[ When You Drink, Don’t Drive. ]
Alcohol is a valued lubricant when it comes to commerce, and these establishments represent some of the best the city has to offer in the drinks department.
It’s time to impress a client, establish a relationship, or seal the deal. Dinner is of course an option, but so too are drinks at a plush bar or lounge, where the ambiance makes the meeting an occasion and the conversation flows as easily as the wine.
It’s not necessary to have a long list of recommendations for best business bars because it’s better to go somewhere you can rely on. A drinking establishment where the bartender knows your name is going to impress far more than the “secret” watering hole that you spend half the evening trying to locate.
Loud music from distorted speakers is a no-no. Otherwise the whole point of the evening, conversation with your VIP guest, ends up as a shouting match. Comfort is also critical. Feeling out of place, or not being able to get a seat or table when one is required, is only going to cause embarrassment.
Another necessity is good service. If drinks are spilled or arguments over the bill ensue, it will surely sour the evening. If it’s a cocktail bar, then super-skilled mixologists are going to create a wow factor and impress the guest. A knowledgeable sommelier at a wine bar will order something special that suits everyone’s tastes, while the attentive but discrete attentions of staff at a private club will make an impact without creating a distraction.
The atmosphere of any bar, club, or lounge is created by the appropriate setting and service, but the clientele is another x-factor. It’s far preferable to be rubbing shoulders with other titans of industry, rather than lads out on the town or students looking for a beer bong. Also, you don’t want the joint to be so busy that it’s difficult to get in and even harder to order drinks. As such, a door policy, smart dress, and reservations are in order.
That said, if a celebration party is called for, it better be sexy and offer the finest food, beverages, music, and company. So without further ado and in no particular order, we will have a look at Taipei’s Top Five Bars for Business and the reasons they make the grade.
East End is a success story for Taipei’s evolving bar scene, and recognition has been forthcoming with a listing in the World’s Best Bars directory. Located in the city’s fashionable east side, the bar is a refined and Instagram-friendly watering hole, for both business people and guests at the boutique-style Proverbs Hotel.
Courteous greetings, eye candy, and the plink-plink-plink of trad jazz greet patrons in the afternoon, while the Ray Chen design ethos is a mix of warm wooden tables and floors, cold white marble bar counters, and glass walls. The mix works well: modern, classy but friendly.
Calvin Lai, a smart young man from the marketing department, is on hand to show us around and we talk about the change in Taipei’s bar culture – from the bad old days, when you couldn’t be sure what was going in your drink, to now, when authenticity is guaranteed and there are more products to play with. “Our core value is to provide what suits you: personalization and indulgence. You may not know what you want but don’t worry, we do, and we will look after you. You can be confident of the level of service.”
He introduces mixologist Lyia Yang, and she expertly whisks up two cocktails for us. The first is the signature East End Cocktail, made of Ciroc vodka, pickled green mango juice (laboriously made by hand, apparently), Caparno, Bianco, Grand Marnier, a little fresh lime juice and honey, plum bitters and a dash of je ne sais quoi.
If the first drink was a zesty welcome, the second is a more profound libation, with layers of flavors that develop and grow on you as you sip. It’s a Longan Old Fashioned, made with Bulleit Bourbon, infused with longan (the outer fruit is set on fire, the smoke trapped in a glass), cube sugar, Angostura, and Aztec chocolate bitters.
All the drinks are developed or overseen by Hidetsugu Ueno. For those in the know, Ueno is an institution. The master Japanese mixologist is the man behind Tokyo’s Bar High Five. Having won a multitude of competitions, he now tends to judge them instead. Ueno’s DNA is all over East End, from the level of service to the use of local ingredients and gauging what the patron wants before personalizing the drink.
East End also provides great eats and the appetizer board of cold meats (including miso Wagyu), olives, cheese, and a piquant terrine of milk fish, was outstanding. The clientele ranges from business people to stars from the entertainment industry. This is a bar to be seen in and admire.
Address: Hotel Proverbs, 3F, 56 Da’an Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei
WOOBAR has been the center of attention for some time now in Taipei’s CBD, and enjoys the added frisson of a slightly racy reputation due to its fashionable club nights and pool parties. Most of the time, though, it presents a sophisticated lounge scene, frequented by money makers and sophisticates. At the time of writing, WOOBAR was being refurbished for a January 19 reopening bash.
The new look is being called “Electrified Nature” and has an eco-friendly theme, according to W Hotel General Manager Harvey J. Thompson. He expresses confidence that the design by Japan’s Hirotoshi Sawada will up the ante for Taipei’s bar scene. “WOOBAR has always been the most stylish meeting place for Taipei’s trendsetters, business leaders and discerning world travelers,” he says. “After restyling, we hope WOOBAR will bring our guests a brand new experience and still be the most fashionable and stylish bar in Taipei.”
The new WOOBAR will continue to offer a wide range of beverage and food options, such as afternoon teas and happy hours. The drinks list is overseen by WOOBAR manager Alex Lee, who has two decades of mixology under his belt. Local herbs, spices, and fruits and vegetables – such as Yilan spring onion, cilantro, basil, wax apple, mango, dragon fruits, and maqaw – feature strongly.
Thompson considers that it’s important to keep ahead of the game because the city’s bar culture is developing so quickly and guests have ever higher expectations. “As Taiwan tourism has developed over the past decade, there are more and more international visitors to Taipei, bringing a brand new cocktail and bar culture to the city,” he notes.
Address: W Taipei, 10F, 10 ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec. 5, Xinyi District, Taipei
Domaine Wine Cellars is where wine is done best in Taipei. Full stop.
The establishment is presided over by David Pan, who grew up in the United States from the age of three and later did well in finance before taking an interest in viniculture – so much so that he studied on the UC Davis Wine Executive Program and bought a vineyard in Napa Valley. When he belatedly returned to Taiwan, the idea of starting something special and raising the country’s wine culture to new levels was a no-brainer.
The result is an 18,000 square-foot wine store, lounge, and VIP meeting place that Taipei’s aficionados can be proud of. It’s spotless, colorful, and comprehensive. Great wines from around the world are displayed in racks, with information about them provided in pullout drawers. The more expensive varietals have their own largescale, glass-framed cooling cabinet. There is also a huge, climate-controlled vault, which looks like a cross between a data center and space ship, where regulars store wine by the case.
“Whether you’re from Paris, New York, or London, this place is as good as anywhere else in the world,” Pan states with confidence. “The ambiance, expertise, service, facilities, and even the pricing cannot be beaten. It’s the complete customer experience.”
This is the place for talking business over a choice bottle of wine or two. There is comfortable seating in various nooks and crannies for privacy, and the VIP Room has a long wooden table that comfortably seats 14 people, a high-tech AV set up, and 60-inch TV for presentations. While there’s no smoking inside, there’s a plush outside area with sofas where those with a penchant for long, smoke-wreathed discussions over a bottle of something good can indulge.
As Pan succinctly puts it: “Good wine and business make the world go round.”
Address: B1, 383 RenAi Rd., Sec. 4, Da’an District, Taipei
Indulge Experimental Bistro is officially one of the 50 best bars in the world, according to the influential website Inside. As such, you’re guaranteed to score guanxi points if you introduce it to your guests. Even better, take them to one of the regular “Cocktail Food Pairing Dinners” that feature the finest food and a dedicated drinks list.
We were fortunate enough to be invited along for the ride at an event hosted by Belgian mixologist Ran van Ongevalle. His most recent claim to fame was producing the strongest cocktail to ever win the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition Global Final 2017. His Clarita – a blend of Bacardi 8 Anos, Amontillado sherry, Crème de Cacao, absinthe, salt and a soupçon of olive oil – is an experience you won’t forget. Have a few more, though, and you probably will. On the night of our visit, it was paired with the main course of Taiwan black pig with mango chili sauce. Really, it doesn’t get better than this.
Like many of the people interviewed for this article, Van Ongevalle is a huge fan of Indulge founder Aki Wang, the man held primarily responsible for Taipei’s growing international reputation as a producer of great bars and drinks. Wang established Indulge in 2009 and since then has spun a number of food and beverage startups, creating a mini-empire in the process.
“He really pushes the boundaries,” says Mei Chiu, our guide for the evening from Indulge Life Hospitality Group. “When he started Indulge there were no good cocktail bars, but now Taipei is blooming and is one of the most dynamic cities in Asia on the bar scene. He’s very curious, innovative, pays attention to detail, and has a lot of ideas. For him, the sky’s the limit.”
Certainly, Indulge deserves the plaudits. On the first floor, the surroundings are bright, light, and have a Nordic feel, which suits the white spirits that are served. In the basement, the tones are darker and the theme is nautical, with portholes, mini-barrels of vintage cocktails (often reserved by customers), and darker tones to suit the brandy and whiskey-based drinks.
Like the other cocktail bars we have featured, Indulge has localized its drinks menu and prides itself on using ingredients close to home, many of them new to the drinks trade. Among the bar’s specialties are drinks that highlight Taiwan’s many excellent teas, which Aki Wang personally sources from all over the island. Another focus is Chinese culture, such as drinks based on the Chinese calendar.
Indulge is open 365 days a year, and there’s nearly always something going on there, whether it’s a celebration such as for National Rum Day, seasonal specials, art shows, or visiting mixologists. It’s a good idea to make a reservation, especially on weekends. You can’t go wrong with Indulge if you want to make an impression.
Address: No. 11, Lane 219, Sec. 1, FuXing S. Rd., Da’an District, Taipei
P&L Club is, no doubt, the place to celebrate a sealed deal, with a good cigar and stiff drink. The single malt selection alone is 50 brands long and for a really big deal, there’s a bottle of Hennessy Richard for NT$106,000, which is guaranteed to make a noise. However, as manager Baggio Hung makes clear, this is an emporium dedicated first and foremost to success and cigars, rather than drinks.
“We are not after liquor customers.” Hung says. “Cigar customers are different. This is like a private chamber, somewhere to take your time and have long discussions. A lot of big businessmen come here and many are regulars. Relationships start here, bankers come in and out, there are people trading stocks. It’s like a human exchange, and of course business is very important.”
The surroundings are certainly conducive to relaxation and the décor is decidedly Donald Trump in style, with black and white marble flooring, walnut, leather, polished mirrors and a multitude of gold fittings. The dim lighting and seating arrangements allow for seclusion, but if more privacy is required there are VIP rooms too.
Hung and a bevvy of wait staff are on hand to attend to customers’ every whim and are on first-name terms with many of the patrons. Part of the Pacific Cigar group started by the late Hong Kong impresario Sir David Tang, the cigar selection is naturally the best in town. And if it’s Cubans you’re after, then you’ve arrived in the right place.
Address: 177 AnHe Rd., Sec, 2, Taipei
[ When You Drink, Don’t Drive. ]