Located in central Taiwan, the underrated city of Taichung has always been revered by locals as the best destination for culture, food and nature. In fact, a 2013 survey showed that most Taiwanese prefer Taichung to its capital Taipei as the most livable city in the country.
Dubbed as Taiwan’s cultural center, Taichung plays host to some of Asia’s biggest attractions in arts and culture including the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (the largest in Asia); Rainbow Village, a repurposed army settlement preserved by a local nonagenarian; and the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House designed by Pritzker Prize winner and architect, Toyo Ito.
The dining scene in Taichung is well-decorated with Taiwan’s first fine dining restaurant Le Mout spearheaded by 2014 Asia’s Best Female Chef, Lanshu Chen. Local specialties are also aplenty with various street-front shops and stalls selling Taiwanese beef noodles, pancakes, dumplings and milk teas dotting the city. Taichung is also home to the biggest night market in Taiwan, the Feng Jia Night Market.
In the past two years, the bar scene in Taichung has grown from having just a handful of bistros and pubs to being home to some of Taiwan’s most intriguing drinking spots. This year itself, a number of hidden bars are also making headlines with the introduction of the trending ‘space-within-a-space’ concept in the city. We are talking about secret and less-known bars inside a beef noodle shop, behind the walls of a luxury fashion boutique and places that transform from day to night.
It comes as no surprise that Taiwan is blossoming into a favourite destination for food and drinks in the next few years. 2018 Asia’s 50 Best Bars list has Taipei-based Indulge Experimental Bistro at 2nd spot while TCRC in Tainan (south of Taichung) comes in 25th place.
Many local mixologists and trained bartenders are also expanding their craft in cities outside of Taipei with their own boutique-sized bars. Each bar offers a wide range of classic drinks like the whisky sour, Negroni as well as everyone’s favourite gin and tonic. But in a competitive setting – like all Taiwanese beverage businesses – drinking places need to stand out with its own unique selling point. Creativity and singularity are highly recognised as the secret to a successful business in Taiwan.
As you plan your itinerary for your next visit to Taiwan, include the underrated yet vibrant city of Taichung; a mere 40 minutes southbound via High Speed Rail from Taipei. And set aside some time in the evenings to check out the most fascinating hidden bars the city has to offer. We won’t be surprised either to find these bars making the cut in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars next year too.
(Featured image: Gubami)
At first glance, you’ll notice two glaring huge cat eyes on top of the building’s entrance with a sign that reads ‘ALL CATS’. Preparing x Taichung – sandwiched in between the hospital and an apartment block – is a coffee jaunt by day and bar by night. The narrow space has an unassuming entrance of nothing more than three window panels and a door. The bar is absolutely cosy with an old-school vibe. For a start, order the ‘White Lady’, a gin-based cocktail with Cointreau, lemon juice and egg white. For something more unique, the Alpine Tea is a must-try; a mixture of rum, oolong and a Japanese roasted tea served in a traditional teapot.
Preparing X Taichung, No. 3, Dayong West Street, Nanxun District, Taichung City
It is normal to miss Ruler Bar — flanked by an apartment complex and wig ship — for first timers. The owner, Tim was formerly from Bar Alchemy, one of the top Taiwanese bars according to Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016. This intimate bar serves one of Taichung’s best-crafted cocktail menus which is divided into several sections. There’s ‘Rule Not Always Right’ featuring classic tipples like Martini and Negroni, ‘Ruler Makes Rules’ which follows recipes like the Old Fashioned and Mojito to a tee; as well as ‘Rock’N’Rule’ with variations like Taiwan Mule using various gins and beers. If you’re a fan of whisky, take a chance on So-so, made with bourbon whiskey, sloe gin, Disarrono and Chambord, garnished with a slice of flamed, dried orange.
Ruler Bar, 407, Taiwan, Taichung City, Xitun District
It is hard to fathom a bar inside this gentlemen’s boutique selling luxury goods like neckties, hats and suits. The dandy-style shop is pretty as a picture but behind the mirrored wall is a hidden lounge for serious customers only. A password is required to enter (so make your booking beforehand). Immerse in an old-fashion bar with a specialty crafted cocktail and a wide selection of beer from all over the world.
Isman, No. 731, Section 2, Taiwan Boulevard, Xitun District, Taichung City, Taiwan 407
Located in a cluster of galleries, cafes and small bars, this hidden bar is a ‘secret hermitage’ for the locals. Don’t be deceived by the exteriors as the bar is actually a repurposed two-storey old house. It is also a coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night. The art galleries are located upstairs with live music performances happening from time to time. Enjoy a homey ambience with bartenders who are always ready to create something new for you. One of the must-try drinks is the Zubrowka Bison Vodka that leaves an aromatic cinnamon finish after every sip. The Royal Oolong Iced Tea is also a hit; a unique take of the classic long island but with fresher notes.
Art aNew Gallery & Café, No. 32, Jingcheng 5th Street, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan 403
Goût Bar is tucked behind Chef Lanshu Chen’s beef noodle house Gubami. The newly opened bar is one of the very few a non-smoking drinking places that is surprisingly family-friendly. The spaces are also tastefully designed with elegant finishing to mimic the chic interiors of the noodle shop. Expect nothing less than elegantly curated cocktails including the Jasmine and Chrysanthemum; both perfumed with traditional floral accents of the familiar oriental flowers. The barmen are also extremely skilful when it comes to making all-time favourites such as bourbon whiskey sours, Martinis and Negronis.
Goût Bar, No. 46號, Cunzhong Street, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan 403