About Drinking in Taiwan

Over the last several years Taipei has cemented itself as a world party destination for DJ's, dancers, and even renowned bartenders. While the party scene in Taipei has been booming for well over a decade, visitors and new arrivals will be somewhat lost about which places offer what type of crowd. This introduction is hopefully a welcome overview of what kinds of night life there are.

If you're heading for a club outside of Taipei expect a moderate turn out of mostly regular attendees as party communities are small. Most of the party scene is focused around Taipei, and you should know that things have gotten a little strange at the city's clubs since September 2014 when a policeman was killed outside a nightclub. For a few months the police conducted nightly ID checks in and around the city's night clubs and were out in force to keep public order. Things returned to normal for a while and the vibrancy of club life returned. That resurgence took a hit in late 2017 when there was a huge public outcry about drug use among young Taiwanese folks, especially at clubs.

If you're headed to a major club venue in 2018 in Taiwan, expect the police to make an appearance. While ID checks do ruin the party mood they generally only last about 20 minutes. Have your ID ready (passport or Taiwanese issued ID) and save yourself a headache or two by not mouthing off about the police ruining the party.


Understanding Taiwanese drinking culture:

Drinking is permissible in public places (unless otherwise stated) in Taiwan because alcohol was not given a negative reputation during Taiwan's past. Compared to America, where blue laws, licenses, and ideology left over from the 1800's dominate alcohol consumption, Taiwan is incredibly liberal. Sales are 24 hours, there is no mandatory closure time for bars or clubs, and despite a firm government monopoly on imports and production of liquor prices are reasonable. It is common to see people - especially foreign visitors or residents - drinking outside in the park. Beyond city parks the beaches, long distance trains, and other public areas permit drinking. A good way to answer "can I drink here?" is to consider alcohol like any other drink - if you can bring in a can of Cola, you can also bring a can of beer.


Where to buy drinks in Taipei? Where is cheapest:

Retailers like Costco, Carrefour, or RT Mart offer a high selection of imported brands at a relatively low price and also beat the smaller super markets on the domestic stuff. There are a number of specialty liquor store chains which cater to more informed drinkers but many tend to recommend products based on revenue not customer satisfaction. There are definitely a lot of mom and pop shops around Taiwan, especially outside of Taipei. Super markets also sell liquor for a slight mark up, but beer is usually near-cost and for sure cheaper than at a convenience store. Convenience stores sell beer, whiskey, and wine for the highest mark up over the other stores but nearly everyone out for the night will eventually find themselves grabbing a drink here. 7-11 and Family Mart have also done a great job upping their game and run sales on group buying, such as deals for 3 beers for 85%.

If you are looking to build a liquor collection, drink high quality whiskey or wine, and have time to shop around, the specialty stores offer the best quality and selection. If you want to save money but are less picky about selection and quality, head to a big box retailer or super market. If you're on the go, don't care about 5 - 10 NT per beer (50 - 200 for wine) then a quick stop at a convenience store is the way to go.

All You Can Drink Clubs:

For North Americans this is one of the most novel draws to the Taiwanese night life. Because there is minimal liability for clubs providing alcohol, and no license to lose, some clubs offer all you can drink parties. You pay from 350 – 800 NT to get inside with a receipt from the cashier. You trade the receipt for your first drink, and then trade subsequent drink cups for new drinks. Spilling, vomiting, or losing your cup are generally bad form, and some clubs reserve the right to charge you for clean up, etc. Shorts are generally not allowed, and men should wear close toed shoes. Women's dress is largely unregulated although flip flops might not cut it.

Don't be fooled – all you can drink places are not serving top shelf drinks, are often packing their glasses with ice, offering slow service (thus long lines), and are generally disinclined to treat their value-seeking patrons with respect. It is common for people with tables to get better service, and some bartenders openly accept “tips” to allow you to cut the line. Hard liquor may be adulterated with a potable ethanol or other substitute to lower the price of mixed drinks, The results of this mixing can be rather devastating to your night if made wrong. If you suddenly feel incredibly drunk beyond the amount you have consumed, sick to your stomach, out of control (in a negative way), dizzy, etc, its likely you've had some of the house blend. Beer is generally bought in bulk and served in cans or bottles which promise some piece of mind in the adulteration department. However, many beer companies resell after market/nearly expired beer, non-standard beer, etc to nightclubs to minimize losses, but generally in non-harmful forms. Massive headaches are common after going to AYCD clubs, either due to adulterated liquor, drinking too much, dancing too hard, or having too much fun.

The clientèle at AYCD clubs are generally going to be younger ( 18 – 25) Taiwanese, and in some cases there are specific clubs which cater to foreigners. These clubs are spread around the city, with some clubs offering special AYCD nights. Check Facebook before you go and message a PR person if you're not sure. If you can't contact someone who speaks English you're avoiding headaches by not going anyway.

As a caution, Taiwanese men at all you can drink clubs are generally wary of foreigners who they perceive to be looking to take advantage of drunk young women, and once drunk can become quite hostile. Diffusing tensions between drunk men can be hard – especially when suddenly no one can speak English wtih you - but keep in mind that some locals prefer to fight in gangs, and often carry police-grade weapons (night sticks, spring loaded batons, etc). Further, be wary of anyone at all you can drink clubs taking advantage of foreigners for entertainment, specifically pretending to be nice to you to get laughs from friends.


Up Market Clubs:

Up Market clubs are generally found in Taipei around ZhongXiao DunHua or near Taipei 101. Other cities will have one known club which fits this bill. Generally they charge 600 – 1000 NT for entrance with between 0 and 2 free drink tickets, although optional open bar seems to becoming a thing again at upstart venues. The dress code is more strictly enforced at these clubs, and looking good is expected.

Drinks at up market clubs range between 150 and 500 dollars, and bottle service is certainly possible. Tables can be hard to come by even if you call in advance, although usually offering to pay with cash, order lots of drinks, and be amazing party people will help you score one. These clubs are seen as cleaner than their all you can drink brothers, but a quick look in the bathroom may prove otherwise. The security at these clubs is also tighter than at all you can drink clubs, and they took a page from the American club scene's handbook about how to punish serious transgressions. Don't think that being a foreigner will save you from being educated by the security team in proper manners.

The clientèle at these clubs is usually the upper class, would-be upper class, people over 25, or people who can't stand bad drinks and watching people puke in the street. Because there is more focus on image dancing is often highly restricted or even frowned upon, and its not uncommon for people to flat out refuse to look like they're enjoying themselves. Think expensive and full of people looking to look good with each other. That said, good times can be had with nice people if you do it right.


Bars:

Bars run a fairly broad spectrum in Taiwan, and the quality of bars will vary significantly with the price of drinks ranging between 150 – 300 for beer with a similar price for standard cocktails. There is rarely a dress code, but for special events at bars its best to at least check about requirements. Decent bars are scattered throughout the city, with certain nights featuring packed houses, pub quizzes, drink specials, and at times nothing short of a dead room.

Foreign beers, specifically Guiness, Boddingtons, Heineken, and Carlsberg are common at any place that has taps. Belgian beer bars exist and continue popping up with mixed success. The scene has seen a huge influx in bottled beer menus and bars are often chasing distributors for new stock. Fresh draft beer selections are improving steadily including some quality locally made options.

Fancy drink bars are also having a huge uptick, especially in Taipei. Party vibes have changed and people now prefer a nice night out with friends, good drinks + selfies. A noisy club full of people isn't ideal for that, and the smaller neighborhood bar has taken up the call to arms. Drinks run around 300 per glass, but can tip as high as 500. Many places don't offer up menus - take that as a positive or negative - but do a lot of house special drinks including some home brew infusions. Dress here tends to be fancier in theory but black t-shirt and jeans for men with well-dressed casual for ladies is the norm.


Lounges:

There are many bars in the social hubs like gongguan, shida, dongqu, neihu, tianmu, etc which are laid back and fit the bar vibe.

Lounges in this sense mean an over refined decor in a bar with a touch over loud music and fancy looking sofas. Those looking to make solid business contacts with social climber types should head towards the 101 area's lounges where networking, blowing cash and looking classy go hand in hand in hand.

Drinks at lounges will usually favor foreign imported beers as well as a broader range of whiskeys, mixed drinks, and cocktails. Don't expect quality mixology as appearance trumps substance.

Because smoking indoors is allowed in bars after 9pm  hookah lounges exist although it's not cheap.


Drinking in Restaurants:

Drinking in restaurants is popular and is by far the most commonly accepted way to drink in Taiwan. Most people won't head to western style bars for a night out but instead hit a restaurant. Food and booze go hand in hand in the local culture, so don't be afraid to have a few with your meal since nearly every reasonable restaurant offers beer. Generally meals last 2 hours or less, and if people are drinking hard the drinks flow fast.

Perhaps the best deal is found at all you can eat restaurants which will often have a keg of beer and even bottles of wine from which you serve yourself. With few exceptions these restaurants will ask you to leave after 2 hours, but true drinkers can certainly get a ton of volume in this time. Couple the endless drinks with all you can eat ice cream, meat, veggies, etc and you're either in for a great night or the worst stomach ache of your life. Caution - the beer is often after market kegs which are not yet expired but past their prime. Expect to pay between 650 and 1000 NT per person.

There's a type of local restaurant preferred for drinking, and there the beer is sold by the bottle. Each restaurant has its own preferred brand, and Taiwan beer, QingDao, plus Heineken are the usual choices. Restaurants will usually have a beer girl who offers you beer when you sit down. They're promoters, they're people, and please be polite. There's been stories going around of people misunderstanding the entire situation. If you don't buy the promoters brand you'll need to serve yourself.

You pour the beer out into small cups and generally people cheers and drink, cheers and drink. Beer shots, really. You'll know you're in a drinky restaurant by looking for rechao 熱炒 places or any local restaurant that has brightly colored plastic racks for empty bottles positioned near the tables. Bonus is the food tends to be good, fresh, and perfect for enjoying while drinking.

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