Showing posts with label beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beer. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My favorite Taipei cafes: 2019 rundown


In the past I've done reduxes of my favorite cafes for atmosphere - which is mostly accurate still, though a few places have moved (such as Nancy), rebranded as restaurants (Anhe 65), are now noisy tea shops (Red House Theater), or closed (Mono Cafe). I've done one for good coffee in Taipei as well - though that's a bit more outdated: My Sweetie Pie is long gone and there is now more than one George House in the Yongkang Street area. I don't think Naruwan Indigenous People's Market is still a thing anymore, either, though I haven't been in awhile.

Both posts are now badly in need of an update - most of the places I mentioned are still open, but I've found new haunts that I like just as much.

To deal with that, I'll leave those old posts as they are (links above) and provide here a new redux of where I'm imbibing right now. This isn't just for folks who live here - when I've traveled to other cities with hopping cafe scenes, I've found blogs in English by committed residents of those cities to be helpful guides as to where to go. So I want to be one of the people who does that for Taipei. Plus, as a grad student, I spend a lot of time in cafes getting reading done or writing papers so my list of good spots has grown.

You'll see some of my old entries repeated here, with new ones added, and I've prioritized places with outdoor seating, as that's so hard to find in Taipei. I've also noted where some cafes are near other good options, as seating can be so hard to come by. There's also a bias towards southern Taipei because that's where I live and hang out. Overall there's simply a lot of bias for "places I actually go to", so there's not much more to unite them thematically than that. No pretension to "the best" or "the top 10" or whatever - just my real world.

Instead of looking up each address like it's still 2010, I've gone ahead and made a Google Maps list, which you can access here. (I realized after I'd made it that I could actually create a map rather than just a list, but I'm too lazy to go back and re-do it, so this'll do for now.) 

Heritage Bakery and Cafe


This 'newcomer' (opened in 2016) has quickly become a go-to spot in the Taipei Main Station/Ximen area. Pretty much everything about it is excellent - you feel as you walk in that you're somewhere in New York being exceedingly posh in that middle-class hipster sort of way. If that doesn't sound appealing to you - a bit to gentrificationy - don't let that deter you (you're not gentrifying much here - the neighborhood is much the same as it always was). Go for the bright, attractive upstairs seating with exposed brick walls, the very good coffee and other drinks (non-coffee drinkers can choose a variety of teas or fizzy drinks, or beer) and most of all, the desserts.

Oh, the desserts.
Westerners who complain that Taipei doesn't have good dessert options can shove some of this cake in their cakehole - from fluffy, perfect, cinnamony cinnamon rolls which sell out quickly to pink guava cheesecake to sea salt caramel Belgian chocolate cake all in generous or even huge servings, this place knows how to do Western-style desserts. The foccaccia sandwiches are quite good too - try the chicken avocado club.

It's not particularly cheap - drinks, sandwiches and a cinnamon roll for 2 will cost you NT$900 and change - but it's not insane. 90-minute limit on holidays and weekends. Otherwise, pretty much the only downside is that the air conditioner is often on full-blast, which makes it a bit chilly. Bring a cardigan.


This Cafe ((這間咖啡)


This is quickly becoming one of my favorite work cafes. Very strong social movement bent (check out the "I Support Taiwan Independence" banner in the back), good wifi and lots of plugs - it's quiet and you can usually get a seat. It's a little dimly lit but that just adds to the charm and isn't a problem if you're on a computer, and the table in back is set under antique Taiwanese milk glass hanging lamps. They have non-coffee drinks including beer, and a small selection of sandwiches and salads which are reasonably priced. I think I also like it because the guy who most often works there knows me on sight and knows my order by heart now. Plus they're open pretty late. There are other cafes nearby, such as Perch (nice, but often crowded) and PuiBui, which I haven't tried yet. 

Cafe Le Zinc

Set in the back of an old Dihua Street shophouse, Le Zinc can be accessed through the Art Yard ceramics shop from Dihua, or directly from a little lane that snakes around the back. Seating is limited but I've never had a problem, and the well-lit long table has plugs. There's also strong wifi. Windows look out into the narrow courtyard of the old house, where the bathroom is. There's an extensive (but expensive) wine list - house wine by the glass is more affordable - beer, coffee and light food. Music leans toward the jazzy and old-fashioned, which I like. It's a good place to work (on account of the big table, wifi and plugs) and also a good place to meet friends just to chat.

In fact, this whole area is bursting with cafes - if you can't get a seat at Le Zinc, you can surely get a seat somewhere. There are so many that I can't possibly put them all on my map.



Dihua Street is actually bursting with cafes these days - a huge change from my first few years here when it was a somewhat forgotten corner of the city where you could do a little fabric or dry-goods shopping and check out the old buildings, but not much else. If anywhere in Taipei has gentrified, it's here - and yet the fabric and dry-goods sellers still mostly seem to be in business. Where Le Zinc stands out for its table space and wine/beer list, Fleisch has some unique coffee drinks - my favorite being a latte with dried Mandarin orange (dried citrus slices are fairly common dried goods in Taiwan - they make a nice drink steeped in boiling water.)



A very new addition to the Dihua Street cafe scene, Hakkafe was opened by an entrepreneurial Hakka guy named Terry who is friendly and enthusiastic about his mission to create a modern cafe space with a traditional Hakka twist. The space is large, minimalist and quiet, done in shades of black, white, gray and wood. We especially liked the Hakka BLT (with Taiwanese pickled green chilis), and the brownie was wonderful. I highly recommend the Hakka breakfast tea - Terry noticed that England has a 'breakfast tea' culture but Taiwan, another tea-drinking nation, does not. So he set out to blend his own. The results are stunning.

This is the only place on the list that doesn't actually serve coffee, but you won't miss it if you try the Hakka Breakfast Tea.

It's also near funky-looking Chance Cafe (
一線牽), which I haven't tried yet. 

The Lightened

Formerly Backstage Cafe, which had a student activist/social movement theme (yes, a theme, but the former owner was apparently active in those circles), The Lightened is now associated with Anmesty International Taiwan. Located on Fuxing South Road near the back gate of National Taiwan University, The Lightened is unpretentious, well-lit, there are lots of plugs and good wifi, and you can always get a seat. The coffee is good (and fair trade), there's a small selection of beer and the desserts are homemade. On weekends a spunky black-and-white cat might be around.

Rufous Coffee

Almost directly across the street from The Lightened, Rufous is a bit darker, more famous, and is known for having top-notch coffee. Any of the single origin choices are good, and the Irish coffee is spectacular. That said, non-coffee drinkers won't find much here, and they don't have much in the way of food, either. I like it for its cozy, friendly atmosphere, though it can be hard to get a seat sometimes. Not far away there's a 2nd branch, which is quite close to URBN Culture. 

Shake House (雪可屋)


 I simply cannot write a post about coffee without including my long-time hangout. I don't know why I go to Shake House. There's no wifi, nor any plugs. The bathroom is tiny and through a dilapidated passageway. Lamps are hanging flower pots with ribbons. The chairs are ancient. But I just love the place - it's like, in every city I live in, I need my student hangout in some old building that's falling apart, and I just get attached to it. That's how it is. The coffee is good, the chicken sandwiches above average, the beer selection excellent (and affordable as cafes go), they're open very late and the music is...eclectic. From odd movie soundtracks to church music to Johnny Cash to John Coltrane to whatever. You just literally never know what you'll get. Also, I know the owners and they know me.

If you really need plugs and wifi, Cafe Bastille is just across the lane (and there are other cafes in the area, including Drop Coffee and its new neighbor).

Drop Coffee (滴咖啡)

Drop is another coffeeshop I always include. On Xinsheng Road just across the street from NTU, the space is a renovated Japanese wooden house. The owner is passionate about coffee and does a mean siphon brew. The dog - 橘子 (Orange, although he is black) - is unfriendly in a comical way. There are a few teas on the menu as well as some desserts but really you come here for the coffee. A new place has opened across the lane which has more space, but I haven't checked it out yet.

Cafe Philo

If you go to any sort of political or activist talks or activities, you know Cafe Philo. They have a space downstairs just for that. Upstairs, they have generous space and a wide menu which includes food. I've been going there recently as I'm taking a course (not related to my Master's - because I'm insane) and I can always get a seat.



This large black-and-white space on Yongkang Park advertises itself as an ice cream shop, but you can absolutely get coffee here. They have a good deck if you want to sit outside, and the coffee is high-quality. You can get some interesting coffee drinks here that you may not find elsewhere - I had iced coffee in a glass flask that I could pour over a giant ice ball, and my friend had a huge ball of iced coffee that melted as he poured foamed milk over it.

Caffe Libero

Another classic, I've found myself going here less ever since Red On Tree left (they used to sell excellent French-style pastry confections on-site), and they close early on Sundays. But I still love the place for its outdoor seating, quirky indoor decor, cigar selection and more.


Near 8% and Libero, Yaboo has decent sandwiches and - most importantly - cats! Also a nice atmosphere, but it fills up on weekends. A seat is not guaranteed. But the cats are sweet and friendly.


Another minimalist place, I like it for its weird shape and good coffee (though all they really have are coffee and a small dessert selection). Big windows let the light in, and it's called Angle because it's set in a weird triangular building outcrop on Rui'an Street (Pillow Cafe, which is also good and used to have a corgi, is nearby. They're under new ownership - hence no more corgi - and friendly.) I find myself here on the occasional Sunday as one can usually get a seat, and there are good views from the bar seats.

Slo-mo Cafe

This place has generous indoor seating and an outdoor area partitioned off from the lane - although smoking is allowed outdoors, it's never too overwhelming. The lane is not particularly busy (except at rush hour) - you may know it as the shortcut between Keelung Road where the gas station is and the Far Eastern Hotel or Carnegie's. The only real downside to sitting outside is that there are some mosquitoes - but that's an issue with all of the outdoor options listed. The desserts are standard cafe fare - though I like the lemon cake - and the glass of white wine I once got on a scorching day was pretty good. Even better? This place never seems to fill up.

Beautiful Tree Coffee (美樹咖啡館)


This place is tiny and odd, run by a friendly older man. I absolutely love it. There's something of a rainforest theme going on, with a little outdoor area that has birds. And a ceiling with faux stained glass skylights! I'm not sure how to describe this place beyond that, it sort of defies description and, like many quirky spots, is in a gussied-up old building. The coffee was fine, and I genuinely liked their ham and cheese sandwich. Not too expensive, either. It's very close to Slo-mo as well as another place called Kaldi that I haven't tried yet. 

A8 Cafe

A8 is one of my favorite workspaces. It was opened by world-famous Taiwanese indigenous pop star A-mei and employs indigenous staff. The space has a sort of industrial decor (concrete floor, warehouse windows, exposed brick) with good lighting, big shared tables as well as individual tables and couch areas (one of which is set under a real potted tree - my favorite spot), quirky decorative elements, plugs and good wifi. They have a full menu of cafe standards as well as meals and alcohol, but they close a bit early (around 9pm, but they'll let you stick around until they really pack up for the night.) They're closed on Mondays and sometimes take business breaks, but nearby 青沐, which is technically a restaurant, will let you order a drink and just hang out if they're not too busy. There's also a nearby place called Pachamama which I haven't been to, but looks cool. 


I go here because it's near my home - it's not really a workspace but you can sit outside on the little deck, and it's basically a cool, bare-bones espresso bar in a quiet lane. 

Cafe Costumice

The Big Mama of cafes where you can sit outside, Costumice is that cafe everyone knows about, and yet you can usually get a seat (not always outside, though). Its major selling point is the huge front deck (bring bug repellent) which feels like an outdoor urban oasis. Though they are a little expensive, they're worth a splurge. There's a modest but pretty good food menu, wine (including a sparkling white which makes for a decent champagne on a hot brunch-y day) and beer.

The Key

I'm including The Key's cafe - The Key is my gym - because I've been spending a lot of time there, and they make a real effort to provide quality fare at good prices (and members get discounts). Strong wifi, plugs, a range of sandwiches and a protein-rich chicken meal if you're keto and a good range of drinks beyond coffee make it a fine place to hang out. It's been useful for me to go to the gym, do a short session on one of the cardio machines, and then head to the cafe to get some grad school work done. There are a few tables outside as well. Just down the road is another cafe decorated with hanging plants which looks promising as well - I think it's where the churro place used to be - but I haven't checked it out yet. 

Coffee Tree (咖啡樹)

This spot near Zhongxiao Dunhua has a range of fattening desserts, beer, coffee and more. The interior decor is interesting, but we go because they have outdoor seating along a lane popular with pedestrians. It's near Quay Cafe which I haven't been to but would like to try. 


My go-to spot when I'm in the Taipei Arena neighborhood. Coffeeology has truly excellent coffee at great prices. No food - just some cookie-like snacks - but you can get a large latte with Irish cream (real Irish cream, not just a flavor syrup) for very little money by coffeeshop standards. There are a few chairs outside, but the whole space is fairly open so you feel like you're outdoors even though you're technically not. Great beans to bring home at good prices, too. 

Zabu (in its new location)

I actually haven't been in ages because it's quite far from where I live, but if I'm in the north Tienmu area, this is my spot. It's the same Japanese-influenced hipster haven it's always been, with great rice balls, cats, and student-funky decor that it used to be in Shi-da all those years ago before the jerks made that neighborhood boring. 


Every few months, I teach a six-week course at the Shi-da school of continuing education, on the campus that Yongkang Street hits as it ends. During one of these classes, I have to give my trainees their final exam and then stick around to pick it up, so I go to cat.jpg while they work.

You'll find cat.jpg one lane behind that Shi-da campus, where are a small klatch of cool places, including Bea's Bistro (friendly, but more of a restaurant), Nom Nom (below) and cat.jpg. There's also a local population of yellow-and-white street cats and an urban garden, some of whom are friendly and all of whom seem to be kept healthy and fed by the local community.

cat.jpg has two of their own cats who are sociable enough (one is firiendlier than the other). They have wifi, a big work table and sandwiches on the menu. 

Nom Nom


Nom Nom is not only a great cafe (and place where you can buy ceramic ware), but also a decent brunch spot. Sandwiches and fried chicken are served with luscious little salads, and there's French Toast on the menu. Try the cumin chicken sandwich with apple and honey for sure. Their milkshakes are straight-up luxurious, served overflowing on lipped coasters so they don't mess up the table. The mint chocolate milkshake is garnished with mint leaves and a dried orange slice and then sprinkled with chocolate bits. Also, the place is Peak Taiwanese Hipster.


Classic Coffee (品客經典咖啡)

Classic Coffee, in the Shi-da Road neighborhood which used to be fun, doesn't look like anything special. There's food and perfectly good coffee. But this place has a major selling point - a super friendly old cat who will aggressively love you, and a similarly friendly fat corgi who gets jealous of the cat. It's my favorite cat cafe because that cat is just so in-your-face with the cuddles and snuggles, and it's a fluffy cat, too. 

Notch (Front Station)

I don't typically expect funky, studenty coffeeshops in the Taipei Main Station neighborhood - it's an area loaded with cram schools, cheap shopping, a few government buildings...not a place where students really hang out. But this particular branch of Notch brings it. It's also not particularly far from the Legislative Yuan, so if you need a place to go after a good hearty protest, this is a great choice. When the same-sex marriage bill was passed last month, I spent a period of time here out of the pouring rain, watching the deliberations at the Legislative Yuan on their good wifi (far better than trying to connect alongside 20,000 other people standing outside in bad weather). 

Look Upstairs (上樓看看)

An excellent 'work cafe' in Xinyi near City Hall Station, this place has good drinks and beer. There's food too, but it's a little expensive. Lots of space, good light, wifi and plugs - you can settle in here to get things done, especially upstairs. Some tables and countertops even have desk lamps. 

2730 Cafe

Another cat cafe! This little place in a tiny shack-like building is very close to Liquid Bread and is attached to a vintage store (of which there are not too many in Taipei). I've only had the beer and coffee - they have a DPP beer! Which...odd, but tasted fine! But a big selling point here are the two cats, one black and the other white. It's also easy to get to from Xinyi, an area that isn't exactly known for its great cafes, so it's a solid choice in that neighborhood.

BreakFirst Cafe & Studio (棗點咖啡)

Sometimes we take care of a friend's pets in the Dazhi area, and this is our go-to when we're around there. The main selling point (beyond seats usually being available) is that they have several cats! 

Lion / LineUp Dessert


I ended up liking this place because I reviewed it for FunNow - but it's a funky little spot in an area not known for cafes (the Zhongshan Elementary School MRT area), with great desserts and solid croque sandwiches. The coffee is just OK, but I go for the desserts.

Jing Xin Cafe (晶心咖啡館)

To be honest, this isn't a place I go to hang out - it's sort of a hybrid coffeeshop and crystal shop in an odd corner of Taipei. But, they roast Taiwanese coffee beans which make great gifts (and they sell them at a reasonable price), so I wanted to include them for this reason. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Drinking in Taiwan's beer cafes: my latest for Taiwan Scene

I'm in Taiwan Scene writing about expat lives old and new, how the beer and food scene in Taiwan has changed, and what's on offer today from the viewpoint of someone who came to Taiwan long before such options existed. And, of course, drinking lots of (local) beer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Wen Meng Municipal Brothel (文萌公娼館) and a Datong photo walk


So this past Sunday, despite the crap weather, we decided to get some exercise and hang out in a part of Taipei I love, but don't get to return to often: Datong/Dadaocheng. I have a 2-volume book kicking around called Historical Sights in Taipei that I often use to determine landmarks by which I plan my urban roving, and Brendan and I came across an entry I was quite curious about: the Wen Meng House (文萌樓) at #139 Guisui Street (歸綏街), just west of Ningxia Road (Guisui is a little bit north of Minsheng). It's closest to MRT Shuanglian, and you can get there by walking through a fairly atmospheric old warren of streets if you stay off the main roads - though in this 'hood, even the main roads have crumbling colonial architecture.

The Wen Meng House was apparently opened as a municipal brothel in the 1950s - back when sex work was legal in Taiwan. It was closed in the late 1990s when sex work became criminalized, but the women of COSWAS (a sex worker association) are fighting to keep it open as a historical site and small museum. You can read more about it here.

That article was from 2012, and writing from 2016, I can say the building is still around and still marked as a historical brothel, so it seems no final decision has been reached on the fate of the property. It is, however, locked and nobody is around to let visitors in. There is an active shrine/temple next door but I didn't want to ask, though in this country I'm not so sure a temple would be morally opposed to sex work. They do have sexy temple dancers, after all.


As a sex-positive person and pro-historical preservation urban dweller, I obviously side with the women trying to preserve the site. This is an important part of their history, and is one of the things that makes an urban place more human - by remembering how things were in years gone by as well as acknowledging that sex work, well, exists. It has always existed and will always exist.

Though obviously I acknowledge the rampant exploitation in the sex work industry, and am well aware that a huge percentage of prostitutes are exploited or enslaved, I'm not in theory opposed to legal sex work provided by unexploited escorts of any gender, and legalizing it would make it easier to find and punish traffickers. 


The bandanas tied to the door say "pardon sex work", and I assume the photos below are of the press conferences and political activities of the sex worker association as they fight to preserve the property. Godspeed!

I do view this as a women's issue, and an issue of women's rights. Not only should sex work not be stigmatized or penalized (though traffickers certainly should be), but women should be free to do what they want with their bodies - we all should, in fact! If that means selling sex for money and that's what they want to do, let them do it, regulate it, tax it, protect the workers who choose to engage in it, and otherwise, stay out of the bedrooms of others.

And I do think this is possible in Taiwan - first of all, it's less controversial than the "comfort women museum" (which despite controversy I actually support - women's stories too often get shunted to the side, especially if they are doing something others find 'unsavory' such as sex work - puppets get their own museum but not women who were legitimately forced into sex slavery?) And secondly, as I've explored in the past, Taiwan is not the sheer bastion of conservatism that many believe it to be. Commercial sex work was legal until 1997 after all.

And by all means, let the women have their historic site!




Historical Sights in Taipei, by the way, has a hilariously awkward English rundown of the site:

The indoor compartment or layout of this well-preserved house also reflects the spacial needs and functions of the early-time sex business with the particular atmosphere of a public whorehouse still emanating.

Great, except I wouldn't know what the atmosphere of a public whorehouse is? And if you look over to the Chinese, it gives you the Chinese word for, specifically, a public whorehouse (公娼館)...did not know that was a word in Chinese. Nice.

Anyway, just wandering up from Shuanglian along Wanquan (完全街) Street and assorted lanes yields all sorts of interesting sights of a slightly crumbly, gritty neighborhood:



And some tiny alleys lead to interesting things indeed, including antique stone tools in private courtyards (photo taken with permission of owners but not their angry little dog):



...and cool syncretic temples that feel kinda Dao and also kinda Buddhist:



...and I thought I was the only Taipei resident to have a Chen Chu spring scroll (I have one from the year of the horse, with Chen riding a bicycle, which those who know what it would mean for Chen to be depicted riding a horse - perhaps with stirrups - might find as a missed opportunity, albeit purposely so). Chen Chu is the well-liked mayor of Kaohsiung, not Taipei!


By the way, I don't have one for year of the monkey. If any Kaohsiung resident has one lying about that they want to send to me...

I also liked this lovely hand-painted sign:


Sunflower sympathies run deep in Datong - Mr. Hong here was just one of several campaign posters and banners we saw evoking the symbols of the 2014 student movement that occupied the legislature for over two weeks. The actual student activists are not necessarily comfortable with this association or possible appropriation of their name by DPP candidates (I have no idea how close Mr. Hong here is to the student movement). 


...and Datong wouldn't be Datong without its weird little asides:


There are legit other sights too, if you want to walk around the neighborhood. Further north along Chongqing you'll come to this old facade, with an ugly building behind it. The facade itself seems to hold a Starbucks, which I gotta say is a pretty cool Starbucks...for a Starbucks:


...and a turn onto Ganzhou Street will lead you to a Presbyterian church built in the early 20th century, with an ugly-as-actual-sin newer church attached behind it like a tumor that has grown larger than its host. The address is #40 甘州街.


And you'll pass the requisite temples and shrines, of course. This area is also quite near a well-known Earth God temple you may want to stop at. 


If you want to head westward, to the very end of Taipei, walk back to Guisui Street (a bit to the south of Ganzhou) and take it all the way to Lane 303, which is quite literally the last tiny little lane before Huanhe Road, the seawall, and the river delineating the city limits. Turn right and you'll reach the Koo family mansion at #9 Lane 303 Guisui Street, which is now a kindergarten. This was built back when Danshui River trade was much bigger than it is, and the ground floor was used for commerce. The Koo family resided upstairs. This, and the Chen residence further south (on Guide Street between Xining and Huanhe, south of Minsheng) are the only two surviving mansions along the river that I know of, and they don't even border the river anymore. The hideous Huanhe Road does. 



Along the way, the walk is a veritable choose-your-own-adventure of crumbling architecture. Dihua Street of course holds many of the best-preserved examples, but quite a bit exists along Guisui, Guide, Ganzhou, Anxi, Xining, Minsheng, Yanping, Chongqing, and other roads. Just take a wander, See what's out there.



The theater of the lovely little puppetry museum on Xining Road just south of Minsheng: 


...a falling-apart building on either Minle or Anxi Street:


A lane off of Anxi Street:


The old Chen mansion, on Guide Street (#73貴德街). The backside visible along Xining over the wall, in a mess of overgrown shrubbery and trees, is creepy in a haunted-house sort of way. You could probably keep a hermit in there.





An old house along the park where Anxi and Minle meet above, and a crumbling edifice on Anxi below.

This whole area, especially the park to the east of Dihua Street where these roads meet, is starting to show the early signs of gentrification, with cafes and bookstores beginning to pop up. 


Gentrification, to my mind, is kind of okay as long as local residents benefit (though usually they don't), though I have to say it's a bit of a shock to see my old walking grounds, where I was the only non-neighborhood local around, just me and some old folks and kids, now being full of walkers and tourists on a Sunday afternoon. I'm OK with economic development and all, it's just...weird. At least it means these old architectural treasures are more likely to be preserved. If they draw crowds they're not as likely to be razed by developers. As long as they don't turn into some crappy uniform "Old Street" selling the same shoddy souvenirs as Daxi and Sanxia...



We ended the day by being tourists ourselves, stopping at 217 Manor (in a block of old gray shophouses on Dihua Street north of Minsheng) for coffee to perk up and then a beer to wind down.


Independence indeed!

And then walked down to Nanjing Road to catch transportation home, stopping along the way in my favorite Chinese medicine pharmacy to play with one of their many pets (they also have another cat, an overweight dog and a surly gray parrot).


Thursday, May 5, 2011


I have a Big Scary Work Thing coming up tomorrow so I don't have the energy to write a thoughtful post - which is too bad, as I'm working on a post about sexism at work, another on intercultural relationships (a friend of mine's marriage has recently gone bust, which has me musing on the subject) and yet another on relationships and the expat challenge. I just haven't got it in me to finish off any of those posts tonight. I'll try to do one on the weekend.

Also, something I find interesting about blogging - how as a blogger I have no idea which of my posts are going to be popular and which aren't (or will garner less notice). For instance, I was really happy with A Million Landscapes, One Beautiful Country and felt that The Expat Myth, while good, was not my best work...and yet The Expat Myth is winging its way across the Internet and my beloved *heart Taiwan* post is getting nominal notice. Huh.


Next post coming, as I have no mental capacity to write something hard-hitting: finding the best pizza in Taipei. When feeling stressed, talk about pizza, beer, coffee, chocolate or all of the above!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cafe La Boheme and Coffee, Tea or Me

On Wenzhou Street just south of Xinhai there are two cafes that we've been going to a lot lately, so I thought a review was in order - especially as they both have cats. One has cheap but strong, well-made cocktails and the other has the best hot chocolate in the entire independent country of Taiwan and I am not even joking, so all the better!

If you enter Wenzhou Street from Xinhai (or walk north), just south of a small shop decorated with hanging CDs you'll find Cafe La Boheme on one side, and Coffee, Tea or Me on the other. The placement somewhat mimics the placement of Cafe Bastille and Shake House down the road (running along Lane 86, catty-corner to the Lutheran church where you often see a guy who walks his Persian cat on a leash). Those cafes are both great - Shake House is better - and so are these two.

Shake House is one of my all-time favorites, with friendly staff, an artfully shabby space, usually decent music, great beer and, for a student beer cafe, pretty good coffee and food. Bastille has a snotty staff and horrid food - though the focaccia sandwich is OK - but good beer, plugs and Wifi. You can use Bastille wifi from Shake House, but there are no plugs.

Anyway, back to the two cafes at hand.

La Boheme, on the west side, has a velvet-furred declawed tabby named Luna, a selection of books in English and Chinese, generally good but more popular-music oriented music, beer (Belgian) and excellent food. I mean truly good: their burgers are stupendous, generous and well-made. The burger choices are unexpected: I recommend the burger topped with apples and white wine sauce.

Their fries are just as fries should be - not too salty, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I've also had their herbed lemon chicken, which was quite good. Their hot chocolate is absolutely excellent - dark and chocolatey, you can smell it before it reaches your table. It's rich and tasty, nothing like the wimpy brews of the various "chocolate" cafes found in Taipei. If you love a good hot chocolate, go here and nowhere else. It's more like drinking chocolate than "hot chocolate" (which in my mind conjures up Swiss Miss).

It has its own wireless network and plugs, and is very "local" (foreigners do come, but they're not the norm). With green and yellow walls and a wood-floored raised area, this place is more brightly lit and comfortable like an old chair.

With its decidedly less healthy (but no less tasty) fare, it's Gongguan's answer to Zabu, whose tasty Japanese food feels downright good for you, despite the many fried menu items. That's Japanese food for ya.

It's rare to find cafes in Taipei that have a good atmosphere and good food, let alone genuinely good hamburgers, so this is something to take notice of.

Coffee, Tea or Me (also called "Cafe, Tea or Me") has two, possibly three cats. It's hard to say and only the orange cat is friendly. You have to steal La Boheme's wireless, but they have their own plugs and truly excellent coffee. La Boheme's coffee isn't bad either. They have more space, very odd books and other decorative bits and bobs, more chairs but a limited selection. You can get drinks of all sorts, from good coffee to a very limited beer selection - really just Erdinger, a few boring choices like Heineken and a vanilla-y French beer in a blue bottle. They also do cocktails, and have an impressive bar for what is basically a coffeeshop. They made me a drink at their suggestion: Jameson, some sort of bourbon and Grand Marnier with ice and I assume something that was not alcohol (or maybe not - coulda been pure alcohol). The serving was generous and it cost NT$140. WAY TO GO.

Coffee, Tea or Me's space is more artfully distressed, with dingier walls, a menu board that's impossible to read, hodgepodge chairs and tables - including one low set of chairs in blue faux velvet and another pair of antique-looking Chinese style bamboo wicker chairs. It has a great atmosphere but is not the place to go if you think you'll get hungry.

I strongly recommend both, but for entirely different reasons!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Drinky Drinky

...or: Jenna's Guide To Drinking (Not Partying) in Taipei

aka "Drinking in Taipei for the Older, Quieter, More Bohemian Set"

I've been asked more than once to provide a complementary post to my previously well-received post on where to eat in Taipei, focusing on where to drink in Taipei. After all, what goes better with gorgeous food than good company and good drinks?

I will begin my review with a caveat that this is not a nightlife post - I am by no means telling you where to go out to have fun if you find yourself at loose ends, find a hopping bar scene or dance the night away to a thumping beat.

Quite the opposite, for three reasons:

1.) I'm a bit of a dork, really. I don't like loud, crowded bars. I was young once too (rather than my current ripe old age of 30 - practically a lao tai tai!) and I tried that scene and it didn't work for me. I like making friends in less frazzled settings, and then going out with them to places where we can actually hear each other talk and hear ourselves think over the music. I have a bias towards the comfy student cafes of Gongguan and Shida - while not actively a student now (I will never return to Shida - they can take their ultra-formal newscaster Chinese with "兒兒兒" that nobody in Taiwan actually speaks, pro-KMT propaganda, antiquated teaching methods and Mainland bias and shove it up their...ahem) I have a studenty mentality and thus feel most at home in these places.

2.) Hopping bars have horrible drinks. It's true: can you say that you had the best mojito of your life at Carnegie's, or that Roxy 99 has an amazing beer selection or crafts a fine kamikaze? You cannot. Maybe you think you can, but acknowledging that this may kill me in the comments, I'll come right out and tell you that you're wrong.

3.) The whole point is where to get good drinks, in a setting where you can really socialize - grinding through a meat market is not socializing, at least not for me. Unless it's a real meat market and I just got some great pork cuts and half a chicken from that betel-juice-stained dude with three teeth from Pingdong and then we had a chat in Chaiwanese (Chinese+Taiwanese) about meat.

These are places that contribute to gastronomic pleasure rather than ignore it, and you can actually talk to the person across the table at all of them. If I had to choose between good alcohol and a good place to talk with friends, I chose talking with friends, because hey, I hafta love on Taiwan Beer.

And with that - enjoy!

I categorized my listing by what's offered, with a list of pros and cons of each. You can assume that the prices are all roughly the same (inexpensive if you are OK with Taiwan Beer, about $160-$200 NT per bottle if you're after premium imported beers). I gave links where I could find them.

I want good beer!

Then go to...

Red House (Shida)

About a block closer to Heping Road than Roxy Junior, same side of Shida Road, this little bar is easy to miss. It's in a narrow old house with some outdoor seats (though it's so narrow that the entire place feels "outdoor", honestly) and is on the edge of the famous Foreign Food Street that boasts two Indian restaurants (neither of them spectacular), a lackluster Tibetan place, a good Korean place that's not really Korean but is still tasty, and...more.

Pros: Good Belgian beer selection, funky atmosphere, very intimate, they never play music so loud that you can't talk, and on a night with good weather the balcony seats are fantastic. It looks out over Shida Park where the people who had the pet goose used to hang out, and you see all manner of interesting things going on. Selections include Leffe, the Floris beers, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Malheur, Delerium, various German beers, Barbar, Kwak

Cons: They don't always stock their entire selection of beer (they ran out of Malheur 12 recently which made me very sad), the music isn't always "right" - on the day Obama won the election we went to celebrate and they were playing sad heartbreak music - and the food has gone downhill. We used to like the Thai chicken rolls and the "sha de meat stick" but now, there's really no food worth ordering.

Shake House (Gongguan)

Just down the road from Cafe Odeon, across Wenzhou St. from Cafe Bastille, Shake House has no sign to announce its name. It's very studenty and funky, with a jazz-heavy music selection that sometimes surprises you. The owners clearly love what they do, and the beer selection is pretty good. It's also one of the few places out where the food is (mostly) kind of good. Try the limoncello cake.

Pros: You always know exactly what beer they have because you get it yourself from a fridge, the sandwiches are pretty good if you are down with fried meat, and their french fries, popcorn and spicy tofu are all good deals food-wise. Also, I can't recommend the limoncello cake enough. It is really just great. Easy to talk to friends, wireless stolen from Bastille, and they have an upstairs area that they can open when too full. If you come often you get old-customer service. Decorations are brown, faded, with vintage chairs and terracotta pot light covers. Excellent coffee, which you can get with Bailey's, and other non-alcoholic options. Beers include Tripel Karmeliet, Chimay Blue, Maredsous, Corsendonk, Duvel, Gulden Draak and more.

Cons: Since wifi is Bastille-stolen, it's fine on laptops but not as good on iPod Touch or mobile wifi devices. No plugs so you need a good battery. Sometimes they play horrible music (the day we came in and they were playing liturgical chants was offputting) but when it's good, it's very good and if you get lucky they'll have the vinyl going (more often they use an iPod). Very Coltrane/Miles Davis-style music usually.

Cafe Odeon (Gongguan)

(Linked below)

Excellent beer selection - the best in Taipei, really. They have everything from Delerium Christmas to Satan Gold to a few boutique American beers. The food is lackluster, though the croque madame/monsieur sandwiches are not bad for the money. Seats are comfy (almost too comfy) and plentiful.

Pros: Plentiful, comfy seats - you can always seat everyone. Excellent beer selection. Friendly staff. Can get really hopping after 9pm on some weekend nights. If you have more than 6 people, have already eaten and want to hang out and drink interesting beer then this is the place for you. I can't even list a sample of their extensive beer selection. It's just huge.

Cons: No wifi - you can steal it with middling luck from Belly Wash next door, food is small in portion and, while not bad, also not great for the money (with the exception of the sandwiches).

Cafe Bastille (with a big "con") - Shida, Gongguan and Xinsheng Road

Snooty as hell and forever earning my ire, I still have to admit that Bastille has a really good beer selection, including some complex brews that are to be analyzed more than enjoyed. The food is atrocious.

Pros: A sleek-yet-funky European cafe feel would make even your visiting mother feel at home, and the beer selection really is good. You can choose from the fridge or pick a bottle off the wall and ask if they have it. Great wifi and usually enough plugs. Seats are comfy.

Cons: SNOTTY! Once I went into the Gongguan branch and there were no seats...OK, fair enough. The girl at the bar gave me the stinkeye ("You're not hip enough to hang out here" is what she thought but did not say) and said "Heh. No seats" and turned away. about a "sorry"? Or an estimate of how long I might need to wait? Blessing in disguise, I went to the cafe behind me and discovered the terminally awesome Shake House.

Oh, and the food is dire. Just don't eat there.

Jolly (Zhongshan, MRT Nanjing E Road)

I love Jolly. Just read my review above. Yay Jolly!

Pros: Excellent, and I do mean excellent, on-site brewed beer. It's really good. All of it. YUM. Food is also amazing, especially the Massaman Curry. They do Thai-style small plates and all of it is excellent, spicy and just...good. Also very easy to get to from Nanjing E. Road MRT. Excellent place to take visiting parents, colleagues, clients etc.. Hopping atmosphere, for good reason. Microbrewed beers include a really excellent stout.

Cons: It's so popular that it's always packed, so on going-out nights you'll want a reservation. A bit expensive, and no (I mean *no*) vegetarian options.

Zabu, Salty Nuts and Rue 216 also have good offerings - will cover them later

I want a great atmosphere with lots of lively talk going on!

Then go to...

Pavilion behind Red House (Ximen, linked below)

Gay bar central, this place has campily named bars like "G-2 Paradise", "Bear Bar" and the now closed "Manu Manu" (now it's "Mudan", with pink molded chairs). On a pleasant weekend night it's lively and fun and the view of Red House can't be beat. On weekends, stop at the artist's market on the other side of the theater. The bars always have great offers going - usually "buy 3 get one free" of whatever beer they've chosen - and there are always seats.

Pros: OUTSIDE! It is so hard to find an outdoor place to drink in Taipei, especially one that's not on a congested road with scooters spewing exhaust driving right by. Special offers are good and the location couldn't be better.

Cons: The beer, especially the special offer stuff, is usually crap (Blue Girl etc.).

Roxy Junior Cafe

You've all heard of it so I'll spare the personal review.

Pros: Despite not having tons of seating, there's always a place to sit, including some outside options. Good deals on Taiwan Beer. Pool available.

Cons: Kind of "meh", a bit cliched, the food is awful (it used to be kind of OK - what gives?) and the beer isn't good. It's just a good choice if you want a place to hang out with friends. Easier to hear others talking when outside.

Though the food is expensive and the beer selection is lackluster, we frequently have larger get-togethers at Saints and Sinners because it's lively but not too loud and you can usually get a table because there is plenty of space. Good deals on bad beer.

Pros: In a group you can do pretty well if you all order the beer on special (too bad the beer on special is never good beer), the food is pretty good, the mixed drinks are pretty good if a bit girly, pool is available, and they have something called Texas Iced Tea that's 12 kinds of alcohol served in a glass cowboy boot that they set on fire. That's fun. We always make people drink it on their birthdays. Staff is nice and if you end up drinking too much and having "the boot" on your birthday and puking into a towel dispenser (you know who you are), the staff will bring you water and a chair in the bathroom. Location can't be beat. Music is loud but not so loud that you can't talk.

Ever since The Bed 2 closed, taking its funky velvet couches and hookahs with it, this is the best larger-group option on Anhe Road if you want to avoid the usual meat markets.

Cons: They say that there's no free water after 9pm but that's not true, they'll give you free water if you are drinking (ie, spending money). Sports matches on TV can get loud, and it is a bit "typical" (ie not funky). Music is not interesting - the usual pop stuff.

Alley Cat Huashan (with a big "con" - read on) - Guanghua Market / Zhongxiao Xinsheng - with other branches

Set in the canteen of the old factory at Huashan, the brick building this place is in can't be beat. The beer and drinks are good and of course the pizza and food is all excellent (except for the Japanese green tea pizza dessert, which is meh. Get the tiramisu instead). The bar is spacious so you'll get a seat. Also has a good outside area.

Pros: Finally, a place to get a drink near Guanghua Electronics Mart! Computer nerds (not that I am one of them) unite! The old factory setting is lovely, crumbling and vintage with interesting stuff going on, and all the other good stuff above. Pizza is excellent. Good Erdinger and other German beer options, good tiramisu, you can talk over the music and on a warm night you can sit on the patio. The front is a real restaurant, the back is more like a bar.

Cons: I've been once and friends have been more than once, and every time they overcharge us on the bill and we have to fix it. This is a huge problem which should never happen more than once. If you go, check your bill carefully.

Or just go and drink at Alley Cat at MRT Zhishan or Alley Cat on Songren Road.

Brown Sugar (Xinyi)

Famous place, I don't need to say much about it.

Pros: Good seating, good music, good alcohol, the food we ordered was great, good location in Xinyi where other bars are just too...trendy or loud to bother. Great place to bring parents or clients.

Cons: because it is live music, you can't always talk over it (nor should you - it's good). Kind of expensive.

Cafe Odeon and Jolly are also good options.

I want enough space to seat all my friends!

Then see above: the ones with the best atmosphere tend to also be the ones with enough space for everyone.

I want someplace tiny and intimate, really funky and "too cool for school"!

Then go to...

Zabu (Shida, linked above)

I can't recommend Zabu enough. The beer selection is small but they also have cider, sake and mixed drinks as well as an extensive tea, coffee, smoothie and juice selection. Their food is excellent (the small eats more than the set meals) and Japanese-influenced. I love the baked rice...things - especially the salmon with citrus flavor and green curry cheese. I also love the ochutsuke - rice with stuff (I got salmon) and green tea poured in like a warm, comforting soup. The desserts are small but high quality. They play super cool music, ranging from acoustic to Pink Floyd to electronica (Skinny Puppy, Leftfield, Komytea) to jazz. Wifi and plugs are abundant, service is friendly and you feel like the trendiness is rubbing off on you just by being there, but not in a pretentious way. It's more like a little Japanese bistro - the kind you'd brag about being a regular at to your friends.

Oh, and they have two friendly cats. Yay! Win!

Pros: Everything. Great place to impress a date with funky, boho or razor's-edge-trendy tastes.

Cons: Seats are small and often uncomfortable, closes earlier than I'd like.

China White is just across from The Diner on a lane off of Anhe Road and is another good option in that area. Sleek and white and antiseptically clean, you'll feel like you're in a postmodernist minimalist high end New York cafe. Seats are small but service is friendly, and they have the best mojitos I've had in Taiwan.

Pros: Sleek, modern, great place to impress a date with high-end "Devil Wears Prada" tastes, great mojitos

Cons: it's so cool that it's almost too cool

Witch House (Gongguan)

In a lane off Xinsheng S. Road across from Taipei Gym, a bit north of the other Gongguan Cafes, Witch House has drinks named with single entendres (I won't post them here...too many family members read this), board games you can play stacked in the back and live music on some weekend nights, often by aboriginal music groups. We've been here once and thoroughly enjoyed it, though the live music was a bit slow and free-form and not conducive to conversation.

Pros: Good music, interesting drinks, games!

Cons: on live music nights it may be packed, there's a cover on those nights, and it's hard to tell if the music will be to your liking (also, hard to talk to friends over it, not that that is polite in such a small venue).

Rue 216 (Zhongxiao Dunhua)

With the ambiance of a classy French bistro, this is the ideal place to bring your culture-shocking parents who are wondering why you didn't just move to Europe but came out here to visit you anyway because they love you. The food is good (portions are French-sized though) and the cook is a trained chef, which means it's about a thousand times better than the microwaved BS that passes for food at Bastille. Small but good beer selection, intimate atmosphere, very friendly service.

Pros: All of the above. Also, friendly English-speaking service. Beers include lots of European selection, including Westmalle.

Cons: It's impossible to find - there are two places in the area with similar addresses and they're both in the confusing lanes between Zhongxiao, Dunhua and Renai. Have a good map handy if heading here for the first time.

Salty Nuts (Shida) - may be called Salt and Pepper - I can never remember

Funky and studenty and across the lane from the only good, authentic Korean restaurant in Taipei, this place looks like it's full of budding novelists and musicians. You can kick back with your low-rent, academically-inclined self over one of their many beers. Definitely get the "Hot Brownie" - a pile of delicious hot brownie with ice cream. Yum! Among the best desserts in Taipei. They have Lindemann's fruit beers, a hops-laden beer and other standard Belgian options.

Popular with travelers and young English teachers, this place has a few good "small eats" if you are feeling peckish, a small beer selection, decent mixed drinks, great location in Shilin if you are in the area, and good atmosphere. Very young-and-proud-of-it.

Pros: Good choice if you are in north Taipei, the food is pretty decent (though doesn't approach Rue 216 or Zabu standards), good atmosphere, very easy to sit and chat with friends, and there are non-alcoholic drink options

Cons: kind of expensive, beer selection is not stellar

I want a funktacular old school place that looks a little down-at-heel, with jazz and dim lighting!

Then go to...

Shake House (above)

Salty Nuts (above)

Red House Shida (above)

Zabu (above)

I want good alcohol and good food!

Then go to...

Zabu (above)

Rue 216 (above)

Brown Sugar (above) - appetizer style food only

Bread, Soup, Chocolate Belgian Beer Cafe (MRT SYS Memorial Hall in that little street with all the cafes - exit 2 I think)

This place is more a bakery/cafe than bar, but they do have a small but quality selection of Belgian beers, tasty looking food that we didn't try, and really excellent desserts that we did try. A great place to go for dessert and drinks if you've just been to the deservedly famous Harbin Restaurant nearby.

Pros: Good dessert and beer. Great location near the MRT.

Cons: isn't really a beer "cafe" - just a bakery with good beer options. They have some of the usual as well as Lucifer beer, which is actually not that good. They close kinda early.

Jolly (above)

Faust (MRT SYS Memorial Hall - on Ren Ai directly across from SYS Memorial, next to Cafe de France)

Actually a pizza restaurant but they do two things and two things only: pizza and beer. The beer is Faust brand German beer and is affordable and excellent.

Pros: Outside seating is great, awesome beer for a good price, amazing, non-oily thin crust pizza that is just to die for.

Cons: Indoor seating is not as good - when outside you feel like it could be a place to drink and relax. Inside it feels like what it is: a pizza restaurant. eat here anyway.

Honestly, I'm all about the good (non-beer) drinks.

Zabu (above)

Good mixed drinks and non-beer selection

Jolly (above)

The beer is great and they do have a full bar.

China White (above)

Best mojitos in Taipei

Addendum though I don't know the name of the place: in Shinkong Mitsukoshi Xinyi, I can't even remember which building, there is a German restaurant that also has some really good beer on offer. It's a restaurant, not a cafe/bar, but you can totally go and just have beer and good chocolate cake.

The weather is actually nice (for once) and we want to sit outside!

Then go to...

Lumiere (Gongguan)

Owned by, and around the corner from, Cafe Odeon, this cafe focuses more on tea and coffee but there is a small selection of wine and beer available.

Pros: great terrace for sitting outside, with plugs and wifi! Plugs and wifi inside and out, lots of seats, never full. Food is not "good" but if you are there and find you are starving but don't want to leave, it's not atrocious.

Cons: beer selection minimal, seats not really comfortable, tables tend to wobble

Red House Shida (above)

Roxy Junior Cafe (above)

Mountain Tea House (Maokong)
Take the Gondola to Maokong Station, exit and turn left, walk past the initial development and first group of teahouses, through a more forested area and you will come across another group of teahouses including this one (same structure as Redwood - 紅木 -Tea House but upstairs...upstairs turn left and go all the way up to the balcony).

You weren't expecting that, were you? Hahaaaa, I surprise again!

Yes, this is a teahouse, and yes, they specialize in tea...but the balcony is outside, the view is spectacular and they DO have Taiwan Beer in large bottles. So you can theoretically come up here just to drink a few Taiwan Beers and enjoy the view.

Pros: Amazing view, outside terrace, cute dog, inside is also attractive if it gets cold, food is great (get the lemon diced chicken, the mountain pig, the three cup mushroom, the sweet potato leaves, the "hong shao" tofu...all of it really delicious).

Cons: yes, it's a teahouse. But they have beer! I swear!

I will also add, grudgingly, Vino Vino to this list. The food is kind of atrocious (I actually liked the salmon fried rice I had the one time I ate there, but the set meal was a joke and nobody else who's been there and told me about it has liked it) but they have a brilliant wooden balcony looking out over the most interesting part of Shida Road and their house wine is not bad at all. Just don't eat there - eat elsewhere and come here afterwards for a bottle of house wine.

Faust (above)

Alley Cat - Huashan, Zhishan or Songren Road. Yongkang Street location has no outdoor seating.

Places I have heard good things about but haven't had the chance to try yet:

- Taiwan Beer Factory (I know, it's a tragedy that I haven't been here yet)
- Artist's Village - there's a bar here
- Insomnia (Shida - near My Sweetie Pie and Grandma Nitti's)
- Cafe La Boheme (on Wenzhou Street closer to Xinhai)
- Le Ble D'Or (microbrewery that I have heard a lot about and never been able to find - need to try harder)
- Belly Wash (next to Cafe Odeon in Gongguan, looks funky)
- That grungy student place down the road from Shida's MTC - the one next above the traditional medicine shop in that row of old shophouses.
- the bar down by Taipei Water Museum (if it's still there) - looks like it's got a huge outdoor seating area

Anyone who has been to these is very welcome to let me know in the comments and I'll check them out - I keep planning to!

I Grudgingly Accept That This Place Has Good Beer:

It's just that when we went it was all old paunchy dorky white guys dancing with local girls wearing glitter bikini tops and cowboy hats and it made me so sad because that's not my scene at all - I actively avoid that stuff. So it's too bad that their beer and cider are pretty good.

Places that should have good drinking options but, as far as I can see, don't:

- Taipei Main Station
- Zhongshan
- Yongkang Street
- Shilin Night Market / Jiantan

Tianmu: I am sure there are great places to go out in Tianmu. It's just that I live on the other end of the city so I've never really felt the pull of trying to find them. I live a bit south of Gongguan so chances to go out in Tianmu are few and far between.

If you have a good suggestion for the kinds of places I've listed above in Tianmu or the above "unknown" locations, please do leave them in the comments. I am always open to suggestions!

Soon: a list of places to drink coffee, tea or other refreshments that is not alcohol-focused as a whole (I'll cover Cafe Goethe, People Say which I've just discovered is actually called "Drop", Black Bean Coffee and a few others).