Two foreigners walk into a bar — and they buy it!
On the way to interview soon-to-be-former Bliss owner Barry Smit on Tuesday, I saw two men gazing at the mural painted on the wall outside the building. I blurted out, “Are you guys going to buy Bliss?” It turns out that is exactly what they were doing. During my interview with Smit, I watched them sign the papers.
News that Smit was leaving Taipei and was going to sell — or close — Bliss had been weighing heavily on many in the foreigner music scene. Smit, who used to play in a rock band in his native Holland, has spent much of his adult life involved in either the hospitality industry or the art world. When he blended the two by making Bliss into a live-music venue, he had both sensibilities in mind. And in so doing, he made Bliss one of the few music venues in the city that didn’t take a cut from admission charges.
“If I give all the money to the bands, the bands will do their best to bring the crowd,” Smit says. This strategy made Bliss, formerly called Chocolate and Love, into a place loved by musicians and fans alike. “That’s true,” Smit says, “but all truths are temporary.” Running a bar has taken a toll on him. “For the last year I’ve had no creative energy … It’s good that it has new blood, a fresh start — I was falling asleep here.”
That new blood comes in the form of Travis Bannert and Oliver Campbell. Bannert hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and has a real down-to-earth friendliness. “The first time I came to Bliss,” he says, “I was like ‘Wow! I didn’t know a bar like this existed in Taiwan.’” He told his friends, “I want to open a place just like this.” So when he saw an ad for Bliss on Facebook, he jumped at the chance.
They don’t have huge plans to change it: “We love this place, the general feel, and want to keep the core idea,” Bannert says. They’ll try some new things on weekdays, and Smit is helping them work on improving the sound. The biggest initial change will be to hire a sound engineer who will be paid for out of the cover charge from the first five people to come see the band. The rest of the cover will still go directly to the musicians.
“I sleep better at night because I know I’m leaving it in good hands,” Smit says, clapping a beaming Bannert on the shoulder.
Smit will remain in the hospitality business. He and wife bought “a huge piece of land, with a sea view, mountains in the back” in Taitung two years ago, Smit says, and they plan on making it a “place where people can escape the hectic city, get back to nature.” There is already a well for water, and they will develop the land “fully ecologically, recycle the water, grow our own plants, use alternative energy,” Smit says. Years drop off of his face as he talks about it: “Taitung is the forgotten county of Taiwan. I’ve seen on my travels in Thailand how things get going over time.”
“I see this move as the next stage in my evolution in Taiwan.”
There will be a weekend-long farewell party, starting at 8pm tonight with Pan Africana. Whacked-out cover band The Originals open the show for the “Bliss Closing-Down Party All-Star Jam,” which starts tomorrow at 10pm. Bliss is at 148, Xinyi Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市信義路四段148號). Call (02) 2702-1855 for more information or go to www.myspace.com/blisslivehouse to see a schedule of upcoming performances. For updates on Smit’s venture in Taitung visit Bliss’ Facebook page. Entrance to Bliss is free. Cover to see the music upstairs tonight is NT$200 (free Hippie Party after 1am). There is no cover charge for tomorrow’s farewell party performances.
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