(Illustration: Cat Jensen)
Let me start this one off with a disclaimer: this is not going to be an overview of all the queer bars in Taipei. I just got here, OK? So far I have only been to two places: Taboo, the one lesbian bar in Taipei, and the Red House area in Ximen. On the bright side, they did create a nice contrast in terms of different ways to drink while being queer.
I’ll start with Taboo. The first thing I learnt about drinking in Taipei is that for a country that does not have a huge drinking culture, a lot of bars do seem to encourage getting absolutely hammered. The idea is that you pay a flat rate and then get either a certain number or unlimited drinks for the rest of the night. Taboo has taken this tack, and charges up to 500 TWD per night. As someone who hates wasting money and has an extremely low alcohol tolerance, this is a dangerous strategy.
I didn't take this photo. I don't remember seeing this drink. But I feel like it is apt.
I’ll admit, it was fun to pick drinks off the menu without having to think about the cost, and they did have some inventive ways to keep us drinking, such as wandering around with liquor bottles and pouring shots directly into people’s mouths. It gave the whole night an air of cheerful debauchery. However, it made this column a little difficult to write because, firstly, I can’t tell you what the music was like because I don’t remember, and secondly, what I do remember about the night I’m not sure I want to share. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m positive I don’t want to share. I can tell you that I did a lot of dancing, and that at one point there were DJs. If you want to learn more, feel free to head in yourself.
I'm sorry DJs. It is possible that you were fantastic.
Taboo is in the Zhongshan District and can be located thanks to the blue lights hanging in the tunnel that lead down to the club.
The Red House area in Ximen is what you might call the main gay scene of Taipei. I use the term gay deliberately because it does seem to be largely focused on gay men. Centered around the eponymous Red House, it has a string of gay bars including the Bear Bar, Commander D, Café Dalida, and G-Mixi. There are also a bunch of sex shops, again focused on gay men, and a surprisingly large amount of colourful underwear for sale – again, for men. A lot of the bars seemed so focused on gay men that I didn’t feel comfortable going in the more enclosed ones to explore, but that’s more or less irrelevant as you don’t really need to. The scene mostly takes place outside the bars, with people crowding onto the outdoor seating area. The demarcation between one bar and the next is so slim that I sometimes wonder how the bartenders can tell their customers apart from their neighbours’, which adds to the communal feel.
This was early on a Sunday night but honestly, quiet or busy, I love it. (Photo: Jordan Herpich)
One nice thing about being queer is that no matter where you go in the world, if you are in a queer space, it feels a little like home. The Red House area is definitely one of these spaces. The first time I visited I was with a group of friends who were long-term residents. I had been in Taiwan for just over two weeks and was still very much in the wide-eyed tourist phase. Here, however, squeezed around a tiny table with a giant mattress I had just purchased from a stranger on the internet, surrounded by queer Taiwanese locals and drinking a cocktail made mostly of ice, I started to feel like Taipei could become my home. I could see myself coming back to the Red House, time and time again, with old friends and new, and it felt good.
Nothing like a bunch of rainbow flags to make you feel at home. (Photo: Jordan Herpich)
Both the Red House and Taboo had their disappointments. Because the Red House is geared so strongly towards gay men I was hoping Taboo would be a little bit more like the queer bars back home, where people can pop in for a quiet drink earlier in the evening and stay later if they want to party. Unfortunately, the cover charge alone is enough to make Taboo pretty restrictedly a party zone. Because of this, I’ll only be going to Taboo when I’m in the mood for a big night, and have an entire day free to recover. On the other hand, I’ve already been back to the Red House multiple times and I love the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
I’m definitely going to make it a mission to find out where the queer girls are at. In the meantime I have a queer meetup to attend and a trip to a queer space in Taichung to plan for. Watch this space!
(Editing: John Grzelak)