A Look into Bars in Taipei and Bar Owner Insights: #1 BeerGeek

As stereotypical as it might sound for an Irishman, I have been around a lot of bars in Taipei. For the most part I have had good experiences and met plenty of interesting folks from many different strokes. With that said, I have always found it hard to find a bar with all the elements that I want. For me, I hope to find a bar with a good range of decently priced drinks, bar staff that are interactive with customers, good music and decor and patrons that are welcoming.

I have been to bars that met some of these criterion, but most bars either focus far too much on their decor and not a lot on their drinks, or focus too much on low prices and not enough on creating a good atmosphere and experience for customers. I sometimes wonder, why would anyone go for a drink in so many bars in Taipei when you can get the same experience for cheap in 7-Eleven?

Alas, I have found quite a few bars that meet what I expect in a bar, and one of those bars is BeerGeek.

Interview with BeerGeek owner, Mark Popplewell

I have frequented the place quite a lot in recent months and I took on myself to send some questions over to the British owner, Mark Popplewell, who thankfully took the time to answer them.

What prompted me to do so is was from my experience of being very skeptical of the bar culture in Taipei when I first arrived. The high price of beers, the growth of craft beer and the overall sense that many bar owners are posers and not owners kind of made me somewhat jaded towards the whole scene.

Thankfully, after talking with many bar owners in Taipei, both foreign and local, I have come to the realization that higher prices are needed to provide a good experiences and a good variety of drinks. Hence, I wanted to ask Mark Popplewell some questions about his bar and hopefully show some insights into the bar culture in Taiwan.

(All the photos were courtesy of patrons who visited BeerGeek and put pictures of the bar on Instagram)

What initially brought you to Taiwan?

I was in Japan previously, met people from Taiwan and heard good things. So then I came to check it out and well, i’m still here.

What makes your bar unique to other bars in Taipei?

Well, I think it’s down to how you create the decor. I have a very comfortable, yet uniquely decorated space. I am passionate about what I do and most certainly don’t follow other people’s/bar’s trends or fashions.

Why did you decide on opening a bar in Taipei?

I decided that this is what I wanted to do here because at the time there were very few bars around. That’s not the case these days. We are a truly independently owned and operated bar. We sell what we want, we own our own draft system and clean it religiously, we have complete control of everything and this keeps us flexible to satisfy customer demands.

BeerGeek is your second bar, so it would seem you have a passion for it.

I definitely don’t fake it. The passion is real and customers sense that from the moment they walk through the door.

What have been the challenges in opening a bar in Taiwan?

The challenges vary; staying on budget and respecting the law, speaking and working with the Govt, being legit and legal. The Govt are there to help. Too many newbies forget or bypass this.

How did you decide on the location of your bar? Is it a challenge to find a location to set up a bar? Are noise complaints a common occurrence considering so many businesses located below residential apartments?

Yes, I set up where I did because frankly, the Govt said no to the first 3 addresses (I insist on working with the powers that be, rather than take a chance on an address) The location is still good and convenient to where I live.

My bar is a destination that people are prepared to walk an extra 5 minutes to and from the MRT, (city hall exit 1 is closest) also we have a very loyal following of regulars who live in the neighbourhood, I’m very lucky and blessed for that. Yes, every bar has to make steps to minimize noise complaints. I opened on a busy main road with a flyover adjacent. This helps a lot.

Are you limited in any way to what you can import in Taiwan for your bar and are import taxes an issue for your business?

I wouldn’t say limited. Again, choose wisely, factor in all costs and make sure you can sell to the consumers that make a good enough margin and not make them feel ripped off. There are many many beers now available in Taiwan, many successful and many not. Local beer is definitely unto the standard of good imports now, so there is less of a desire to continuously push import only beer.

What is your target customer and how does that affect what you sell?

Well, everyones welcome and we cater to a truly international crowd. Locals and foreigners alike love to try all the new local craft beer. This has definitely become more apparent in the last 18 months and as long as I have a fair balance of local and imported goods, it tends to please everyone.

The growth of craft beer seems to have influenced most bars in Taipei in recent years, as a bar that deals in a lot of craft beer, what do you see as the main trends in Taipei in terms of craft beer?

Well for a while everyone wanted an IPA of some description but finally (thank god) people are willing to try other styles of craft beer. Stouts and porters always go down well, there are some high quality weisse beers being made locally too. Brewers are playing with local ingredients which is proving a hit with most drinkers.

What kind of atmosphere do want to have in your bar?

A friendly relaxed and unpretentious vibe all the way. We may be called BeerGeek, but we are not beer snobs. I personally like a good old fashioned lager on a humid day in Taipei. BeerGeek simply reflects the vast choice on offer, the staff knowledge is there if you need it, but we don’t lecture. People revisit us for our friendliness and laid back atmosphere, we also ensure the draft beer is always in top shape.

How has the bar scene changed since you first came to Taiwan? You had mentioned to me before that there use to be a lot of British engineers and the bar scene thrived, how is today different from then?

Bars were big and beautiful 10 years ago, very much like a mainstream bar from back home (UK). There are still a few of these around of course, but a few memorable ones closed too. Bars these days tend to be smaller, more quirky, and bespoke and are able to survive a quiet month or two without any threat of closure. After all, commercial rental prices can be crazy in Taipei.

In general, what are the best and worst aspects about running a bar in Taipei?

The freedom to be creative and give people a good experience is a great feeling. To be part of something that people enjoy and you playing a role in creating it, this is an amazing feeling. To drink beer on the job…. well, who wouldn’t (in moderation of course, nobody wants to see drunken bar staff).

The downsides are the usual, long, long hours, and the loss of personal social life outside the 4 walls. It is a lifestyle, not a job.

You have three bulldogs in Bar, what is the story behind them?

We rescued Darth Brenda in December 2015 . A sweet young pup she seemed too, except she had other young pups growing in her belly. We had no idea at the time, so out they came Chinese New Years Day 2016. We couldn’t bear the thought of separating her from them, neither did we want to, so they all live with us as a family unit. Brenda, Porter and Baldrick. They are definitely a part of our team and love meeting customers. We are Taipei’s most dog friendly bar.

What events do you have coming up soon and what events do you regularly host?

We have Quiz nights, open mic nights and specialise in launching new beers. We work closely with distributors or breweries to help get the word out about their brands with well planned events. We even host the occasional “Meet The Brewers” evenings. We have one this week with COEDO Beers, all the way from Japan. We usually advertise everything through our Facebook page.

(The open comedy mic nights that are held in BeerGeek are run by the Republic of Comedy Taiwan Standup)

Where can I find your bar playlist?

We have our own YouTube Channel with playlists on. Our customers have a love/hate relationship with our music…. i love that haha.

The bar is definitely worth a visit and with happy hour between 6-8pm, you can sneak in a few cheap craft beers. If you are interested in visiting BeerGeek, check out their Facebook page or check out the map below for the location in Taipei.

If you are interested in keeping up to date with “Nihao’s It Going?”, then give a like on the Facebookand Twitter Page to keep up to date.

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