Ounce: The World-Class Cocktail Bar Comes to Taipei!

November 4, 2012

There’s a new kind of bar that I’ve only read about in books. Cocktail geeks will know what I’m talking about. They’re called Classic Cocktail Bars, Vintage Cocktail Bars, Craft Cocktail Bars or just Speakeasies. Some of these places have staff decked out in Prohibition-era uniforms. Some of them have secret entrances and passwords. Some of them are reservation-only. Some of them are hidden behind plain doors in alleys or through back doors of  other store fronts. But the one thing they have in common (the good ones, anyway) is a dedication to great drinks, specifically by mining the resources of the bygone golden age of the cocktail and applying these principles to making great new concoctions with top-class ingredients.

Of course, I’d never been to one of these places before. We just don’t have them here in Taipei. Nothing close even. Until last night that is.

When I met Frank Chu, a New Yorker, he told me how he and some other friends with Taiwanese heritage, in love with the craft cocktail scene in New York, were poised to try out the concept in Taipei. He’d found my blog useful in sourcing some ingredients and wanted to invite me to the soft opening.

I was thrilled, but, I have to admit, a little sceptical. I guess I’m just naturally cynical. I’ve been disappointed by too many bars in Taipei. Sure, some of them are nice, but going there for the cocktails is like going to the cinema for the popcorn.

So with a little trepidation I found the coffee shop which is the faux front for the ‘Speakeasy’ (although it’s a fully functioning cafe, which seems to be very nice), Frank and his partner Yee showed me around to the back, I found the secret button and the hidden door in the wall was opened.

Now I was somewhat relieved. The interior is beautiful. It’s an intimate area divided into equal parts table seating and bar seating, with what is easily the best bar I’ve seen. I sat at the bar, eyes instantly drawn to the amazing collection of spirits and liqueurs – full of things that I’ve never seen in Taipei before, and was introduced to Ounce’s secret weapon – the bartender.

As soon as I saw Lee Peare working and started talking to him, my last qualms were gone. I might not have seen it before, but I knew this was the real thing. And I hadn’t even tried the drinks yet.

The cocktail menu has a selection of about a dozen original creations, a handful of Lee’s takes on the classics and a small selection of champagne cocktails. Apart from the latter they are all priced at a very reasonable 350NT (about $US12). And you are more than welcome to order off-menu.

For my first drink, I tried a Birlinn (named after an old Scottish type of longboat), a drink with two types of Scotch (Oban 14-year and Tallisker 10-year), Carpano Antica (a type of vermouth unavailable in Taipei) and Branca Mente (a menthol bitter liqueur also unavailable here). The drink was beautiful. Smooth scotch, then bitter, and then some smoke, but cooled off by the mint. Perfect balance.

I then had an Aviation (off-menu) which was also expertly made, but best of all was a ‘Treacle’ (Rum Old-Fashioned with a dash of apple juice) made with some old Planter’s Pyrat XO Reserve Gold Rum. It was easily one of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted.

My final treat was that Lee (as a gesture of thanks for the help they found this blog to be) invited me to taste any of the bottles behind the bar. Let me stress this. Ounce has a lot of bottles that you CAN NOT get in Taipei. Kid – candy store.

I said that Ounce’s secret weapon was the bartender. Lee Peare was fantastic. He’s a perfectionist and not just with the drinks, he was obviously completely in control of the bar. Every detail was specified by him – the beautiful bar itself, the wonderful quality glassware and tools, the prominently displayed bitters dispensers and the excellent built-in garnish rack. He very clearly knows his stuff, and talks about it passionately. And the results speak for themselves.

Lee is from Ireland originally, where he worked at Harry’s and met Frank, Yee, and the other partners behind Ounce while working at Pound in New York. His vision for Ounce is a place where the focus is squarely on the drinks and where people can have a real quality cocktail experience from the moment the enter the door.

I think that feeling of the ‘experience’ is key. I’ll bet some of you were cringing when I started talking about a false front and secret entrance. I’ve always been very sceptical about that idea too. But Ounce don’t want to be exclusive. A bit of mystery, sure, but not secrecy. After a while in the bar I realised that whole thing really does help with that feeling of a special experience.

Conclusions

Great atmosphere.

Fantastic bartender.

Amazing drinks.

If you’re in Taipei, get down to Ounce! You won’t be disappointed.

Details

Location: Inside Relax Cafe, No. 40, L.63, Dunhua S Rd Sec 2

Phone: 2708 6755 (reservations are likely to be necessary)

Hours: Tue-Sat from 7PM

Website: ounceTaipei.com

Note: At the time of this post, Ounce hasn’t had its official opening yet, but they are in business, as is the cafe at the front.

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14 Responses to “Ounce: The World-Class Cocktail Bar Comes to Taipei!”

  1. putneyfarm Says:

    Very Cool. We are lucky to have some locally and in San Francisco. But a truly dedicated cocktail bar is a total escape, and a blissful one, at that…

    I want to try that “treacle” cocktail. What was the vermouth? thx

  2. Alicia Says:

    That is so exciting! Sounds like this is just what you have needed!

  3. Seamus Says:

    Sounds good.

    The Carpano Antica is amazing stuff eh? I find it really shines in anything that has gin in it.

    • theboolion Says:

      The cocktail with it tasted great, but other than that, I haven’t tried Carpano Antica. Not available in Taiwan. Maybe I’ll have to ask for a gin drink with it next time (add to the list).

  4. Seamus Says:

    Try it in a Martini. A Martini with Sweet Vermouth has its own name, which escapes me right now. I think it’s called a Hearst. Anyway, Carpano Antica, Tanqueray, orange bitters, lemon twist = truly excellent.

    Along similar lines a Martinez is also very good.

    I only got hold of Carpano Antica recently, and after lots of experimentation the Hearst was what I kept coming back to. That said, a Negroni with is also excellent.

    Manhattans I’m just not so sure. Obviously they taste great since it’s a very nice vermouth, but it has so much character that the whiskey can get lost, and figure I’d be about as happy using a gentler vermouth. Same with drinks that pair it with rum. It’s just too powerful. So overall I reckon it goes best with gin.


  5. Hey Boo,

    Sorta briefly met you last Friday night (I was standing at the end, but with the large group of people near the entrance). Anyhow, it’s nice to see someone in Taipei (albeit mostly expats) appreciate the craft cocktail! I lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and made many visits to NYC as well, and we def have a graps in the US about mixology!

    Went through your old posts, funny you mention about bitters earlier this March, I had a friend bring me Angorusta bitters in February because I could not for the life of me locate them. It was only after that I saw the Fee Bros. Bitters at Breeze… how ironic! Anyhow, keep it up. I personally prefer Redemption 9 year rye whiskey in an old fashion, but I’ve only seen that in the US at specialty stores (had a friend smuggle me one)

    http://www.redemptionrye.com/

    I was stoked to see Bulleit at Ounce Taipei… that’s a regular one too in the US. impossible to find here. You can only find it in certain liquor stores in the US too!

    -s

    • theboolion Says:

      It was good to see you, Sean. It’s always a nice surprise to hear that someone is reading my blog. It’s also good to see that there are some people who can appreciate the fine work they are doing at Ounce. Although I don’t expect that you have to be a mixology geek to appreciate it. There are many who appreciate good craft even if not in an area they are knowledgeable about.


      • Sorry for the late response. I’ve been back to Ounce probably 6 times since I first saw you there. I will attest hands down, this is the finest bar in Asia. Thanks to Lee, I’ve yet to order anything off the menu! While I prefer classic old fashioned’s and Manhattan, he’s certainly made me some interesting variation. I believe I opened and closed one night there on a weekday by myself!

        Every person I’ve brought there, from seasoned alcoholics from the US to friends who are just curious has been hand’s down extremely impressed by Lee.

        Guess it’s nice to have a little boardwalk empire here on this island now yeah?

        Oh. and it’s a good and bad thing it’s on the way home from the office…

  6. theboolion Says:

    That’s cool, Sean. I’ve only been back twice, but I wish it was more. I had a great time and great drinks when I went back.


  7. […] but what we did see was a few choice bars that were really unique. I was determined to head to Ounce, a speak easy cocktail bar in central Taipei, ever since I heard about it from friends. As I may […]


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