreational facilities in the area for the international community.
LaoWaiJie, covering 10,000 square meters is surrounded by neighborhoods and very close to international communities.
Construction began in 2001 on this former Hongmei Leisure Street, and it reopened to the public in April 2002. In 2009, it was renamed LaoWaiJie.
Laowai is a term used typically by Chinese to describe expats and it has “positive meanings,” Zhang says. More than 60 percent of the consumers on the street are expats.
The street feels like a bonsai garden, with modern sculpture, fountains, artificial hills, waterfalls and flowers.
The style is modern European, quiet and elegant. “The idea is to provide things that others don’t,” Zhang says.
It’s a place for all kinds of gatherings, as well as business dinners. The exotic bars, cafes and restaurants offer a variety of national and regional cuisines and entertainment.
“It is nothing like Xintiandi, which is full of tourists. LaoWaiJie is where expats bring families and friends and enjoy fun,” Zhang says.
The organizing team guarantees that all restaurants offer authentic cuisine. There are six Chinese restaurants featuring Shanghai cooking and cuisine from other parts of China. The street has 23 foreign restaurants and bars from 14 other countries.
“All have been strictly selected in style of decoration and in food. They must offer the best from each country,” Zhang says.
“LaoWaiJie is now becoming a street that attracts more and more young and fashionable Chinese with a sense of taste,” he says.
After more than 10 years of development LaoWaiJie was honored last year as a nation-level tourist destination.
“We hope to expand the LaoWaiJie brand into other parts of Shanghai,” Zhang says, adding that the planning of a second phase is being negotiated.