Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant Wine List

Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant Wine List from the MOFBA collection

Based on the price levels, this drinks menu from the Shanghai Sun Sun department store Sky Terrace Restaurant is likely from its founding year 1939: A quart (approx. 1 liter) of Veuve Clicquot champagne would have set you back 30 Chinese National Dollars (CN$) – a bargain considering that 2 years later the same bottle cost twice as much in retail, as our previous analysis of the 1941 price list of grocery & spirits dealer Zung Lee & Co. showed. The Sky Terrace wine list furthermore features a very fine selection of other sparkling wine brands such as Piper-Heidsieck or G. H. Mumm, red and white table wines like Château Lafite, spirits & whiskeys including Jonnie Walker, Bacardi, Hennessy or Gordon's Gin, the local Lion, U.B. and Ewo beers as well as a range of classic cocktails. Regrettably, we do now know what the signature “Sun Sun Special” was mixed with. Also available was Evian bottled water - at of course twice the price of a beer...

Early 1940s newspaper clippings with photos of the interior of the Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant from the occasions of a Christmas party and a wedding

Sun Sun: One of the four Great Department Stores of Old Shanghai

Mr. S.K. Lau founder of the Sun Sun Department Store Shanghai
Mr. S.K. Lau founder of the Sun Sun Department Store Shanghai

The Sun Sun Co. (新新公司) was one of the “big four” department stores of old Shanghai. Opened in January 1926 by S.K. Lau (Liu Xiyong) and Li Minzhou it was located on the prominent Nanking Road right next to the Sincere Co, across the street from the Wing-On and within eye-site of the Da Sun department stores. 

 

S.K. Lau had started his career in Australia and on his return to China, joined the Sincere Co. in Shanghai, first as sub-manager and and later in 1920 as manager. He resigned in 1924 to organize the creation of the Sun Sun Co.

The Sun Sun Department Store on Nanjing Road (original photo from the MOFBA collection)
The Sun Sun Department Store on Nanjing Road (original photo from the MOFBA collection)

Towering at 7 floors, Sun Sun was the largest of the Shanghai department stores when it opened and was designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda (Da Sun only followed in 1936 but was even bigger with 10 stories). In it's opening year the company employed 750 staff, the China Press reported. The ground floor showcased wines and spirits, stationery and a savings bank while the first floor contained silks, boots and shoes. The second floor was devoted to chinaware, glass, electric fixtures, clocks and watches while the third floor was stocked with brass and iron bedsteads, carpets and black wood furniture.

 

“More than 50,000 foreign and Chinese patrons went from floor to floor on the day of its opening and “found almost anything that one can ‘buy in Chicago,’ and perhaps even some articles that are not purchasable in the metropolis of department stores. The edifice was also “a tribute to Shanghai’s growth and future prosperity.”, the North-China Herald wrote in a report.

Photo of the Sun Sun "Glass Radio Station" from 1939 (from the 《家庭与妇女》"Family & Women" magazine)
Photo of the Sun Sun "Glass Radio Station" from 1939 (from the 《家庭与妇女》"Family & Women" magazine)

To surpass its competitors Wing-On and Sincere, Sun Sun deployed several innovative retail marketing techniques. The most popular was the "Perfume Ball", which dripped its scented spray down upon the first step of the stairway of the ground floor ("or rather would drip, if there were not a crowd of Chinese gathered about, eager to catch every fragrant drop on their handkerchiefs or coat sleeves", as the North-China Herald described the frenzy on Sun Sun's opening day). The other major Sun Sun innovation was the creation of its own radio station which started broadcasting on March 18, 1927 and was on air six hours a day, promoting its products and broadcasting musical performances from its rooftop terrace. Famous Chinese opera singers of the day were guests on air and customers could see how the station worked by looking through large glass windows as the announcers, technicians and performers went about their tasks. It was therefore commonly known as the "Glass Radio Station" (玻璃电台). When Shanghai was liberated from the KMT on May 25, 1949, “Glass Radio” was the first to broadcast the news to the people of the city and the station was subsequently renamed to “Triumph Station”.

From the 1939 International Settlement Commercial Plan (www.virtualshanghai.net)
From the 1939 International Settlement Commercial Plan (www.virtualshanghai.net)

The Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant: A child of its time

"It's hot, I'm tired. Shanghai is full of jews, japs, and gunmen, and it's about a toss-up which are worse. Law and order have gone with the winds and gambling joints and opium dives have taken their place. Shanghai has gone mad; everybody hippity hoppin riotously down the primrose path and running debts to the skies, because tomorrow the whole works may go up in smoke taking banks, book-keeping systems and over-drafts with it.", American pilot and spy Hilaire du Berrier in a letter to his sister in 1938 (featured in Graham Earnshaws book "Tales of old Shanghai")

Sun Sun Co. print advertisement from the North China Herald
Sun Sun Co. print advertisement from the North China Herald

The Battle of Shanghai in 1937, which resulted in the Shanghai International Settlement and French Concession being surrounded by Japanese troops, had an immense impact on the operations of the four big department stores. On the one hand, the tragic accidental August 14th bombings of Nanking Road and Avenue Edward VII not only caused over 3,000 civilian deaths, but also severe damage to the amusement centers, department stores and hotels of the Shanghai Central District. Sun Sun for example recorded a loss of 46,220.6 CN$ that year – the first time in its existence. On the other hand, the Japanese war also drove more than 1mil Chinese refugees to seek shelter in the foreign settlements, forming a massive new consumer market the department stores were eager to monetize. These “solitary island” years of the Shanghai foreign settlements were also referred to as the period of “abnormal prosperity”: in 1938 Sun Sun had not only recovered its 1937 losses but recorded a profit of 406,154.88 CN$ - almost entirely attributable to the unexpected population boom. Needless to mention that, on top of all of this, the remaining foreigners and wealthy Chinese, de facto trapped in the international concessions, resorted to even heavier alcohol consumption than what had already been set as the mark in the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties. 

Announcement of the Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant opening in the Shun Pao July 14th 1939
Announcement of the Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant opening in the Shun Pao July 14th 1939

Taking all of this into account, it only makes sense that as a consequence, the “Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant” was founded in July 1939 as a subsidiary of the Sun Sun Department Store and soon surpassed its competitors in both business scale and entertainment value. Its Chinese name was 新都飯店 or “Xindu Hotel” and after extensive renovation of the former Sun Sun Restaurant, spanned the entire sixth and sevenths floors of the Sun Sun building, featuring a hotel, two restaurants, a tea room, ballrooms, the “Glass Radio Station” and movie theaters. The sixth floor featured a Cantonese cuisine dim sum restaurant while the seventh floor was a Western restaurant run by a French Chef (according to Chinese sources from the “Marcel Hotel”). Except for the open-air section of the sevenths floor all venues were air-conditioned – an absolute novelty then.

Waitresses of the Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant from "Media, Advertising and Corporate Culture: An Analysis of Xindu Zhoukan"  by Ling-ling Lien
Waitresses of the Sun Sun Sky Terrace Restaurant from "Media, Advertising and Corporate Culture: An Analysis of Xindu Zhoukan" by Ling-ling Lien

The Sun Sun department store also launched its own customer magazine called "Xindu Weekly" or 新都周 (Xindu Zhoukan) in Chinese on March 10, 1943 but it ceased publication on October 1 of the same year, with only 30 issues published in total. Nonetheless together with public newspaper records and Xindu Weekly’s articles and advertisements we can get a fairly accurate idea of some more of the lavish features of the Sky Terrace Restaurant:

Sun Sun Co. Ltd. department store wrapping paper (from the MOFBA collection)
Sun Sun Co. Ltd. department store wrapping paper (from the MOFBA collection)

At its peak in 1948, and shortly before the Communist liberation of Shanghai, the restaurant had a permanent 7-piece house musicians band under contract.

 

In its post-war publicity the Sun Sun touted a good twelve hours of music every day, a continuation of what the restaurant offered back in 1939 and the early 1940s. Then, the Sun Sun presented musical programs that ran back-to-back, notably the Jazz Tiffin, Gentlemen’s Tea and Midnight Serenade, which featured flashy swing orchestras such as Apollo Gauchos and his Band and Abie Santos and his Band.

After the war, Sun Sun and its famous Sky Terrace Restaurant were eventually shut in 1952 and since 1954 the former Sun Sun building serves as the Shanghai First Foodhall, a Nanjing Road flagship of Shanghai First Food Chain Development Co Ltd..

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