Tucked into an unassuming street just east of the intersection of Dihua (迪化街) and Guisui (歸綏街), an area where visitors rarely venture, an inviting patio flanks the entrance of Doorway (兜味) a vintage cafe with surprises in every nook and cranny. Though the cafe only opened in September 2013, its quirky decor of mismatched antique chairs, bookshelves, and toys give it the appearance of having been part of Dadaocheng for many decades. This is no coincidence, as the owners have strived from the shop's beginning to infuse it with a vintage feel, from its decor to its glassware to the music playing over the loudspeakers.
Owners 小蛋 (Xiao Dan) and 酷妹 (Ku Mei) -- literally, Little Egg and Cool Sister -- chose Dadaocheng for their cafe in large part because they love old things. More importantly, as Xiao Dan says, Dadaocheng isn't just a tourist spot but a historic neighborhood where people actually live and do business, where shops that were open decades ago are still open today. Doorway's goal is to blend in to all of that, and the cafe does a pretty good job, fooling many visitors to the cafe.
Although it is housed in a building only a few years old, Doorway features the classic wood and glass entryway common throughout Dadaocheng. This is because when the original building was torn down and reconstructed, local regulations required the building owners to preserve the original architecture. Such is the case for many buildings throughout the historic district, and as you travel along Dihua Street (迪化街), it's often hard to tell which buildings are new and which are the original structures.
(By the way, the cafe's name doesn't come from the building's doorway, but from a complicated play on words in three languages. The English name "Doorway" sounds like the Mandarin pronunciation of 兜味 (dou wei). To take it a step further, this Chinese name sounds like the Taiwanese pronunciation of 哪裡 ("Where?"), which was what the owners of Doorway called the mobile cafe they operated while looking for a permanent space!)
The owners searched high and low for a suitable Dadaocheng location for their cafe, but when then they finally found the An Xi space, with its afternoon sunlight and a shabby house across the lane, they knew right away that it was the perfect spot. They then spent two months preparing the space, gathering antiques from all over Taiwan -- from Taitung to Tainan to Chiayi -- and making the space comfortable and inviting.
Owners Xiao Dan and Ku Mei also contribute to this welcoming environment, which explains the many loyal regulars who while away the hours at Doorway, chatting with the owners while also browsing books or working at their laptops. Of course, it helps that there is wifi, and unlike in many cafes in Taipei, the owners don't restrict the use of power outlets. In fact, every table and every seat at the small bar has access to electricity, so there's really no reason to leave until closing time.
While most of the things on the shelves at Doorway are the owners' personal collection and not for sale, you'll find a handful of handcrafted items made by local artists, as well as a book or two about the Dadaocheng area.
Most customers can't avoid the temptation of standing at the shelves to inspect each of the photos the owners have collected over their first year of business. Many of these photos feature a certain famous cat…
李谷拉 ("Good Luck Lee") is said famous cat, who you'll find on duty most days. Before opening Doorway, Xiao Dan worked as a photographer, primarily photographing animals. She frequently helped rescue organizations photograph animals for adoption, which is how she came across Good Luck.
Superstition in Taiwan is that animals with white paws are in fact unlucky, but Xiao Dan thought this was indeed a lucky cat, which is how he got his name. Now, Good Luck is so well-loved by customers that hundreds have already liked the feline's Facebook fan page, and on any afternoon when he is "on the clock," you'll see him surrounded by admirers with smartphones and DSLRs.
But Good Luck is not the only furry friend welcome at Doorway. In the past, when Xiao Dan and Ku Mei would have trouble finding suitable places to take their dog (貝拉, or "Bella"), they'd swear once they had a place of their own, they wouldn't turn pets away. At Doorway, they've kept their promise, and although they don't consider their space a pet cafe, they do their best to make pet owners feel welcome. Aside from the cafe's animal-themed artwork and certain necessary tools of pet ownership (as pictured), they also offer cat and dog food on the menu.
The menu isn't just for canines and felines, of course. Xiao Dan says that she and Ku Mei spent many weeks experimenting in the kitchen and taste testing recipes before finalizing their (human) menu just days before opening. The results are an eclectic mix of both the traditional and the modern.
In keeping with the cafe's vintage style, the woodblock menus contain many items that are nostalgic for both owners. There are homecooked dishes like 媽媽咖哩飯 ("Mama's Curry Rice"), from Xiao Dan's mother's recipe, and Ku Mei's father's 阿爸牛腩飯 ("Dad's Brisket Rice"), and simple sugar cookies baked fresh when you order them.
Doorway's menu also features such vaguely named items as 太陽出來了 ("The Sun Came Out") and 菇菇與法國佬 ("Aunty Mushroom & a French Companion"). Xiao Dan explains that they decided to use such names in order to encourage customers to ask questions and interact more.
Many of the drinks on Doorway's menu incorporate ingredients found in shops throughout Dadaocheng. Among these are unique summer drinks like 哈妮露露 ("Honey Lulu") and 哈妮涼涼 ("Honey Liangliang"). The former is a classic Taiwanese beverage that combines honey with the earthy flavor of goji bark and goji berries, while the latter has a strong peppermint flavor.
Given Dadaocheng's role during the Japanese Era, it's somewhat fitting that Doorway's bar selection is primarily Japanese imports like Hitachino Nest Beer, made by a sake brewery that has been operating for more than 180 years. The blue-tinged Okhotsk Blue Draft (流冰DRAFT) is also a popular new addition for the summer. Believe it or not, this seaweed-tinted beer is brewed with water from melted icebergs that drift toward Hokkaido, hence the 流冰 (iceberg) in the name.
On the weekends, you're in for a treat: freshly churned ice cream with unique flavors like caramel popcorn or watermelon red bean. Ku Mei is a fan of surfing, and a friend from the surfing scene, 可樂 (Cola), has been working to open an ice cream shop in Dadaocheng this year. Until the shop opens, you'll be able to find her at her mixer in front of Doorway most Saturdays and Sundays. The ice cream rivals anything you'd find at an ice cream chain, and for a much better price and atmosphere.
Alas, people passing by on a quiet day when Cola isn't making ice cream out front might just pass the place by altogether. Xiao Dan and Ku Mei decided when they opened that they wouldn't mention on their sign exactly what kind of place Doorway is, forcing those walking by to peek in the windows or come in and ask. Just as with the choice of location, family and neighbors question the wisdom of this signage, saying that no one will know the place is even there. But for Ku Mei and Xiao Dan, that's kind of the point. They like their quiet, understated spot in the midst of bustling Dadaocheng, and those who do find their way to Doorway are simply those worthy enough to discover this hidden treasure.
Doorway is located at An Xi Street, #36. You can like them on Facebook here.