When I received a text from Ivan warning me that I might be a little uncomfortable with the location he had chosen for our interview, I can’t deny that I wasn’t a tad nervous. Nevertheless, if this was his favourite place in the city, nothing was going to deter me from investigating. While on the back of his scooter en route to the location, I tried fishing for more details, but Ivan would only say that I needed to be in a relaxed frame of mind and that this was a family place, nothing seedy.
Ivan, the co-founder of the OZNZ drinking hole, has been living in Shanghai over four years and is a well-known figure on the nightlife scene. As we approached a large illuminated building, he explained that this is where he comes to escape and wind-down after a series of consecutive nights out.
“How naked?” I asked.
“Completely” was the reply.
As we entered, Ivan was visibly excited to start the “cleansing process” which he claimed would cure him of his absinth-induced hangover. “I used to come here at 5am after a night out, but they’ve stopped letting people in past twelve since the Expo” he explained.
I entered the locker room with some trepidation and was told to strip down naked. “How naked?” I asked. “Completely” was the reply. Two minutes later we were sitting in a warm indoor pool discussing the ins and outs of running a bar in China while all around us tiny fish nibbled on our dead skin. It soon became clear that, despite the number of nightlife options available in Shanghai, setting-up a venue is no walk in the park. First, there is the paper work and logistics, explained Ivan, and then you need the right guanxi (Chinese connections). These connections should be important and influential but also be themselves well-connected to all the right people. With the recent closure of Logo, it’s clear that no venue, no matter how well-established, is safe from government closure – the better your connections, the fewer problems you will have.
As we tentatively slipped into the second stage of the process, a boiling hot pool with various massaging jets, I inquired as to the origin of the OzNz name. He revealed that it hadn’t been their first choice, nor their second. In fact, the name OzNz was seventh on a list of 50 names submitted to the authorities. “By the time we got to 50 we had completely run out of ideas and started putting down things like “The Glory Hole” he joked.
“By the time we got to 50 we had completely run out of ideas and started putting down things like “The Glory Hole”
But the smiles were short lived as we entered the salt house to find a group of Russians rubbing the minerals into their skin. “In the years I’ve been coming here, this is one of the first times I’ve seen foreigners” Ivan commented. “I’ve been to other places with more foreigners and they’re not as good, so I try to keep this place secret”. Only those closest to Ivan are invited on these mystery spa trips – he took a gamble by bringing me here. This may sound a little rich coming from Ivan, himself an Australian, but having reviewed twenty of these relaxation centres for TNT Magazine, he’s earned the right to keep one for himself.
Having covered ourselves in salt, we headed to the wet-then-dry sauna before plunging into a pool of freezing water to complete the cleansing process. Once clothed and back in the unisex area there was only one thing on Ivan’s mind: food.
Over a buffet dinner we discussed Ivan’s love for partying. We exchanged various tales of excess, but while I quickly exhausted my repertoire Ivan was only scraping the surface of his.
Towards the end of dinner I delved a little deeper into Ivan’s history. He has a background in psychology and has travelled to 39 countries, working in many as he made his way. Once, while in the employ of NGO, he taught farm children how to make marketable crafts in order to help raise money for healthcare in rural areas.
For Ivan, this bath house is his refuge from the city. A mini-rehab from the liver destroying lifestyle of a bar manager.
There is nothing pretentious about OzNz, no entrance charges, nor overpriced cocktails – it’s a come as you are place. But while both Ivan and his bar share a happygo-lucky attitude, there is-as I discover over the course of my conversation with Ivan-certainly a lot more depth to the man.
Three hours previously I had entered this mysterious building feeling apprehensive and a little stressed by the number of things I had to get done that evening. I left feeling high on life itself with any stress and apprehension steamed away. For Ivan, this bath house is his refuge from the city. A mini-rehab from the liver destroying lifestyle of a bar manager. For me to reveal its location would be small betrayal. It’s still Ivan’s secret.
Since this article was written, OzNz has rebranded as The Oz. This publication was unable to reach Ivan for comment as to whether he is still involved with the venue.
1153 Kaixuan Lu (near Xinhua Lu)
Metro: West Yan’an Road (Line 3, 4)