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Taipei's Yuppy Bookstore: Retro Speakeasy Club Serves Jazz

Taipei's Yuppy Bookstore: Retro Speakeasy Club Serves Jazz

Courtesy Doug Hall


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In any city in Taiwan, small commercial spaces are the norm, from coffee shops to cafés or neighborhood restaurants—and live music venues are no different. Yet these tiny operations still manage to offer an amazing variety of selection.

In a surrounding district of the capital city of Taiwan, The Yuppy Bookstore fits this mold. Situated on the 3rd floor of a multi-purpose commercial building, this speakeasy-style, physical niche serves a dedicated audience of jazz listeners both local and ex-patriot alike. The venue's name reflects its origins as a hip bookstore established decades ago.

Now trendy (and without books) and catering to a youthful public, The Yuppy Bookstore has been transformed into a restaurant, literature lecture salon and music venue. In the evening, expert lectures are held 2-3 times a week. The topics cover history, culture, art, architecture, music, film, and travel. But there is also a very regular and dedicated schedule of jazz performances. So, for the jazz enthusiast you can find abundant bookings for local and regional talent, along with a house band.

A sampling of this December (2022) and January (2023) month's calendar includes a Christmas jazz concert by a regular ex-patriot quartet, a resident jazz jam band with tribute sets for Hank Mobley, Horace Silver and Gershwin favorites, a Benny Goodman-era mini—Big Band and an established Los Angeles jazz pianist, Bobby West (who has been performing in Asia for over 30 years) digging into a set of Nat King Cole songs.

The stage is small but sufficient for up to a quartet and well located, accommodating a layout of tables for private twosomes or up to a party of six. All seating is spread within close range of the musical performance (with two projection screens included on either side of the stage) and the sound is balanced and acoustically warm.

The ambiance creates a low-lit nightclub vibe, with a somewhat narrow floor space offset by a cozy surrounding of intimate tables and a high ceiling that creates more breathing room. There is an un-mistakably Prohibition-era feel of private club chic with 1930's memorabilia scattered around and period décor. The entrance lobby is a bright contrast, with a brilliant Asian dragon-red coloring from carpet to walls, to ceiling, with book nooks flanking the descending movie theater-like staircase. You are escorted individually through a door and passageway, as you step inside this darkly lit 1930's speakeasy and are seated at your table. Looking around, except for the mostly Asian clientele, you might expect profiles of Bogart, Bacall, Greenstreet or Lorre to haunt you, with the piano man striking-up "As Time Goes By."

Ms. Adrian Lee, the manager and co-founder of The Yuppy Bookstore jazz program, shared some thoughts on the jazz audience in Taiwan, "the average listener in Taiwan likes jazz but doesn't necessarily have any in-depth knowledge of it. Yuppy's offers many acts playing jazz standards. But we also book musicians who perform original music and have found more listeners are open to the creative side of jazz, discovering new music—not just standards." Lee also shared future programming ideas, "We started a new program, Jazz Afternoon Tea, inviting knowledgeable musician speakers to perform and present in a workshop atmosphere. This helps listeners better understand jazz, and more importantly, attracts younger listeners to the music. We're also inviting international musicians to play at Yuppys with junior musicians in Taiwan—getting them on the stage together."

Clearly, even small clubs like The Yuppy Bookstore can create dynamic programming and satisfy a local and ex-pat audience. In Asia, small spaces can still deliver selection, and in the music nightclub scene, The Yuppy Bookstore is doing just that.

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