Staff Only

This speakeasy-style bar in Taipei is a clandestine affair, and offers much more than just a good cocktail

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Tucked away amongst the industrial buildings on Shuiyuan road in one of Taipei’s last remaining military villages is a bare white door topped by a small sign. ‘Staff Only’, it declares. To the uninitiated, this appears to be nothing more than a discreet staff entrance (in fact, it was once the back entrance to a soy sauce factory, the building’s original tenant for more than half a century). But if you’re in the know, then you’ve been let in on the city’s newest little secret. With a tap of your membership card, the word ‘club’ appears in soft white light and the lock slides open. Welcome to Staff Only Club.

This members-only club was founded by a team of young creatives ­­— all making names for themselves within Taiwan’s design, art and culinary scenes — who wanted to bring together the city’s like-minded set in a curated and design-led space that offered something different from the city’s existing after-dark establishments.

The designers from ECRU Design Studio, also behind a number of Taipei’s best-looking spots, looked to the understated glamour of the 1950 and 60s Art Deco clubhouses. From the street-level entrance, a narrow and dimly lit staircase leads up to a sensuous mise en scène: glass windows on one side of the bar rise up to meet the gable ceiling, while on the other, gold-framed windows overlook plush green velvet seating against dusty-pink walls. Folding glass doors line the wall facing the bar, their textural qualities and amber accents reminiscent of the vessels, bottles and liquids just opposite, behind the terrazzo bar. This terrazzo also features underfoot, and was handmade by the team using the traditional grindstone technique, which is gradually becoming obsolete in Taiwan. Throughout, lush materials like velvet, corduroy and baroque textiles combine with copper accents and objects (all from Tainan’s The Undercurrent Objects), glass and eucalyptus wood panelling, which clads the original vaulted ceiling.

Head bartender Connor Lin understands, though, that a bar is only as good as the libations on offer. He’s conceived a cocktail menu to complement the interior, and the knowledgeable and convivial bartenders lend a sense of familiarity that enhances the club’s ‘exclusive’ appeal. The menus themselves also add to the charm: they’re customised vintage pull-out books (hunted down specifically for this purpose), and listed on their pages are concoctions influenced by Asian flavours, classics with a twist and a selection of sophisticated bar food from chef Theo Hsiao, who’s previous post was at Taipei’s Michelin-starred Mume.

When all of these elements combine, the result is an atmosphere where it’s hard to answer ‘One more?’ with anything other than ‘Yes, please.’

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Kuomin Lee

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