A Little Bit of Sunshine & Warmth: Solo Singer Inn
Solo Singer Inn, started by a group of back-packers and artists, seems like a nest lovingly built up twig by twig. Located in an alleyway so narrow that only a scooter would be able to pass through, the inn is surrounded by neighbourly residents who are used to seeing travellers coming in and out. “Just today, our neighbours brought over some meat buns that they made, so we had a delicious lunch,” says innkeeper Anny Huang. There is a sense of camaraderie within the neighbourhood, which is reminiscent of the olden days.
The founders are in their twenties, and love travelling and sharing the local culture with travellers from other parts of the world. While looking for a location to operate an inn, they discovered this former inn from Beitou, which used to be a thriving entertainment district, with travelling singers who performed from one drinking house to another. “Back then, aside from musicians, guests would also ask for ladies, which led to the phenomenon of motorcycle big brothers who ferried these ladies from beauty parlours to their appointments,” says Huang.
Each item in the lobby, from the dim mirror on the wall, to the dowry chest used as a coffee table, and from the calendar made up of gold numbers, to the switchboard operator for telephone lines, has a story to tell. “The crystal lamp on the wall was taken from one of our founders’ grandpa’s house,” says Huang. “In those days, people took into consideration even the play of light and shadow against the wall when they made a lamp.” Each room is curated by a different founding member, who may be a photographer, author, theatre practitioner, or choreographer. In one room, a stage designer formed veins on the walls so that guests would like as though they were waking up in nature; in another room, a female writer chose tatami for the flooring and filled the bookcase with books written from a woman’s perspective. Once, a theatre troop selected Solo Singer Inn as the performance venue for a play. From the entrance to the third floor, the inn became the setting and stage for the performance. At any one time, only an audience of eight could be accommodated.
My favourite room is probably the one in the attic. The wooden roof, which was originally sealed up behind cement, has now been left as it is, giving the space a cosy, intimate touch. A fragrance, perhaps from the tatami straw mats, lingers in the air. “A film crew once used this space for a scene,” says Huang. Next door is a reading room, which was converted from a small balcony which used to house the family ancestral worship altar (the former inn was a family-run business). Within each room, a postcard is provided for you to write a message. Just drop it into the post box, and it will be sent for you, free of charge, to any destination in the world.
Just like the main building itself, Café Solo Singer Life
is a quaint little space which makes you want to linger longer. “Here in Beitou, locals eat a pork noodle soup for breakfast,” says Kate Lai, fellow innkeeper. During check-in, you’ll be asked what time you’d like your breakfast at. This is because the noodles are delivered by scooter each morning from a famous stall in Beitou market, and are best enjoyed while still hot. The wrap, with bean sprouts, pressed beancurd, cilantro, napa cabbage, Chinese sausage, groundnuts, and preserved radish, is also a common sight for a local breakfast. To go with oolong tea, earl grey tea, milk tea, or iced coffee, try a green tea plum pound cake with fresh cream, banana walnut pound cake, or toast with butter and caramel.
The innkeepers’ love for the inn is palpable – from their care in picking up each piece luggage and carrying them up the wooden stairs (to ensure the old wood does not get damaged by the wheels), to choosing to mend an old, broken tile instead of replacing it with a new one; from the selection of books in each room (compilations of the personal favourites of the curator of each room), to the finely carved door handles brought back from Italy by one of the founding members. “In the past, people continued using their belongings till they could no longer be used,” says Huang. “We wanted to let this spirit go on.” I believe it is their love for their belongings which makes the entire house feel beloved, and like a soft, warm hug for its occupants. If I sound too abstract, come and experience it for yourself on your next trip to Taiwan!
Solo Singer Inn
No. 7, Lane 21, Wenquan Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan 112
Tel: (886) 2 2891 8312
Adapted from the May Jun 18 issue
of Cuisine & Wine Asia.