Bars

A city of secret spots

Davin de Kergommeauxgoes searching in Taipei for some excellent bars
By Davin de Kergommeaux
Taipei, a modern city with a long drinking culture, is awakening to the pleasures of savouring a dram. Led by a handful of superstar bartenders, the past 15 years have seen a new bar culture emerge. Sure, the once-favoured shot of whisky can still be had, but just as often it has been replaced by a slow contemplative sip. Taipei’s bartenders are very professional, and seemingly take turns bringing home one world championship after another.

Bar-goers in Taipei do love their secret spots. Many a bar, unmarked or located well up a high-rise tower, can only be found if you know who to ask. That does not prevent these establishments from serving a full house, however. A Japanese approach to malt whisky exercises strong influence on the whisky scene, with drams served on long solid bars, poured into lowball glasses over a single, round, baseball-sized chunk of ice.

The finest and rarest whiskies are plentiful in Taipei bars, but the cocktail scene too, is very active. Savour your dram of Yamazaki 40 Years Old, and don’t be surprised if the person beside you at the bar is enjoying his in a Manhattan.


Alchemy


No. 16-1 XinYi Road, Section 5, Taipei
www.marquee-taipei.com

Angus Zou is Diageo’s 2010 World Class bartending champion of Taiwan and runs one of Taipei’s most popular whisky bars. Seven years of serving some 60 high-end, luxury and vintage whiskies, along with classic cocktails, has clinched the stellar reputation of Alchemy and Angus among Taipei’s discerning drinkers. “We didn’t have prohibition in Taipei,” says Angus, “but my bar is based on speak-easy style.” By way of explanation he adds, “People here don’t know whisky culture so I am trying to educate them.” He says that to do this he has “created a private space, a secret space with a slow atmosphere.” It’s secret alright, so before heading over to Alchemy be sure to call +886-987-253-101 to reserve your spot. Hidden within another unmarked, high-end bar, Marquee, customers must enter the 45-seat bar through a secret passage hidden behind a bookshelf.


Bar@Yen (at the W Hotel)


10 Zhongxiao East Road Section 5, XinYi District, Taipei
Trip Advisor page

Loud, and packed with a younger crowd, Bar@Yen is classed here as an “American style” bar. The whisky selection is ample and bartender, “Mr. T,” is considered a world-class master of the cocktail. He specialises in the classics: martinis, white ladies, sidecars, and so on. His 2011 win in Diageo’s world class cocktail competition simply confirms local opinion. Bar@Yen is a larger space with two rooms, seating up to 160 people. A place where serenity meets energy, this pulsing club caters more to the cocktail scene than to hard-core single malt lovers. Situated high in the modern W Hotel, Bar@Yen is one of Taipei’s newest happening spots. Enjoy your ride up in an elevator illuminated with lights that cast your clothes in vivid surrealistic shades.


Fourplay


No. 49, Dongfeng Street, Taipei
Trip Advisor page

After a long day at work, good friends often head to Fourplay to chat over whisky and cocktails while watching the Frankie and Allan show. These highly skilled bartenders work separately and in tandem creating some of Taipei’s most innovative whisky cocktails. At Fourplay it’s all about flavour, not flair, although cocktails that feature “burning bush” sprigs of flaming herbs create quite a spectacle. The understated décor combines clean lines of wood and white panels. Fourplay is a large, modern, urban space with a restaurant featuring quality Chinese food. The menu is an important part of the attraction as Frankie and Allan have designed specific whisky cocktails to complement selected dishes. It’s a rare experience, not to be missed when you are in Taipei.


Indulge Experimental Bistro


No. 11 Lane 219, Section 1, Fùxīng South Road, Dà'ān District, Taipei
Trip Advisor page

Indulge is yet another of Taipei’s hidden treasures. Despite 100 whiskies on the bar they are better known for bartender Stanley Yang’s reasonably priced specialty cocktails. Whisky and food is a common combination in Taipei and Indulge offers a full-service restaurant and focuses on whisky/cocktail training and education. Indulge really is well-hidden, nestled in a residential area near the Zhong Xiao FuXing MRT Station. A quiet word with owner Aki “Archie” can turn Indulge into a whisky lover’s paradise when he reaches into his private collection to pour something extra special for a visiting connoisseur. Meanwhile, hard-core whisky travellers should be aware that Indulge is reputed to serve the best Mojitos in Taiwan. Come on, you’re on the road, why not try something different?


Marsalis Home & Whisky Gallery


No. 90 SongRen Rd, XinYi District
www.homehotel.com.tw

According to Taipei’s whisky cognoscenti, Kai Yin is the best bartender in Taiwan. When he’s not on CNN accepting accolades for his cocktails, he’ll happily pour you a dram from one of Taiwan’s widest ranges of malt and blended whisky. Be sure to sample the broad selection of rare and unusual Japanese whiskies, but if you prefer, he’ll mix you a classic cocktail (with a twist).
Marsalis sits right in the throbbing heart of XinYi District. Amidst its comfortable homey interior and tasteful classic décor, Marsalis also houses the Taiwan branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Like so many of Asia’s treasures, Marsalis does not operate from a storefront, but is tucked away on the third floor of the Home Hotel.


L'arrière-court (backyard)


No. 4, Lane 23, Ānhé Road Section 2, Dà'ān District, Taipei

When Steven Lin was a student of architecture he filled his spare time by opening a whisky bar on the edge of the campus. His bar quickly became home to students and professors alike who referred to it as the university’s “back yard.” The name stuck, and 12 years later Back Yard, now moved to a more central location, is still considered one of the very best whisky bars in Taipei. The sign above the door says L’arriere-cour – after a Chinese firm trademarked Back Yard.
With a choice of more than 400 single malts it’s a malt-lover’s heaven. Bartenders named “Silence” and “Button” (yes!) serve ample pours of exceedingly rare single malt Scotches. Bottles such as Silver Seal St. Magdalene 27 Years Old are complemented by a long list of Japanese specialties.


MOD Public Bar


No. 40, 4 Lane 345, Sec 4, Re , Dà'ān District, Taipei
Trip Advisor page

MOD is extremely difficult to find. The only clue that you’ve arrived is a red, white, and blue bull’s eye out front. Fifteen years ago, owner Mr. Boo left the frenzied drinking and cocktails scene behind to start the city’s first genuine malt whisky bar. Along the way he has trained many of Taipei’s most famous bartenders. Stocked with more than 200 malt whiskies, MOD is often chosen by whisky companies to launch new products. The dark corners of this smoky, cosy space may encourage clandestine meetings, but for whisky lovers it’s a place to experience whisky served Japanese style over a hand-cut ball of ice. With 20 seats at the bar, MOD can become crowded, but if you can’t find a spot right away, stick around. It’s definitely worth the wait.


Mr. 83


No. 83, Sec 1, Anhe Road, Dà'ān District, Taipei
Facebook page

Media types are known to frequent this cosy, reasonably priced, Japanese-style whisky joint. The regulars, perched along the 15-seat mahogany bar, are quick to welcome a new visitor. Two small tables add another 10 spots. A lone bartender, appropriately named “Giant,” gives personal attention to his clientele. After 25 years tending bar, Giant is a consummate professional.
Mr. 83 features some 150 whiskies, though many locals in the know come for Giant’s classic, old-style cocktails and new creations, served with traditional Taiwanese snacks and dishes. It’s a casual place, so don your t-shirt and jeans and join the regulars at Mr. 83. With its comfortable living-room atmosphere, you’ll feel right at home chatting with them about what’s going on in the city.


Nox


No. 7, 71 Lane, Sec 2, Anhe Road, Dà'ān District, Taipei

Seen through local eyes, Nox is a traditional British-style bar. However, more than 60 top Japanese malts among the 250 whiskies on the bar tell visitors they are not in Old Blighty. Bartender, Mordie Tseng, a Suntory cocktail competition winner, specialises in the creation of drinks featuring Japanese whisky. Tseng wants people to feel relaxed and comfortable in his establishment. Perhaps that’s why, when he left his former job at Back Yard, he chose a quiet lane off Anhe Road to open Nox. With its old-fashioned casual atmosphere there is lots of space for friends to gather. A VIP room that features a special whisky selection draws local whisky lovers and discerning visitors in search of an exclusive Taiwanese find.