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3 Ultra-cool Speakeasy-style Haunts in Taipei

November 11, 2013

Three speakeasies are adding a dash of mystery and a dollop of cool to Taiwan’s bar scene. By Cain Nunns.

Published on Nov 11, 2013

Taipei’s nightlife used to be known for its liberal splashes of low. Tacky plastic-chandelier-infested bar-clubs held dominion, while high rollers reserved sofas and ordered champagne bottle sparklers to trumpet their ridiculous expense.

But the times they are changing. Speakeasies, the quintessential prohibition-style bars that have taken root in New York and London for their premium booze and even more premium bartenders, have started to carve out a small niche in Asia’s forgotten capital.

Courtesy of Alberto Buzzola

Across the road from the World Trade Center in the steel-and-glass district of Xinyi is second-floor bar Alchemy (2F, No. 16-1, Section 5, Xin Yi Rd.; +886 9 5358 5759). It was a labor of love for award-winning owner and bartender Angus Zou, who fretted over whether the city was ready for a reservation-only bolt hole that doesn’t allow standing customers or walk-ins.

Fear not. Booze-enthusiasts are lining up for the noir ambience of this classy nightery.

While Alchemy’s honeycomb cherry-wood paneled walls and ceilings, marble bar, brass fixtures, crystal glasses and leather gullwing chairs scream authenticity, the drinks and service deliver it in whiskey rye- and swing music-backed abandon. The philosophy is straightfoward: fewer customers, more attentive service.

“It’s about the people and protecting my clients,” Zhao says with obvious relish. “I have a Japanese friend who opened a bar in a forest. It has one stool. One stool!”

Zhao’s Heart of Aztec cocktail—a Don Julio Reposado, honey, Cacao liqueur, Angostura 1999 Rum, Maraschino, syrup, lime and bitters—goes down smooth and will have you ordering another right on its heels.

Courtesy of Sean Marc Lee

A five-minute taxi ride takes you to Ounce (No. 40, Lane 63, Dunhua South Rd., Section 2, Daan District; +886 2 2708 6885; A café front gives way to a hidden door on its left flank, and a secret button offering entry to a crooked room in burnt orange buttressing a straight bar. Whiskey-barrel tables dot the space. It’s another haven for booze not otherwise found on this island republic, where the specialty alcohol suppliers just aren’t special enough. Ounce relies on a steady stream of friends smuggling in suitcases filled with speakeasy staples like Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 years, Rittenhouse Rye and Old Overholt Rye.

“We just wanted to get an Old Fashioned that wasn’t half seltzer water,” says part-owner Yee-Hung Soong.

Woo Taipei (No. 39, Lane 205, Zhongxiao East Rd., Section 4; +886 2 8771 9813), off eclectic Chunghsiao East Road, serves up sterling Pisco Sours and bespoke cocktails over its 4-meter copper bar while the city’s celebrity set people-watch in retro sofas and and armchairs. Book early, as spots are tight during weekends in particular.

Courtesy of Woo Taipei


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