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FYI SOUTH Magazine, May 2003. VOL.3 ISSUE 5

Chilling Out in Style: The Lounge Scene Takes Taiwan By Storm

By Douglas Habecker

     For many people, the mention of a lounge bar or lounge music still conjures up faded images of old nightclubs, complete with velvet-covered sofas, Burt Bacharach records, lots of neon, strong martinis, beehive hairdos, big-finned Cadillacs, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the Brat Pack.

     Skip forward about four decades, and--surprise!---lounge is back. In cosmopolitan cities around the world, from Paris to Bangkok, a whole new generation is wholeheartedly embracing a modern lounge culture that mixes elements of the old and new to create those essential end products of fun and relaxation.

     Taiwan has been no exception, as the lounge scene shows all the signs of being the latest nightlife fad, sweeping from Taipei south to cities like Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung. For now, the trend shows no signs of abating, as a steady stream of new lounges continue to oblige the growing numbers of residents who¡¦ve discovered the swank, laid-back appeal of these cool, chic hang-outs.

    The lounge revival came into full swing around five years ago, starting in cities like Paris and New York. Jaded by massive, glitzy discos, and the follow-on techno/rave culture, people began to crave something more relaxing, more discreet and less frantic: Classy places where they could dress up, relax, socialize and enjoy good music.

     Lounge bars today display considerable variety, but despite the different sizes, shapes and decors, there are certain immediately-recognizable ingredients. Dark, swanky, contemporary interiors, almost-hidden lights, comfortable velvet and leather-covered sofas, uniformed waiters, high-end drinks, and the down-tempo, ambient sounds of modern-day lounge music and other overlapping genres, such as chill-out.

     Some in the industry say that part of running a classier lounge bar is only offering top-rate spirits, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages: Single-malt Scotch whiskies, fine wines, brandies, spirits, champagne and cocktails.

     Music also represents a significant driving force behind the modern lounge scene. Lounge music from the last generation was spearheaded by the sounds of greats like Burt Bacharach and the Tijuana Brass. Today¡¦s lounge music is rooted in the work of early ambient music pioneers--Jean Michel-Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and, more recently, Enya--whose slower, moody music inspired visual images, contemplation and, with the right accompanying stimuli, hallucinations.

    This genre grew into a variety of related forms known by different names, including New Age, world ambient, contemporary instrumental, ambient techno, trance, chill-out and, of course, lounge.

     In Taiwan, the lounge bar scene began to take off about 18 months ago. Junior Lin, managing director of Taipei¡¦s Plush, has opened several lounges in the capital and elsewhere, including Taichung¡¦s new T.C. Champagne Lounge, and Tainan¡¦s Alive, due to open in June. He says the early influence of pioneer establishments in Taipei like Champagne, and the ongoing popularity of places like Naomi, reflect shifting tastes among a fashionable, largely white-collar crowd between the ages of about 22 and 40.

     Will lounge last? Most establishment owners agree that the current popularity of lounge bars is a fad that will eventually pass. But given the need for quiet, relaxing places, it seems clear that the lounge scene will remain strong, and evolve to match new tastes as it goes along.

Lounge in the South

     In south Taiwan, no small number of nightspots have adopted aspects of lounge. Some of these places may leave purists unsatisfied, but all of those mentioned here are attractive, fun establishments. Kaohsiung's Mouton 1973 (251, TzChiang 3rd Rd., (07) 215-8855) is a coffeeshop during the day, but according to employees, it becomes a lounge in the evening. In the same neighborhood there¡¦s Keep Walk¡¦ in Lounge (B1, 323, ShinTian Rd., (07) 241-6056), which opens at midday on weekends and holidays. In Tainan City, one place that has fully embraced the lounge phenomenon is Rough Mini-Lounge (72, JungYi Rd., Sec. 3, (06) 225-1781), found in an old, easy-to-miss, single-story building. Espace (676, JianPing Rd., (06) 299-9555) is proving popular, while Bohemia Music Lounge Bar (271, JianKang Rd., Sec. 2, (06) 291-8512) claims to be the oldest lounge in Tainan

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