There you are sitting at a softly-lit bar as the quiet sounds of jazz and chatter can be made out in the background. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and handmade desserts fills the air, while around you sits a gramophone, red velvet furniture, intricate dishware, antique collectables, an old barber’s chair, and some of the finest bottles of scotch available. If you feel like you’re at a 1920’s speakeasy, that is exactly what the creative group of friends behind Chamber Cafe (秘氏咖啡) were going for.
On a quiet corner, down a small alley in the ShiDa area, Chamber is an intimate little cafe that distances itself from the beaten path in more ways than one. In addition to its vintage decor and early 1900s Shanghai-style lounge motif, Chamber also offers a very selective range of only the best whether it be coffee, dessert, tea, scotch, imported beers, or any of the other small services that make this cafe unique. But, of course, creating a high-quality niche cafe doesn’t just happen overnight. To see where the idea came from, we have to go back to the beginning, when Chamber was just starting as a barber shop.
Newly renovated from a rare Simplified Chinese book shop, Chamber was created years ago by professional hairdresser and design mastermind ZiYang (子洋). After studying and working for companies such as Vidal Sassoon and Aveda, Vincent felt it was time to move on to bigger and better things. A long time admirer of classic styles, he started collecting anything he could find to decorate, eventually opening “Secret Salon” (秘密髮廊), a studio with an old-time feel and a cool atmosphere, where customers could relax and take in the unique surroundings as they got one of the finest haircuts in Taipei.
Things went well as business grew and “Secret Salon”, as well as ZiYang himself, was featured in several magazines and other media, with more people coming in every day. The salon was a success, but after being in the business of hair for so long, it wasn’t enough for ZiYang.
“I had this really nice space that I wanted to share with a lot of people, but it was just me in there cutting hair. I needed a way to bring in more people and create more of a social spot.”
Just as ZiYang was starting to consider expanding, a girl named Hwahwa (華華) was in desperate need of a trim. After finding her usual salon completely booked, she decided to try something new, slipping into “Secret Salon” to get her cut. Out of pure coincidence, ZiYang and Hwahwa got to talking and one thing led to another.
Having just quit her PR job recently, Hwahwa was also looking to start her own thing with longtime friend Valerie (阿寐) who was working at one of the world’s biggest distributors of Whiskey and Scotch at the time. With the combined talent and resources, they could create a really cool setting where people could get together and have a nice dessert and a drink or two, as well as attend interesting events and perforances. However, although their concept was forming, they still needed something more to pull it all together.
That’s where ZiYang’s friend Jim (阿俊) came in. A director, filmmaker, actor and amateur barista, Jim has a lot of experience in set design and coffee making. He wanted to not only create a 1920s era talking space, but really wanted people to feel like they were in a completely different time once they stepped through the door. He also wanted to add a cafe into the mix, personally brewing each cup to perfection with the finest coffee beans around. This would mean that the cafe/lounge could run day and night, appealing to a broader audience and drawing in more customers.
Thus, Chamber was born. A 1920s Shanghai-style cafe and lounge with custom crafted design, an intimate and friendly atmosphere, and some of the best in slowly brewed coffee, homemade desserts, and fine scotch. It may be true that Chamber doesn’t have a lot of space or a huge selection, but what it does, it does very well.
Jim, with the help of Simon, a coffee master and regular at Chamber, hand pick from a wide variety of local and freshly imported coffee beans, mixing and matching to come up with a perfect brew (all the roasting is done by Simon at his coffee company here in Taiwan).
Orders are done by the cup or small pot to to ensure that each is measured precisely, ground freshly and brewed at the right temperature for the right amount of time, creating an amazing cup of coffee worth waiting for.
The desserts at Chamber are all made fresh by local bakers and include standards like chocolate cake, tiramisu, cheesecake, and other specials. Needless to say, they all taste great, especially the tiramisu! The scotch is equally impressive. Coming from various independent and big label breweries in Scotland, Chamber makes sure to stock some of the highest quality scotch on the market including all single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended scotch whiskey, with various flavors differing on sweetness, smoothness, and smokiness.
Being such a unique setting, Chamber also regularly holds events such as inviting one of the top violinists in Taipei to perform, or throwing themed costume parties with Chinese vintage formal-wear like Qipao (旗袍) and Changshan (長衫). The cafe recently even had a short film shoot where anyone wearing vintage clothing could join in the story about a corrupt mayor, a crooked development company, and assassins.
Besides being featured in numerous big-name magazines and news outlets, Chamber now enjoys visits from students, dating couples, business people, artists, celebrities, and models, and is regularly used as a backdrop for film and magazine shoots. But even as popularity grows, the group has worked tirelessly to ensure that quality stays at its highest, always making it a point to get to know their customers and search out new drinks and foods to offer.
Chamber can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Whether it be a romantic destination to take a date, a creative space for artists, a quiet getaway for busy people, or a stylish spot for celebrities, this cafe leaves a lasting impression on all of its customers. With a unique concept, high quality, and some of the coolest people ever, Chamber is a must for those looking to do something new and completely out of the ordinary in Taipei.
And yes, Ziyang’s old barber’s chair is still there waiting for new customers. Just make sure you phone in ahead of time as it’s now by appointment only.