The return of the agave paradise. By Shu Mi.

COA Shanghai, the sibling bar of COA Hong Kong, closed its doors temporarily due to lease issues at the end of January. A new location was found (at the intersection of Fuxing Zhong Lu and Ruijin Er Lu in the heart of the city), construction went underway, and now it is in the final stage of reopening.

Jay Khan, founder of COA in both cities, has been spending some time in Shanghai, developing new menues with the local team and making sure everything is well polished before the big reopening day. The return of COA Shanghai is highly anticipated – just like its Hong Kong sibling, it is known for the long waiting list for a seat inside the bar every night. So he sat down with Shu Mi, managing editor of DRiNK China, to give a sneak peek of the new incarnation of the agave paradise. And judging from what he told us, it will be totally worth the wait. Here is all you need to know about COA Shanghai 2.0, in Jay’s own words.

Yes, it will be bigger.

“This time the venue is going to be slightly bigger. So we have a four-story building. In the past we have the same thing, but now we have an extra level in comparison. It has doubled the capacity; we can fit more than 80 people easily.”

Four stories, four themes.

“The ground floor is basically going to be Taqueria. In Mexico, Taquerias are basically where they serve tacos. Especially they’re at street levels, very casual – almost like street food style. So we want to bring that concept into COA. So we have a space where you can basically eat your tacos. We’re gonna have some tables and some doors where you can look outside. People can stand outside if they want. Downstairs is going to be a fun, casual, high-volume and very high-energy place.

Then you go up to the first floor which is known as Cantina. Cantina in Mexico term basically means a bar with food. If you go to traditional cantinas, they will give you a complimentary snack based on how many drinks you consume. We want to bring that culture just for fun. Let’s say you’re a group of six and you’ve ordered maybe one round of drinks or two rounds, we would give you a French fries on the house. Maybe a Guacamole or Pico de Gallo. Something like that – easy sharable snacks.

Jay with the COA Shanghai team

Going to the second floor. The second floor is going to be an actual cocktail floor that we call Salon. Salon means lounge, so that’s our actual COA. Our really signature drinks – what people know us for – are going to be served on that floor. There will be no standing, only sit-down. If you’re not in the mood to have something serious, you can hang around in the ground floor or first floor. But if you want to really impress your friends or try something really unique, then you go to the second floor.

When you walk up to the top floor, the last floor, that’s our Mezcaleria. Mezcaleria basically means a place where you drink mezcal. So that place is going to be more for serious mezcal and tequila drinkers. It’s a small place. We have a communal table that can fit about eight people. So, very intimate. Like the previous one but a little bit bigger. Also there is going to be a terrace garden on the top floor.”

Each story will have its own bar and drinks.

“We have our own bar on the ground floor, and the drinks are going to go well with tacos. So we’re not thinking about cocktails that are super sophisticated.  Drinks are going to be very very easy, approachable, refreshing. For example, we are going to have a frozen drink, basically a slushy cocktail, which is called Batanga. Batanga is a Mexican classic drink which is served in a Highball. It’s basically tequila, lime, Coke and salt. Very simple. On its own, it’s a very simple delicious drink, however, we want to turn that into a slushy. And then we will have salt around the glass, so you can lick the salt and drink the boozy Coca Cola with lime. Think about that with a nice, savory, spicy taco. It’s a really good pairing. We’re gonna have a drink called Margarita Highball. We’re turning the Margarita into a Highball – really really refreshing, very delicious. So in a nutshell, this is the type of drinks we’re going to be serving on the ground level. And whatever you get from the ground level you cannot get upstairs. So basically every floor will have a different menu.

Despite the relocation, still a team

Most of the drinks in Cantina are going to be, again, not extremely sophisticated but somewhere between sophisticated and something very very easy. Think of cocktails that are slightly more familiar but with our own take on it. Let’s say there’s a drink called El Diablo. El Diablo is a very Mexican tequila-based cocktail, right?But we’re making one with, let’s say, hibiscus. So we’re using the formula of El Diablo, but we’re turning that into our own signature. A classic with a bit of our own flair, but something very smashable, something quick,something delicious.

Salon is going to serve some defining cocktails that have defined who we are.  For example, Coconut Milk Punch.  So those are going to be very sophisticated, very complex cocktails.

We will also make cocktails in Mezcaleria, but the cocktails are going to be all tailor-made with the spirits that we have. So we’re not going to have a menu; you can come up and you can say, ‘oh by the way, can you make me something with raicilla?’ Or with sotol or even with tequila or mezcal. Every single drink you ask for will be customized.”

Taco takeaway window? Si!

“There is a window in Taqueria. If you stand inside the bar, there is a window looking out and that window is for takeaway. If you wanna take away and you wanna hang on the street, you’re okay.”

Mariachi band? Si!

“We’re gonna have a mariachi band in Cantina. A very small one – maybe like one or two guys with a guitar. If the place is not too packed, they’ll walk around with the guitar and sing, just to bring that cantina vibes. If you’ve been to Mexico, in some cantinas they have mariachi bands and they would sing along with the guests. So it is to basically make the place more fun and lively. I think that’s something we were missing in the previous COA.  It was too serious. We want to bring the fun part, that Mexican culture, to COA.”

 It is scheduled to open at the end of May.

“Previously when we were opening COA during Covid, I could not come down. So a lot of the things I had to do remotely, and you know it’s not easy to do things remotely. Like our training, all of that was done online. But this time is going to be different.  To be honest, it’s a reopening, so it’s not as complicated. We have some idea of how the place is going to turn out. So, definitely within May.”