Taipei’s 101 skyscraper, formerly the tallest building in the world, sparkles in the setting sun. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Several months ago, a United Airlines agent gave me some trouble checking in because she thought that Taipei was in the Middle East.  It’s a shame that many Americans have no idea what contemporary Taiwan is like, or even what region of the world it’s located in.  For gay men especially, Taiwan should be a priority destination.  When I asked my retired French professor at the National Taiwan University why he moved to Taipei, he told me that in the 1970s he moved here because “Taipei was more gay friendly than Paris.”  Taiwan is at the forefront of the LGBT movement in Asia.  The island hosted our first gay pride parade and officially recognized the first LGBT organization in east-Asia.  Just recently a Buddhist monastery sanctioned the island’s first same-sex wedding.

Contemporary Taipei has more to offer than it’s typical tourist attractions of night markets, Buddhist temples, and hot-springs.  A local scene of luxury is emerging, as yet undiscovered by the average traveler.

Cute little cafés have popped up all over the city, though you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking.  Most of the newer hotspots are tucked away in side allies and reserved for those in- the-know.  Hidden between the Guting and Technology Building MRT Stations, for example, you can jolt your taste buds and nerves with a cocktail of Ethiopian coffee and Japanese plum wine at Caffe Libero.

Not surprisingly, two of the trendiest cafes in the city are owned by bosses who play for our team.  Homey’s -tucked away on the second floor in the alley, of an alley, of an alley- blasts you with a constant air conditioning and beautiful people.  Perch, hidden within a row of street food stands, is filled with books and cute nerds who like to read the newspaper in the morning with a side of fruity tea.

Nightlife has also increasingly focused on comfort and quality as a priority.  Taipei is no longer dominated by sticky karaoke bars that haul out tailgate kegs of cheap local beers.  Today, gay men congregate in their designer labels at lounge bars, sipping on mojitos and scotch.

One of my favorite new bars is @1.  There’s something magical about it that I haven’t quite found in any of the other major cities I’ve lived in, even counting Paris, London, and New York.  Maybe it’s the skinny long walkway that requires you to brush past anyone and everyone at the bar before you find a seat. Perhaps it’s the owner Andy’s notoriously artistic bartending, or just maybe it’s the friendliness of the regulars.  There’s something about @1 that makes you feel like you’re being personally invited in.  Somehow, I’d feel comfortable here hitting on that attractive guy I’ve been eyeing, just hanging out with an old friend, or even bringing my family with me.  @1 is sexy, without being sexual.

Another popular new lounge bar is La Boca.  Kai Ko, the TV-idol who won the award for Best New Actor at the 48th Golden Horse Awards, was spotted here recently.  La Boca is also famous for hiring hot bartenders.  Even the bouncer outside is quite cute.

So what are you waiting for?  Pack your bags and bring your boyfriend (or come meet a cute Taiwanese boy here)!  You’ll want someone’s hand to hold as you scuba dive through colorful reefs and ride a hot-air balloon through tropical mountains.  There are good reasons why 16th-century Portuguese called this island Ilha Formosa, Beautiful Island, and even more reasons why I keep coming back.

If You Go:

Homey’s  – 2F., No.36, Lane 236, Sec.1, Dunhua S Rd.

Perch  – No. 20, Lane 30, Section 4, Xinyi Rd.

Caffe Libero  -No. 1, Ln. 243, Jinhua St.

@1  -No. 7, Tongan St.

La Boca  -No. 56, Lane 346, Guangfu South Rd.

Allister lives part-time in Taipei where he seeks to share his insights on every café on his blog . He’s been on a mission to expand gay travel throughout Taiwan and east-Asia ever since he was thrown in to the deep end of the pool of the gay travel industry when he received IGLTA’s 2012 Student Tourism Award.