Paul Hsu: Heading Shenzhen's bar scene

The sheer scale of China’s population and geography is almost incomprehensible to the western world and second-tier city Shenzhen, located in the south east, is being bookmarked as a potential future giant of the bar trade.

With more than 12 million people currently living there it’s bigger than some of the world’s best cocktail scenes, such as London, New York and Singapore. And now, with a serious level of investment, the bar scene is beginning to shine.

Paul Hsu is bar manager at Obsidian in Shenzhen and, having travelled the breadth of the country, he believes the potential is there to become a major destination bar.

“Shenzhen is a relatively new city in terms of development but Obsidian is doing really well. I actually see a huge potential in Shenzhen because it’s growing so fast and we’ve dealt with the pandemic so everything feels normal here. We’re also 30 minutes on a high-speed train to central Hong Kong and one of the stations is actually underneath Obsidian.” That’s right, the bar has a train station beneath it, which must make the after-work drinks commute a lot easier.

Hsu adds: “In Shanghai the bar scene is already well developed and in Hong Kong it’s a huge entertainment centre, but it’s very small, so Shenzhen is positioned to thrive. It could be the next Hong Kong in my opinion.”

Originally from Taiwan, Hsu moved to Beijing in 2013 for five years before taking the plunge down south to help open Obsidian, which is owned by the Fano Group, owner of several top venues throughout the city.

“I moved to Beijing after the Olympic Games because the city was growing so fast and it was really exciting,” he says. “But by about 2015 it had slowed right down. I then moved to Shenzhen because I was offered the chance to work on a big project, which was the launch of Obsidian.”

Hsu is now in charge of the 20-plus bartenders and baristas who work at Obsidian and the bar’s extensive whisky range and heavy industrial decor have made it one of Shenzhen’s top venues. Hsu’s latest challenge has been the development of a new menu based on local ingredients.

He adds: “China is such a big country so we want to use the rare and interesting ingredients we can get here in our cocktails and we’re only using seasonal ingredients, which is important in today’s industry.”

Hsu says lots of wealthy people are now moving to the city to work for big Chinese IT companies such as Baidu, which have been based in Shenzhen, and they’re seeking out luxury food and drinks offerings.

“I believe we can become a big destination bar, not just for China but for international travellers too, and we’re proud to work with local farmers and suppliers to provide our guests with unique offerings, stuff you can’t get anywhere else around the world.

“Our goal is to try to break into Asia’s 50 Best Bars. I also think Shenzhen has the potential to become a major city in the global bar scene because five or six years ago there were only really whisky bars but now there are lots of new hotel bars, speakeasies and dive bars and the scene is growing really fast. I’m super-excited for the future of Shenzhen’s bar scene.”