[Updated July 2017]
Taipei has recently seen an explosion of bars coming on to the scene here. From beer gardens to craft beer houses, from speakeasies to glamorous lounges, from wine bars to whiskey bars. I am certainly not complaining, and my favorites among these many choices are: Alchemy (not that new, but nonetheless a classic), R&D Cocktail Lab, WooTP (not to be confused with the W Hotel’s Woo Bar), East End, Wa-Shu, The Tasting Room(original)/Landmark(Tasting Room’s second shop in Breeze Xinyi, and Marsalis Home.
The thing is though, almost all these bars are in XinYi or Dong Qu, which means for most people its a subway, uber or taxi ride away. Furthermore, most of my favorite bars in town are in the mid-upper price range when we look at cocktails and whiskey pours. Now, I cant complain because the atmosphere, quality of F&B and service at these places are always excellent, hence why I go back. But isnt there a place that is more down to earth? Located in a less hustling and bustling part of town? That serves equally creative, high quality drinks, with tasty food but in a more calm/less glitzy environment? And most importantly at prices that everyone can afford? Where I can take my friends to introduce them to some flavors of Taiwan, both in terms of food and alcoholic beverages (yes, Taiwan is more than just Taiwan beer folks)?
The answer, as I recently discovered, is yes there are places like this in Taipei.
SoShow Bar & Restaurant
[Update: SoShow Bar will open in its new independent location on Zhongshan North Road in August 2017, follow their Facebook page for live updates]
Located within the Star Hostel in Taipei. It is in an unassuming alleyway on HuaYin Street, conveniently located across the ways from Q Square and Taipei Main Station, in old Taipei city. Located on the 4th floor, the bar is hidden behind the hostel’s check-in. It has a wood-based interior with industrial paneling and lighting, giving it a modern yet retro and indeed slightly local Taiwanese feel. I’d say it seats around 30+ people.
What I found to be the biggest draw and most unique part about SoShow however is its drink menu. The main feature is the Taiwan Cocktail series which consists of 12 cocktails made entirely with ingredients from Taiwan and named after/ inspired by different islands and counties/cities of Taiwan. For example, the YiLan cocktail is a Taiwanese old-fashioned which uses Taiwanese award-winning whiskey Kavalan and instead of bitters the mixologist uses Taiwanese tea. The Kinmen Cocktail uses Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor (either 30 or 50 proof, your choice) as its base. We tried four cocktails, the Kinmen, the Yilan, the Hakka Tea, and the Taiwanese Red Guava. All were very good. My favorite were the Kinmen and Hakka Tea. We were also offered one of 6 Taiwanese Drink shots as compliments from the owner, we had the Star Fruit shot, which is star fruit infused vodka chased with a pickled star fruit, really good and refreshing. Drinks average at around $250-$300NT for the special cocktails, with a few priced above it due to the higher price of its base, but the classic cocktails (your mojitos, margaritas…etc) range from $150-$250NT, which is a steal here considering they actually use middle to top shelf liquors.
The food menu consists of usual small bite bar food as well as a few Taiwanese inspired plates to pair with your Taiwan Cocktail, such as beef noodles, fried gua-bao (pork belly bun) or charcoal grilled pork. And to our surprise, despite the food coming from a very small kitchen and using home-based appliances (non-industrial kitchen), the food was very authentic and tasted just like you were eating at a local 100NT stir fry hole in the wall. This is the perfect pairing to go with your Taiwan Cocktail.
The friendly owner (who speaks fluent English) and his fellow mixologist (who has worked and studied in Australia) both have had extensive experience working at bars and restaurants across town and decided they wanted to open a bar where they could really dive into creating drinks made solely with Taiwanese alcohol and ingredients to bring out Taiwan’s unique flavors in beverages. And so they came up with SoShow and the Taiwan Cocktail series unique to their menu. This to me is awesome, and I fully support the idea. Taiwan is known for its food and unique flavors and ingredients, but we also do have quite a lot of local alcohol and teas and a variety of fruits and herbs that when paired together create wonderful concoctions.
The service is friendly. Staff and owners make an effort to inform guests of the various Taiwan cocktails, where they originate from, their inspiration and how it relates to Taiwanese culture and people. And they can do it in English or Chinese. As there is only 1-2 bartenders at a given time, and the same amount of kitchen staff, wait time for your food and beverages can be a tad long, but around the same time at say a speakeasy as the same level of skill and patience is used in crafting these specialty cocktails.
When we went at around 9:30PM/10PM on a Saturday night, it was not packed. The place has only been open for just over half a year though. But upon chatting with the owners a bit more, they did mention that it mostly attracts Star Hostel or other nearby hostel guests, who consist mostly of Japanese and Korean tourists. The Japanese tourists tend to order beer and occasionally try the cocktails but the Korean tourists dont really fancy this sort of drinking according to the owners (they seem more inclined to Shoju and straight stuff like wines and whiskeys).
But what about the rest of the travelers and locals around town?! I say, we all should be frequenting this place for a chill night out!
SoShow Bar & Restaurant Information
4th Floor, #46 Huayin Street, Taipei City, Taiwan, 103; 台北市大同區華陰街46號4樓; between Taiyuan Road and ChengDe Road (closer to TaiYuan Road).
MRT: Taipei Main Station.
Bus: buses that stop at Taipei Main Station, Taipei Bus Station, ChengDe Road, or ChongQing North Road.
Dress Code: anything (but all natural) goes here I feel, you can wear a suit and you’d be fine, you can wear shorts, a T and flip flops and be fine.
Happy and Safe Drinking!