Flask and the Press – Xuhui Qu, China - Atlas Obscura
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Xuhui Qu, China

Flask and the Press

Leave the wardrobes and sweets to British schoolchildren, Shanghai's got a Coke machine that leads to booze. 

Sorry, Flask and the Press is permanently closed.

In old Shanghai’s French Concession district lies a brightly lit but hard-edged sandwich shop called The Press. Locals and those in-the-know come here in droves, yet the place never seems packed. It’s almost as if it’s bigger on the inside than it seems from the street. And, sitting in its back corner is a Coke machine that is much more than it seems. 

Not only does the machine look out of place for its recognizably decades-old fashion, but the machine itself dispenses no soda at all. Instead, it functions as a portal to a hidden interior not hinted at by its sleek, midcentury design. With a simple twist of its coin return, the front swings open to reveal a cozy and dark bar on the other side.

Though the world seems to be drowning in hip speakeasies these days, discovering a cocktail bar hidden behind a vintage Coke machine within a sandwich shop in the middle of Shanghai remains one of the few instances where that original sense of magic lingers in the air exactly as the teetotalers had feared it would, oh so long ago. 

On the outside the sandwich shop has a personality in direct contrast with that of the cozy, intimate bar found beyond the Coke machine’s threshold. To one side we have an establishment boasting a false and glitzy exterior, while its core houses a brooding, complicated air.

Rest assured that the sustenance – snacks and libations included – has been addressed as attentively as Alberto Caiola’s carefully designed décor, for this place is anything but accidental.

But maybe, just maybe, what makes a visit to Flask and the Press so tantalizing is the way the place’s design allows visitors to peel back such revealing layers of personality through the course of a single evening.