WORDS BY Marcus Aurelius Maurice
A Brief History of Taipei Nightlife
Martial law in Taiwan
Starting on May 19, 1949, martial law was imposed on Taiwan. This meant that free speech, the right of assembly, and the formation of new political parties was not allowed. Martial law lasted 38 years, which at the time was the longest in the world, and didn’t formally end until July 15, 1987. The enforcement of martial law, though, died out when Chiang Kai-shek passed away in 1975.
The Combat Zone in Taipei
The Combat Zone on Shuangcheng Street appeared when the US troops fighting in the Vietnam War needed a little R&R. The joke at the time was the only action the soldiers stationed in Taiwan got was at the Combat Zone. After the troops left in 1979, the area became filled with hostess bars, where patrons could buy the scantily-clad hostesses a drink to sit and chat.
Mid-1980s: Buffalo Town
In the mid-1980s, Buffalo Town was Taiwan’s first real disco. At the time, it was the place where everyone went because there weren’t many other places to go. Many older foreigners look back on Buffalo Town as Taiwan’s “Wild Wild West” period, but it didn’t last too long because of bad management decisions. “I didn’t hangout too much in the nightlife scene because MIT was working it, but did make it to Buffalo Town a few times,” said Mandy Gaines, former lead singer of MIT, one of Taiwan’s first famous expat bands. “Buffalo Town sucked cause they made the locals pay and the foreigners got in for free. I stopped going there after my friend cussed everybody out, but I did meet Gary Chen there.”
Chen, Buffalo Town’s most popular DJ, went on to revolutionize Taiwan’s nightlife with a few others in the 1990s by opening numerous venues around town including TU, one of the first places to play hip-hop, and Brown Sugar, a jazz club that lasted for 20 years. Chen at first partnered with Lin Wei for Roxy II, which was one of the first success of Wei’s Roxy chains. Over the past 38 years, Wei has opened more than 40 rock and roll themed bars and live houses with AC/DC, 99, Vibe, SPIN, and Rocker as the most successful.
Times were changing and in 2001, the Loop opened 2nd Floor, Taiwan’s first ever mega-club. With a focus on electronic music, superstar DJs, performers, and stage design, the Loop changed everything. After two years, 2nd Floor closed and Luxy rose from it’s ashes and Taiwan had a nightclub that could host thousands of people and played different music in three rooms. The Loop knew that Taiwan’s nightlife had grown up and wanted to be entertained. They started throwing humongous parties like Halloween Massive and 2F: White Party in big venues with tens of thousands of attendees.
Other bars like Plush, Room 18, Elektro, and Myst followed in Luxy’s electronic blueprint and did pretty well for themselves for many years. Luxy did a refurbish in 2015 and is now split into two high-class establishments that bring a lot of international acts, OMNI and KOR. Nowadays, the other mega-club is AI, in the ATT4fun building in the XinYi area.
Over the past few years, the thing that has changed in Taiwan has been the number of festivals. One of the most well-known music festivals in the world, Ultra, started the trend, and now it seems that nearly every weekend during the summer there is a huge line up of DJs visiting Taiwan to play loud and aggressive EDM music. (Read more: An Island of Festivals – Exciting Music Events Around Taiwan)
On the opposite end of that spectrum, techno music has become more popular recently. Korner was the home to techno for the past few years, but it closed and now B1 is where techno lives. Over near the Combat Zone, which still exists, but is a former ghost of itself, Triangle is a venue that plays hip-hop, funk, reggae, and house music. The warehouse style venue and bare-bones, anything goes attitude is the antithesis of the mega-club.
Speakeasys Bars in Taipei
Speakeasys are very fashionable right now in Taipei. To get the door to open at Mr. Bean, you have hit a certain piano key. Once inside, the place feels both homely and upscale. The beverage menu is ample and the bartenders are precise in their designing of of the drinks. The martini was delicately made and tasted like it was out of a James Bond movie. Another drink, the Audios Motherfucker, was a neon blue and green combination and tasted like an alcoholic popsicle in the best way. The door is not the only sneaky place in Mr. Bean. If you move a bookshelf, there’s a secret entrance to another big room.
2.West Salon and Bar
Another speakeasy-type place is West Salon and Bar, because the tables are cleared out and replaced with chairs for hair cuts in the afternoon. As the day turns into night, the floor is swept, the tables are put back, and it is transformed back into a fine liquor and cigar bar. The cocktails here are creative and exotic. The Aloe Sangria has a spritzer kick that tastes just right. The Little Daisy has presentation to die for, because smoke from dry ice covered in flowers comes out of the glass, making it have that wow-factor. With unique flare and old-fashioned cool, West Salon and Bar is a great place for a night on the town. (Read more: A Tale of Cocktails: Five of Taipei’s Freshest Bars)
Neighborhood bars in Taipei
People in Taipei love going to their neighborhood bar. The understated decadence of Commons is apparent from arrival because it mixes old school fashion with new school sensibilities. Mahogany and brick are the themes, with comfortable seating, couches, and high back chairs everywhere. The square glasses show that Commons is an atypical place, perfect for business meetings when a client needs to be impressed. The Paloma, a fusion of tequila and grapefruit with a salt rim and burnt orange garnish, was as tasty as it was appealing to the eyes. The Chet Baker drink, dedicated to the jazz legend himself, had a strong herbal taste with a slight lemon twist. Commons is a local watering hole with a lot of pizazz.
Another neighborhood bar is BEAU. This loft-styled bar is a disco ball lover’s paradise. With hundreds of big ones, small ones, and colored ones adorning all nooks and crannies, including the piece de resistance, a deer-antler and disco ball chandelier, everywhere you look, your eyes are in for a treat. Stolen Secret, a chocolate-rimmed vodka drink with an infusion of passion fruit, vanilla, and peach is a delectable treat. Freshly made foods, like the pan-fried truffle shrimp dumplings, the stew tomato sauce with mushrooms and sausage, and the vegetarian tri-colored egg French fries, are must-try at BEAU.
3.MOD Public Bar
Walking through the myriad of alleys near Chungxiao and Dunhua, one could easily miss the MOD Public Bar. This hidden neighborhood haunt is unique, unassuming, and a bit subdued. MOD offers a wide selection of whisky, cocktails, and Taiwanese pub snacks. While the dim lighting matches the understated vibe, the cocktails are expertly crafted and delectable. The Spumoni, a mixture of grapefruit juice, Campari, and tonic with a burnt orange on top, tasted like the beginnings of spring. Xmas in Summer, a green melon liquor cocktail with a cherry in the bottom and just the right amount of frozen ice pieces to give it a snap, was also flavorful. (Read more: Bar Surfing Taipei Cocktail Festival Unveils the Uniqueness of Taiwan’s Cocktail Scene)
Wxyz Bar At Aloft Hotel
As for the smaller places but still a bit fancy is WXYZ. Hidden on the 17th floor of Aloft hotel, the WXYZ Bar has been designed with tropical ambiance in mind. The bar’s neon pink and blue lighting matches the low couches with pillows that have palm tree leaves splashed on them. The floor to ceiling windows make the WXYZ Bar feel breezy, while the menu has a nice selection of hot bites and cold drinks. The NY Spritzer is refreshing and carefully crafted with ice flakes. The Amaretto Sour is heavenly and perfectly complimented by having the cheery in the bottom. The food is top notch with the fish and chips hitting the spot and calamari that was filling. (Read more: An insider’s guide to Taipei: Afternoon Tea in 5 Unlikely Places)