In the basement of KMall in the decidedly not rockin' district around Taipei Main station, Velvet Underground's faux-industrial reception area is filled with loud music and a floor-to-ceiling print of the famously disturbing cover of King Crimson's album In the Court of Crimson. One wall of the room is open to a low-budget arcade named Cartoony World.
"This one time a little girl saw our King Crimson poster and just starting crying. It was really awkward," said the restaurant's day manager, a slender, clean-cut drummer in his late thirties who instructs me to refer to him as King Kong.
I submit that Velvet Underground, despite its poor track record with small children, is Taipei's most philanthropic combination live-rock club and rock-and-roll-themed Tai-Mex restaurant.
Its civic mindedness finds expression in its hosting of live music -- any live music -- every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, beginning at 9pm. The stage comes equipped with everything a garage band could need, and the bands get 60 percent of the cover. (If you've ever wanted to hear jazz played on an erhu, stop by tomorrow night around 10pm.)
That food is an unabashed upscale Taiwanese reengineering of American-style Mexican food. "Asians don't like the spices," says Kong. "I've been to the US and had authentic Mexican food, but I couldn't get used to it."
Perhaps because the blend is so deliberate, the result is not incongruous. If you don't go into it expecting authenticity, you may even find it rewarding, although Kong admits that "some of our customers give us a hard time."
At Kong's recommendation, I tried the tostada and the fried mushrooms, which came in portions that were a bit small for the price. But they both blended -- successfully, I think -- Taiwanese flavors with unmistakably Mexican or American-Mexican forms and techniques.
True to its namesake, Velvet Underground, both as a restaurant and as a rock club, is cooler than it is popular. "We haven't really promoted it much," Kong said with an unconcerned expression.