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Meet You in Zhongshan: The Ins and Outs of Taipei's Coolest Neighborhood (TAIPEI Quarterly 2024 Spring Vol.35)

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Post date:2024-03-11


TAIPEI #35 (2024 Spring)

Meet You in Zhongshan: The Ins and Outs of Taipei's Coolest Neighborhood

Author Jonathan Kaplan
Photographer Mike Sung, Jeremy Kuahn, Two Three Comedy, RVLT Taipei, Fifi Lee, Department of Information and Tourism, Taipei City Government   

fs_1▲A bustling area, Zhongshan District was selected as one of the "Top 40 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World" by Time Out magazine. (Photo・Mike Sung) 

Scooters and taxis zip down Nanjing East Road (南京東路) well after midnight, after Metro Taipei has closed for the night. They make their left or right turns into the streets and alleyways of Zhongshan (中山), their destinations close at hand: a late-night bistro, an understated izakaya, a buzzing shisha lounge, or a hip speakeasy. 

Across from Linsen Park (林森公園), patrons of a 24-hour dim sum restaurant sit with their backs to the windows overlooking the road, stealing glances across the room at the various tables of night-owl musicians and bar staff who frequent the place. It's one of a thousand scenes playing out every night, and one of the reasons why in November 2023, esteemed British cultural publication Time Out named Zhongshan as one of the "Top 40 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World." This rare honor isn't bestowed upon any other place in Taiwan this time, making the achievement even more unique. If you're keen to learn for yourself what makes Zhongshan so hip, you'll just have to get right into it.

Urban Origins

In the late 1800s, as Taipei blossomed from a trading town into a full-fledged city, Zhongshan became the new urban center of development. Factories, schools, and residences quickly emerged in the district. Later, during the Japanese era (1895-1945), the neighborhoods were laid out in an orderly, easily-navigable grid. Members of the ruling elite settled into the area in stately homes, and around them sprang up the residences and shops of local merchants, tradespeople, professionals, and their families.

fs_2▲Eye-catching graffiti on the wall of one of many unique coffee shops in Zhongshan. (Photo・Department of Information and Tourism, Taipei City Government)

The Japanese influence on Zhongshan is apparent to this day. Izakayas and ramen shops line the alleyways north of Changan West Road (長安西路). Street scenes look like they could have been lifted wholesale from Osaka or Tokyo. Listen attentively and you'll hear plenty of Japanese being spoken as you walk around — the area remains popular with tourists and business travelers from Japan. But Zhongshan is not Japan. It is uniquely Taiwan, with its identity forged in the crucible of history, reconfigured endlessly by the people who live and work there. The district's name itself is a tribute to the founder of the Republic of China, Sun Zhongshan, known commonly in the West as Sun Yat-sen.
Getting There

Setting off from MRT Zhongshan Station, you can go to Nanxi Shopping District to experience the trendy and exotic shopping environment of Taipei. Next to Nanxi is Chifeng Shopping District, which is technically located within the Datong District but often seen as an extension of Zhongshan with its intersecting alleys.Going further westward leads to another popular tourist magnet of Taipei — Dadaocheng, where you can bear witness to Taiwan's historical and cultural development. 

Zhongshan is a cluster of coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, historical sites and creative markets, and is popular with young tourists for both shopping and taking pictures in the area's many stylish locations.No matter your approach, you will be met by neighborhood gems. 
fs_3▲Xinzhongshan Linear Park is dotted with many installation artworks. (Photo・Mike Sung)

With its Japanese background, modern amenities, chic style, and cozy vibes, Zhongshan is an obvious destination for intrepid travelers looking for a unique experience of Taipei. Surely you will find your own favorite sights, bites, and sips, but the following recommendations should serve as a helpful starting guide to anyone eager to see what's on offer.

Daytime in Zhongshan

During the day, Zhongshan bustles with commerce,
and likewise boasts numerous literary and artistic attractions. Between the historical sites and adorable shops, you'll find no shortage of places to explore.
Xinzhongshan Linear Park & Zhongshan Underground Book Street 
心中山線形公園 & 中山地下書街

Running north-south along the route from MRT Shuanglian Station to Zhongshan Station, Xinzhongshan Linear Park is an oasis of aesthetic urban design. Perfect for people-watching or a casual stroll, the landscape transforms along the way, mixing greenery and architecture with views of the surrounding neighborhood. Dotted with funky urban art that changes throughout the year, the park is a hot gathering spot for young families and fashionable local youth to meet with friends and enjoy some fresh air. On weekends, there is a charming outdoor market for local crafts and fashion goods.

fs_4▲Xinzhongshan Linear Park is perfect for leisurely strolls, offering an urban oasis filled with aesthetic designs. (Photo・Mike Sung)

Descend beneath the linear park to the Zhongshan Underground Book Street (中山地下書街) to explore the world of books, stationery, and cultural products. Pick up a novel and ease into the climate-controlled environment at your leisure. 

fs_5▲Zhongshan Underground Book Street brings art into residents' daily lives. (Photo・Mike Sung)

Back above ground, the streets and alleys that intersect the park are brimming with cute cafés, bakeries, and boutiques.

Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute

Taiwan is a nation in love with movement, and the art of dance is broadly popular. On any given weekend you can see groups of youths practicing moves across the city. Considered the mother of modern dance in Taiwan, Tsai Jui-yueh was a pioneer in her art, and the Dance Research Institute carries on her work to this day, serving as an important educational base for young talent. The wooden building was once the residence of Japanese officials, and is now open to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

fs_6▲▼Once a dormitory for Japanese officials, the wooden structure of  Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute now proudly stands to display Ms. Tsai's dancing records and videos. (Above・Mike Sung;Below・Jeremy Kuahn)
Coffee Dumbo

With its cool retro interior and obvious passion for coffee perfection, Coffee Dumbo is one of the best cafés in town, located south of MRT Shuanglian Station just beside the Linear Park. Settle in for a phenomenal cup and a cinnamon roll and steep in some of the best flavor and style Zhongshan has to offer. 

fs_8▲The style of Coffee Dumbo blends retro and modern influences. (Photo・Mike Sung)

SPOT Taipei Film House

Screening some of Asia's greatest films in an American colonial style mansion, SPOT Taipei Film House is unique among movie theaters as it was previously the Embassy of the US. Now an elegant, intimate setting for the cinematic arts, it is an unforgettable place and well worth a visit. Check their website for viewing schedules and ticket information.

fs_9▲SPOT Taipei Film House, a two-story, western-style building, was once the US ambassador's residence. (Photo・Department of Information and Tourism, Taipei City Government)

Dongkyo Bakery 

This inventive bakery produces some of the city's favorite sweet buns, distinctively Taiwanese in style and flavor. The enduringly popular purple sweet potato variety, apart from looking just like an actual purple sweet potato, is an instagrammable favorite: tear it open to reveal the actual sweet potato filling. Be sure to grab a variety to power your adventures around the neighborhood.

fs_10▲Hot, fresh sweet potato bread on offer at Dongkyo Bakery. (Photo・Jeremy Kuahn)

Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei 

A short walk south of MRT Zhongshan Station, MoCA showcases artwork from Taiwan's contemporary artists in clever, illuminating, and sometimes provocative exhibitions. MoCA's architecture stands out from its surroundings, its red brick arches and wings hinting at its original purpose: an elementary school, built during the Japanese era, now continuing to serve the interests of the public. Step inside and immerse yourself in the creative visions of remarkable artists. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, and admission costs NT$100.

fs_11▲MoCA Taipei exhibits a wide variety of contemporary artworks. (Photo・Mike Sung)

Chifeng Street

You will definitely be charmed by the shops lining Chifeng Street. Just a minute's walk from MRT Zhongshan Station, the chic shops on this sweet little street and its connecting lanes draw patrons from across Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and beyond. 

fs_12▲Chifeng Street is a paradise for hipsters to hang out. (Photo・Mike Sung)

Known as "Iron Street," Chifeng Street used to mainly sell automotive parts and hardware in the past. However, these scrap metal parts and auto repair shops have transformed into retro photo studios, vintage clothing shops, independent bookstores, and coffee shops. The renovation of old buildings adds an artistic ambiance and infuses Chifeng Street with a blend of retro and modern vibes. From hot coffee to cool fashion, with dessert along the way, Chifeng Street is a great place to spend a whole day. 

Zhongshan After Dark

Zhongshan takes on a different allure after the sun goes down. The urban vibe turns cool and easy, and the fragrance of marvelous cuisines drift down the breezy lanes. Jump into the buzzing atmosphere and chill charms of one of Taipei's top nightlife neighborhoods, embracing the captivating allure of diverse cultures from around the world.

Party Team Bistro

Izakayas, those wonderful Japanese parallels to the "gastropub," dot the Taipei landscape as odes to the joy of Japanese food and drink. No two are the same, but Party Team Bistro stands above the crowd for its fun, funky ambiance, at once cool but not pretentious. The food is seriously good, however, in particular the yakitori boldly advertised on the facade. Sake is the drink of choice, but cold Kirin beer is always on tap. Have fun!
fs_13▲Party Team Bistro is an izakaya with a strong Japanese vibe. (Photo・Jeremy Kuahn)

Two Three Comedy Club

One of Taipei's best-kept secrets is its growing international comedy scene, and Two Three Comedy Club is its home base. An unassuming door on colorful Linsen North Road (林森北路) leads down to the underground club, where English and Chinese language stand-up comics take the stage to poke at the ordinary and absurd to audiences' delight. A cozy bar serves snacks, cocktails, and fine craft beer from Taiwan's 23 Brewing Company. English open mics are every Monday and Wednesday at 9:30pm, with ticketed performances frequently on Fridays. Check their Facebook page for details.

fs_14▲Two Three Comedy Club was the first bilingual comedy club in Taiwan, pioneering the stand-up comedy industry in the city. (Photo・Two Three Comedy)

Luckstar Banquet Hall

This 24/7 dim sum joint is an oasis of flavor and timeless style. Across from the southern boundary of Linsen Park, just head up to the 2nd floor and wait to be seated. This popular spot sees all kinds of guests, from business folk in formal attire, partygoers, drunk comedians, tired taxi drivers, and curious travelers. After a night spent soaking in the culture, vibes, and revelry of Zhongshan, nothing hits quite like some hot tea and steaming shrimp shumai. Bon appétit!

fs_15▲Luckstar Banquet Hall is open 24/7, 365, welcoming all walks of life. (Photo・Fifi Lee)

RVLT Taipei

A new branch of the wildly popular RVLT Singapore, RVLT Taipei is a blast of a wine bar. Located a short distance from central Zhongshan, it's well worth a quick Uber ride. Serving up creative and delicious takes on bar food, paired with over 150 curated bottles of the world's most delectable wines, RVLT is devoted to providing enjoyable drinking experiences, recommending drinking a bottle of wine rather than merely a glass. Customers can enjoy the exclusive wine list with friends in a relaxing space. This nightlife spot has won over both locals and international travelers alike. Don't be surprised if the whole place spontaneously breaks out in song.

fs_16▲▼RVLT Taipei offers customers a brand new experience of enjoying luxury, exotic delicacies. (Photo・RVLT  Taipei)
There is, of course, so much more for you to discover in Zhongshan. And really, that's the coolest part of all. From the quotidian street scenes and unexpected surprises that pop up from around the corners, to the people you meet along the way, and the flavors, art, and music of the city, the neighborhood is yours to explore. At once holding onto its heritage and eagerly embracing the future, Zhongshan, like Taipei itself, is a place in constant flux. The best thing to do, of course, is to enjoy it while you can.

🍷Excessive drinking is hazardous to your health.


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