Flask and The Press is a speakeasy concept divided into two distinct spaces. Entry into the contemporary lounge is secreted behind a lively sandwich shop. With a fair number of speakeasy-themed bars in Shanghai, Alberto Caiola designed this by building suspense and creating a genuinely unexpected bar/lounge.
The Press is a traditional sandwich shop, with a colourful, familiar façade. Upon a second glance however there are a number of edgier details.
Bare, rough concrete walls are juxtaposed with smooth-finished, bright counter tops and neon strip lighting. The polished furnishings, teamed with the rough walls, inspire a natural curiosity.
Renowned mixologists and their partners commissioned Alberto Caiola to scout out a location, design the concept and it’s interior spacial design in the heart of Shanghai’s former French Concession district.
The dramatic drop ceiling contributes towards an unconventional space. Perhaps the most notable feature in the room is the vintage Coca-Cola vending machine, which swings open to reveal the entrance to Flask.
Shanghai already has a fair share of speakeasy-themed bars with concealed entrances; it’s a popular theme in Asia, with Mrs Pound in Sheung Wan. So Caiola wanted to maximise the impact of Flask by creating suspense and intrigue with the unexpected. To do this anachronistic aesthetics and vastly contradicting environments were used.
A tunnel from The Press leads the visitor through contrasting environments. The fun, lighthearted feel is left behind with the bright lights and colours. Within a few steps these elements fade to reveal a mysterious, cavernous space in muted colours and warm lighting. The hushed murmurs of other patrons invite entrants beyond the camouflaged door, past comfortable leather chairs, ottoman and curious displays of liquor – to the bar.
The backdrop of the bar is a mirrored display of bottles, lit by LED lights, reflecting the contents back at patrons. Creating depth, the mirrors and lights combine to give the illusion of a non-existent back wall. The slanted mirror faces the entrance, so overhead cube lights encompass visitors, creating a visual pull to the bar.
Contemporary intrusions, such as the striking drop ceiling of cubes cascading from the entrance, create mysterious allure for guests to further explore the space. Two installations feature bottles of liquor: the first, next to the entrance is a floor to ceiling shelving unit of 25 litre whiskey bottles which have been customised with built-in spotlights to illuminate the glow of the amber liquid inside.
The second liquor-themed display is a full length wall installation, featuring rows of flasks. Liquor bottles are in relief so that only the outlines are visible, behind layers, just like the speakeasy itself, hidden behind a secret entrance from The Press. Other shelves hark back to the speakeasy era with curiosities such as a typewriter, jazz saxophone, an old telephone and wireless set.
A classic speakeasy, the space blends dark and dim lighting to hint at the illicit nature of these establishments, as they were in bygone eras. On the far side of the bar, a large, convex mirror reflects the entire space back on itself.
Minimal and muted lighting lend a personal, private feel to the space; while the copper lighting arrangement on the inside of the drop ceiling diffuses subtle amber light from overhead. Reflections bounce off the cascading cubes on the other end of Flask, lifting the feeling of the low ceilings.
To add a cozy warmth to the venue, Alberto Caiola used partitions to transition the seating areas with natural ease. Looking from right to left of the venue, the heights of the seats and table surfaces are lowered, raised, and lowered again in increments to create a dynamic landscape. Similarly, the wooden floorboards echo this fluid movement, going from dark wood, to light and back to dark.
Together, Flask & The Press are juxtaposed in shades of light and dark, elegance and funkiness, personal and playful.
Images © Shen Zhonghai