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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