One of the most interesting things about Taipei is how bars are cafés and cafés are bars. I know, it sounds confusing, but give me at least a paragraph or two to justify this claim.
Taipei is in no shortage of cafés, unless you live in the sticks. But even then, you probably have a Louisa coffee nearer than you expect. However, Taipei does not spoil you for the choices of bars you have. According to the Ministry of Finance, there are at least 234 bars in Taipei, while in my own native Dublin, a city known for alcoholic shenanigans, there are 751.
To put those numbers into a more comprehensive manner, there is 1 bar for every 11,560 Taipei resident, while in Dublin, there is 1 bar for every 1,695 resident.
It is not fair to compare Taipei and Dublin in this manner. Dublin is a city with a culture of drinking, while Taipei has other cultural aspect that Dublin does not equally have. However, this shouldn’t discourage any discussion of the issue of lack of choice of bars in Taipei.
There are very few large bars in Taipei. Most are small enterprises and rightly so, there just isn’t a market for it. The average person won’t go for a drink and most average people wont pay $150 NTD ( $5 USD) for the cheapest drink. Unless you like drinking Taiwan Beer, you are going to have to pay nearly $6-$7 USD for a small bottle of quite literally anything else.
This isn’t bars being greedy, it is bars staying in the black. Being profitable, or at least breaking even in a small pond with other big fishes isn’t easy. I usually buy the cheapest thing possible, usually a Taiwan Beer. I do so around happy hour and buy 2-3 beers before the happiness ends. You might call it cheap, but I call it being able to eat this week.
With all this said and done, my favourite spots in Taipei can be narrowed down to two bars. The Irish bar Speakeasy and the rock bar Revolver. Both have a great buzz about them and have a a liveliness I rarely feel elsewhere.
The bar lady, Helen, in the Speakeasy runs the bar really well and she is probably a big reason why I have met quite lot of different people. Revolver is great for live music and meeting people as well. The inside of Revolver is very small, but most of the time people spill out into the entrance of the bar and drink and chat there.
Cafés on the other hand are a different story. You can find a café for whatever price range you want. Louisa Coffee is a fantastic alternative to Starbucks. However, smaller cafés have made a good name for themselves. Two particular cafés I have fallen for are Yaboo and Mucho Mucho.
Both cafés have a great menu of food and drinks and the music is perfectly matched to their ambiance.
When I first went to Yaboo, they were playing local artists. The music was a nice blend of ambient and rock. Unfortunately they had to turn the music over to “English” music because that is what the management prefers. Not too big a shame, they played Cigarettes After Sex. They also have a few cats that pitter patter about and they are really quite friendly.
Mucho Mucho likes to play around with their playlist, but the last I was there, they were playing bits and pieces from the Amelie soundtrack, and before that, they were playing Chet Baker and Pierce Evans. I know, reading back over the last few sentences, I must be coming across as being pretentious. I better wash myself a little after this.
So, those are my favourite spots around Taipei for coffee, grub and drinks. In the cafés I am left alone to sip on my coffee, and in the bars I am mingling and meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds.
But, for pretty much anywhere else I have gone, I felt the complete opposite. In the bars, people don’t mingle or talk, while in the cafés, people are mingling and chatting.
I can remember one time I was seeing 4 girls in a bar on their phones watching dramas. They had ordered enough food to feed a small famine-ridden country and enough drinks to kill an Irishman, and nobody was talking or interacting. Other times, people kept to their own in-groups and avoided interaction with others. Everyone has their own little echo-chamber.
On the other hand, cafés feel a lot more open to be social. I have met a lot of people in the cafés (other than the ones I mentioned). I am not use to talking to other people in cafés. I usually bring my laptop and work with headphones on, or meet friends for some coffee and have a chat.
I suppose this is a reason why I haven’t spent too much time trying other bars. I have been around and see lots of place and not many have been impression. A place called Little London, said to be an English bar in Taipei, was as English as William Wallace. Their menu had “French Fries” written on it. French fries. I felt like walking out the door. I sat down, paid $8 dollars for half a drink of some weird craft beer stout on tap.
Now, I keep to the same two bars and occasionally try new cafés with friends.
So there it is, bars are cafés and cafés are bars.