Close observation of the vibrant bar culture in Taipei reveals that the real cocktail revolution is taking place here; in this capital city of the tiny island country Taiwan. It’s truly a melting pot of cultures from all over Asia and the western world. Rojita Tiwari reassures this after spending a week in Taipei, mostly barhopping, tasting different styles of cocktails and interacting with some of the finest bartenders from Taiwan.
Victor Yang with his boyish charm moves swiftly behind the bar from one end to the other at ‘AHA Saloon’- creating cocktails with the accuracy and precision equivalent of a perfect lab work – all this while striking a conversation with his guests seated at the bar table. Aki Wang’s den ‘Indulge Experimental Bistro’ is a place where one can spend hours while listening to him passionately explaining each and every flavour of the tea liqueurs that he creates with the handpicked teas from across Taiwan. At ‘Fourplay’, five minutes into the conversation with Allen Cheng and he wins your heart by serving you a drink exactly the way you want, as you pick your own ingredients. Nick Wu’s personal touch in every element of his sophisticated ‘Bar Mood’, from the selection of furniture to stocking up the bar with only syrups and juices made of local ingredients, also occasionally spoiling guests with an unusual cocktail off the menu- these bartenders are all magicians of their craft.
Interestingly, Taiwan’s bar culture wasn’t always vivacious. The country saw an upsurge in its-otherwise negligible-drinking culture during the nineties. There was a time when night outs meant hanging out with friends at the teahouse. But things have changed over the years. While minimalistic approach towards the décor and the drinks at these bars also suggest the fact that almost every aspect of the Taiwanese life draws inspiration from Japanese culture, the versatility, and ease with which the younger generation has adopted the virtues of the east and west is commendable. A reflection of which was seen in a lot of the cocktails that I tasted during my visit.
Here are the 6 must-visit bars across Taipei that could leave you with an experience of a lifetime.
1) Indulge Experimental Bistro – For the art of Tea & Cocktail Mixology
Aki Wang’s Indulge Experimental Bistro was awarded the Best Bar in Taiwan Award at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018 held in Singapore. Located in a posh residential area in the quieter by lanes of central Taipei, the place is totally missable, unless you are looking for an herb garden outside a building. But as soon as you enter, you feel the place has a soul. The friendly staff, a very talented female bartender manning the bar with ease at a peak hour, an exceptional kitchen serving some delectable food items prepared with fresh produces and locally sourced ingredients, Indulge Experimental Bistro is a delightful place to unwind after a busy day. Divided between a casual dining area and an underground semi-formal cozy den space that serves a wide range of spirits including some rare single malts, cognacs, and Japanese whiskeys, Indulge Bistro is an experience. The drinks menu boasts of a wide range of tea cocktails such as Four Seasons Spring Cocktail (The Green tea liqueur with Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, Pomelo and Lemon Verbena), Ruby Black Cocktail (2018 Ruby completely fermented black tea liqueur with Deveron 12 YO single malt whisky, Beetroot, Raspberry, Rose & citrus reduction) and many more, it is truly a tea enthusiast’s dreamland.
2) Marco Polo Lounge at Shangri-La – Signature cocktails and the view
Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei should be your choice of place to stay while you are in the city. The hotel reflects the perfect blend of luxury, elegance, and class. It has an impressive Gin bar on the lobby level called Lobby Court that offers some rare and exciting local gins. For those who like to enjoy their single malts and cigars in a quieter corner, Li Bai Bar is the place. With a collection of more than 40 whiskies served inside the classic English style charming bar set-up, this should be your pick for a dram. But I would choose Marco Polo Lounge on the higher floor of the hotel, not only because I know that the bartender Kevin Luo can mix up a great cocktail using the local Taiwanese liquor Kaoliang, called ‘Marco Polo Had A Farm’ but also because the lounge offers one of the best views of the TAIPEI 101 building and also of the cityscape.
3) AHA-Saloon for a speakeasy drinking experience
Victor, Jeffrey, and Kae, the award-winning bartenders decided to open a bar on the main street in Taipei and made AHA-Saloon one of the most popular hangouts in Taipei. You may have to be lucky or patient enough to find a seat at AHA-Saloon but ones you have entered inside, you are in for a great show. It’s not just the way the cocktails are prepared here by these star bartenders, the glassware, the décor, an exclusive private-members only area upstairs with a wall display of some of the rare whisky labels, makes this bar a must-visit. And, while you are seated at the bar, ask for a ‘Meet Shalimar At Mine’- cocktail made with pandan, yam, and juice from the Taiwanese native plant wood called Calocedrus. Interestingly, the bar serves only drinks. So, if you get hungry, just step out and you have plently of local food to try out on the street.
4) Bar Mood – For more than just one drink
Bar Mood is in no way a regular fine dining bar. Located in one of the busy by-lanes in central Taipei, the place is every bit chick, minimalistic and edgy. As you enter, you can hang around at the welcome bar area if in the mood for just one drink. The bar has a special tie-up with Cinco Jotas from Spain so it serves the fresh, delicious, flavourful Acorn-fed 100% artisanal Iberico Hams. But, you only get to enter the main bar if you are ready to order more than two drinks. Once you are inside, you may not want to ever leave that place. A bar that serves cocktails with some of the finest spirits and uses only homemade syrups and juices made from local ingredients sounds perfect. Right? The bar food at Bar Mood can leave you with a completely satisfying and indulgent experience; this place speaks of bespoke luxury. Choice of Cocktail – Mood Tiki (Ron Zacapa 23 yr. old, Homemade spice syrup, Salty Star fruit juice or apple juice and fresh lime juice)
5) Cocktail on Tap – For a night of revelry and Just Drinks
Picture this. A cocktail bar in the middle of a small by-lanes in a residential area (almost every area is residential in Taipei), absolutely packed from inside and crowd spilling outside to the street at around 9 pm on a weekend. The bar serves around 20 cocktails, all on tap, at an affordable price and open till the wee hours of the morning. No food and no seating. So fill your stomach and wear comfortable shoes if you are heading to ‘Cocktail on Tap’. Favourite pick, Sherry Cobbler (Sherry wine, Zubrowka vodka, pineapple, sugar and citric acid).
6) Fourplay – For authentic Made To Order drink experience
In one of the best neighborhoods in Taipei city is the playground of four players, former colleagues who decided to stay unconventional and run a bar, which is as much about the cocktails as about the experience. The customer is the king here; at least, that’s what the players would make you believe. The drinks look stunning here and taste absolutely exceptional. While the cocktail names and shots like Marijuana and Smoky Rose might intimidate you, this is also the perfect place to ask for a custom-made drink. Go for a local Kaoliang based cocktails or stick to your regular drink with a local twist or just go crazy with your choice of shots here. Fourplay could be a playground for a drinks expert but it could also allow enough playtimes to a regular cocktail lover.
Rojita Tiwari is an established Beverage & Travel writer and expert with over 13 yrs. experience. She is also the founder of Drinks & Destinations, a platform specializing in wine & spirits, travel and hospitality themed content and curated events.
Connect with her on [email protected] or on social media @DrinksandDestinations