Tucked away down an alley in the fruity Linsen North Road area of town is a new bar and restaurant opened by former pop singer and soap opera star Saya (張惠春). Called V.us — which means "passion" in the Puyuma tribe's (卑南族) language — the celebrity owner is now playing the role of genial hostess.
Saya was last seen on TV with a shaved head playing the role of a cancer victim in The Hospital (白色巨塔). She tearfully announced at the end of last year her singing career was over, adding that the pressure of showbiz was too much. As the younger sister of superstar A-mei (阿妹) it must have been difficult performing in the superstar's shadow.
Bar proprietor and manager is a fresh departure and you could tell Saya was doing her best to make a success of it as she bustled around last week taking orders and serving drinks. Her hair has grown back to shoulder length and the sheen of show business was clearly a draw for many of the customers, who asked for photos with her.
As for the bar, it was small, quirky and furnished with Aboriginal art, some of which was made by Saya's brother. The family is Puyuma and proud of it. But there were other decorative elements that did not work quite as well. A skull-and-crossbones flag, spiders, webs and ET-like puppets (possibly a hangover from Halloween) were thematically jarring. The floral- and space-themed toilet seats were entertaining and the bathroom was clean.
A large, flat-screen TV broadcasting baseball dominated the bar area and there were two tables with chairs, plus a larger table with cushion seating near the entrance. Candles on the tables and hip-hop music created an interesting atmosphere.
Service was good, we are happy to report. The food, however, was spicy and salty, which creates a thirst but doesn't necessarily please the palate. That said, it wasn't bad. Japanese spicy noodles were NT$170 and a tasty plate of dumplings were NT$100. In the drinks department gin and tonic was NT$200 and Taiwan beer was NT$130.
V.us is well positioned to take advantage of the locals, tourists and large number of Japanese businessman who trawl the Linsen North Road in search of wine, women and song. The bar makes business sense and currently, because of Saya's celebrity, it is popular. How long this will last, however, is another matter. Organizing piss ups in a pub is easy, but keeping the party going is the tricky part and it will be interesting to see how V.us fares in a year's time.