Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 05 2006

I hadn’t been to a bear bar since the Taiwan Bear …

I hadn’t been to a bear bar since the Taiwan Bear Club closed its doors a while back, and I just couldn’t bring myself to go to Funky or Fresh for various character deficiency-revealing reasons. The last time I was at Scorpio Ah-bu told me about a bear club on Linsen North Road called “Dragon Star”, so after a particularly long and difficult day at work on Friday, followed by some shopping, I made my way over to the area to have a look.

I stopped along the way to take pictures several times, and it was after 10pm by the time I made it to Linsen North Road. There was no external sign, but I followed the clues Ah-bu had given me and found the right building, with a small innocuous sign in the stairway leading to the second floor. I walked up and through a small wooden door decorated with Christmas lights into a shady bar.

The place was over half full, and there were still several tables available. I was shown to one near the small karaoke stage. After I sat down and ordered a drink, I looked around. It was a comfortable space that felt as if it had been there for quite a long time, in spite of the attempts to mondernize via strategically placed, well-lit art. The ceiling and all the fixtures were painted mustard yellow, with lots of old wood on the walls, and the windows had been painted over. Boxes and beer carts were stacked up neatly against the wall, and the stage was adorned with small red Chinese lanterns that blinked off and on.

Most of the patrons seemed to be around 30 to 50 years old, hefty with short hair, and gathered in groups. I was the only one sitting alone, but I didn’t feel too uncomfortable as I dug into the complimentary dishes of cold pork and fresh oranges. On the contrary, I felt quite at home, even though I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I’ve become used to it.

That situation was soon remedied, however, as one of the staff, a husky dark man a little older than me with a wide face and spiky hair, came over and chatted with me and another guy who had been seated nearby. In the course of our conversation, our host told me about two other bear bars in the area, the Panda and Any Bar.

“Any Bar was opened by the former owners of the Taiwan Bear Club,” he said, holding up his glass for another toast. “But it’s like the TBC was in its last days, you know, lots of women.”

“Why are the women there?” I asked.

“I don’t know, maybe they think it’s trendy,” he said. The Panda, however, was for younger bears and cubs, he said. “Really fat ones, too.”

I sat back and listened to the songs for a bit. One couple sang “Those Were the Days”, and a few Japanese songs came and went. But I had to leave just after midnight to catch the last train home. I’d seen what I came to see, after all, and wasn’t particularly interested in answering the host’s inquiries about what type of guy I preferred. Another time, I said.

The next night I was planning to spend at home, but two friends, Ray and Michael, called me wanting to know if I would like to go out, so I thought, here’s a chance to see the other bear bars. Ray picked me up in Bitan in his Saab, and we drove into the city, Ray lamenting the sheer size of the car as we parked under the Xinsheng Overpass.

Our first stop was Any Bar, located in a narrow alley off of Linsen. All of those alleys are lined with pseudo-Japanese bars with strange names. We found the white door leading to Any Bar and went downstairs into the basement to find the elegantly decorated interior nearly deserted. “Maybe we’ll come back later,” I told the guy at the desk on our way out.

We headed north up Linsen, under the flashing neon entertainment signs, nearly to Minsheng East Road before we got lost trying to find the Panda. It was near a restaurant, the business card of which I’d obtained from the Dragon Star waiter the night before, but we couldn’t seem to find the place.

Then we rounded a corner and saw two things simultaneously: the restaurant, just closed, and a large group of large young men milling around outside while the owner locked the door. It turned out they were headed to the Panda, so we followed them a few doors down and into the basement of a neighboring building where the club was located.

The Panda turned out to be quite a bit larger than the Dragon Star, so large in fact that about a third of it was closed off. Its blue walls were decorated with a variety of bear-themed posters, from the traditional panda to Winnie-the-Pooh. Disco lights hung from the ceiling surrounding the karaoke stage. Between the blue color and the freezing air conditioning, the place felt quite a bit colder than the Dragon Star or even Any Bar.

The beefy young customers, however, did their best to make up for the temperature. We learned that that night was the first-year anniversary of the Panda, thus the celebratory mood. The sounds and shouts of dice games and drinking games and drinking dice games puncuated the karaoke while husky guys cuddled in corners. I took several calls from Michael as he tried to get his cabbie to realize what part of town we were in. Eventually he made it there, wincing at the blast from the A/C as he sat down. Though Ray likes bears, I don’t think Michael’s really into that scene.

We stayed until around 3am, chatting above the din of the karaoke or watching Ray sing a couple of songs, but the cold was getting to us as well as the late hour, so we called it a night and drove back south, Ray dropping first Michael and then me off on the way home.

It was an educational weekend, as far as my study of Taipei Bar Bars is concerned. I’ll have to do some more research in the future.

posted by Poagao at 4:49 pm  

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