BARS IN TAIPEI: SECRET PROMISED LAND OF THE CITY
【Words by: Dyann Jiang】
【Photos by: Samil Kuo, Pawn Bar】
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”
This is a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, and probably also the reason why the streets of Taipei, one of the most vigorous, glamorous cities in East Asia, are intensely lit up by so many bars after seductive dusk falls. Every night, drinkers are drawn to the enchanting history of these establishments, their secret menus and mystifying charm, longing to be tended to; to be awed.
From the Japanese era, to the days of the Taiwan- based US Armed Forces and on to the awakening and recognition of native consciousness in recent years, the bars in Taipei have undergone a complex process of evolution, consisting of cultural collision and generational transformation, which makes both their drink lists and their stories undeniably intriguing. Café bars, speakeasies, Japanese-style shisha bars, hip-hop bars, gay bars with drag queen shows, bars that serve traditional Taiwanese delicacies...if you can imagine it, there’s a good chance we can have it served to you on a silver platter.
It’s no wonder that when travelers want to fully savor the brilliant city, hidden bars are the places they choose to visit, for too often the most fascinating secrets of a place are found lying at the bottom of wine glasses.
Ask the bartenders in these covert bars, they’ll give you a smile — warm, tinged with just a bit of mischievousness — and assure you that you have reached the X of the treasure map, the land flowing with milk and honey.
Walking down the winding staircase leading to Bar Weekend, you find yourself captivated by the calming, dim lighting, as if stumbling upon a sleeping kingdom at night. Yet with the pink cherry blossoms hanging from the ceiling and the blood orange- colored sunset shining in the west, you soon realize it’s actually the magical moment when day and night intersect — where anything can happen.
Located in the basement of Chez Nous Hotel (司旅), the opening of Bar Weekend in March, 2020 has passed on the legacy of its predecessor, Swagger x Old’98, both famous among drinkers all over Taipei for two reasons, the first one being the manager/bartender, Wade, whom many regulars have followed loyally, the second one being his renowned tea cocktails.
After being greeted with a glass of “today’s tea” and a plate of caramel-flavored sunflower seeds, it’s time to order your first drink. While there are two counters, one for straight-up drinking and one for cocktails, the rules are very flexible and you can order whatever you want at both.
At Bar Weekend, menus are not provided, nor needed. Tell the bartenders what you’re craving, and let them work their magic. The must-tries are definitely their tea cocktails. Tieguanyin (鐵觀音), Oriental Beauty Tea (東方美人茶) and Matcha blended with alcohol, fresh juice and special ingredients such as soybean milk. It’s something you’ve likely never tasted, probably will struggle to find elsewhere, and with such a realization, a surprising new world unfolds in front of you.
Add: 18, Ln. 147, Sec. 3, Xinyi Rd., Daan Dist.
Hours: 7:30pm - 1:00am (Closed on Sundays & Mondays)
One of the best speakeasy bars in Taipei, BAR PUN is unsurprisingly named after a pun, as “pun” resembles the pronunciation of “fragrance” and “bee” in Taiwanese dialect.
The concept of the “speakeasy” can be traced back to the Prohibition Era in 1920s and 1930s America, when all alcohol was banned in the US and underground bars started to thrive, where people had to speak softly to avoid exposing their small havens to the prying ears of the law.
Needless to say, BAR PUN is also all about secrets and privacy. Even finding the entrance of the place is no easy task. Visitors have to search patiently in a dark, extremely narrow alley for a fire alarm on the wall, and push the button on the device to open the hidden door. The space of BAR PUN consists of three different areas — counter, couches and stand-up tables, all in an elegant combination of black, gray and white. Aside from the classic and signature cocktails, the bar’s must-tries are their “PUN Experience” — sets including an exclusive cocktail served with exotic delicacies such as ostrich meat, duck breast and bamboo shoots.
After enjoying an enigmatic night at BAR PUN, you are escorted out the exit by the waiters. Looking at the black door going back to being disguised as part of the brick wall, you realize it’s right next to the alley you almost got lost in. You smile, as everything that happened that night somehow starts to feel like an illusion, an adventure in a wondrous land.
Add: 5, Ln. 378, Sec. 4, Xinyi Rd., Daan Dist.
6:30pm - 2:00am (Mondays to Thursdays)
6:30pm - 3:00am (Fridays & Saturdays)
8:00pm - 2:00am (Sundays)
SHOCHU SAKE BAR
Originally an izakaya (居酒屋) in Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914文化創意產業園區), Shochu Sake Bar (小酒) was first a unique place where people would go for a wide range of sake options. The izakaya then became a hidden bar inside Al Cicchetto Huashan Bistro (義麵坊華山小酒吧). In 2020, it moved to the Zhongshan District and was turned into a cozy, private space for sake lovers to taste authentic Japanese drinks.
Having a drink in Shochu is never about exciting tricks or stunts, but rather is an exploration of the marvelous sake universe constituted by rice, koji, water and land. Shochu opens the secret entrance to visitors with its sake collections from local breweries across Japan, which are displayed on the wall behind the bar.
A reservation is a must for entering the mystery temple of sake. At the latest carnation of Shochu, the owner, Gene Chein (簡國正), wants to share the warmness of sake with people who are as passionate about it as he is. “Sake is the kind of drink which you enjoy with different temperatures,” says Gene, “and you need to serve it to the right person,” he adds.
However, Shochu is not that kind of posh bar which only hosts regular customers. Instead, through the reservation system, Gene is able to build connections with his customers and unveils the natural and cultural context of liqueurs in a more private way.
When stepping through the door, guests are considered new friends coming to enjoy a drink together with Gene.
Thus, do not hesitate to book a seat in Shochu even if you have zero knowledge of sake. Through the crystal of a sake glass, stories are shared.
Add: 7-1, Ln. 11, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
5:30pm - 1:00am (Mondays to Thursdays)
5:30pm - 2:00am (Fridays & Saturdays)
(Closed on Sundays)
“How to get over a heartbreak? Exactly 10,000 drinks, however long that takes.”
It’s undeniable that sometimes, a drink can set us free from the cages built with our past. Now, what if we tell you there’s a bar in Taipei that allows visitors to sell their mementos in exchange for alcohol?
Pawn Bar (當吧) sits right above a pawn shop, which opened in 1975 and was later bought and remodeled into the bar entrance. Pushing the door open, you find yourself in an empty pawn shop with a style of Taiwan in the 1970s. You’re stunned, and realize after a couple seconds that you have to ring the bell on the counter to get in.
The menu, once again, is not what you might have imagined. The colorful, flyer-like menus catch your eyes with their exclusive cocktails made with local Taiwanese soft drinks and ingredients, such as guava juice, sweet asparagus juice, and even taro ice cream. The food served is also traditional snacks that could be found in any local grocery store, which can bring a Taiwanese back to 40 years ago with just a nibble.
At Pawn Bar, the “pawn hours” are from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Bring something you want to pawn and share the stories with the bartenders, who will discuss a price and give you a pawn ticket, which can be used to pay your bill. In the blink of an eye, your memories have become the bitter-sweet liquid in the glass, and your steps feel a little lighter.
Add: 45-2, Sec. 1, Changan E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
Hours: 8:00pm - 2:30am
DAILY BY DRAFT LAND
We’ve all heard of afternoon tea, but afternoon cocktails? Not so much. If you thought the indulgence in the power of alcohol is only limited to night, Daily by Draft Land is here to prove you wrong.
Draft Land has been selected as one of the Top 50 Bars in Asia in 2019 and 2020. Known for its “tap cocktail” — literally tap beer replaced by cocktails — it’s a must-visit bar in Taipei. In 2020, it established a new brand, Daily by Draft Land, which has redefined the open hours of bars, and also explored the possibilities of drinking in broad daylight.
Spacious, bright, lively, with comfortable seats and sunlight flowing in effortlessly through the glass windows, Daily by Draft Land is just like a regular café. The only exception is the eye-catching slogan on the wall, “It’s not a coffee shop,” and the warm, sweet smell of cocktails.
Inheriting the brand spirit of Draft Land, the tap cocktail menu at Daily by Draft Land changes constantly, with special designer drinks made with local craft beer, fresh fruits and tea. Instead of strong, stimulating drinks, most beverages served here are lighter or non-alcoholic, which relaxes and refreshes the busy life you lead day by day.
So, if you’re wandering in Taipei city, looking to lighten up another ordinary afternoon, come to Daily by Draft Land and sit in this not-a-coffee-shop café, while surrendering to a dream filled with delightful music, subtle laughter and the faint scent of alcohol.
Add: 7, Ln. 76, Siwei Rd., Daan Dist.
Hours: 1:00pm - 7:00pm (Closed on Mondays)