How many corny chess metaphors can I fit into a single article? As famous American rapper Silentó put it: Watch me, watch me. This past week, hip-hop club Chess Taipei (RIP, 2012 – 2016) announced its closing, effective at the end of February. While rumors have it that the late-night shit-show spot of choice is moving somewhere with a lot of people and very little little elevators (and shares a name with a certain American telecom company), Chess’ closing marks a definitive end to the era of any nightlife east of the Neo19 building.
In memory, let us take a look back. The climax of nightlife excellence in the Zhongxiao ATT building was Primo in its hey-day. Opened in 2008, the club was known for being packed to the rafters every night and dripping with models, celebrities and B-list actors: ground zero of the kind of ostentatious partying and extravagance that makes current Taipei nightlife seem like a sad, pathetic caricature of what-had-been.
The thing about times – they change – and Taipei’s clubbing clientele is both small and fickle. Like most of the city’s clubs as they start to go downhill and attract less-than-ideal clientele (you are free to interpret that as you wish), Primo attempted a terrible renovation that ultimately, failed to work. During Primo’s declining years in 2012, OTS Chess Club opened as an ultra-exclusive VIP room within the club. The first version of Chess was mind-bogglingly tacky – they really took that Chess theme to heart. Oversized chess pieces, a black and white checkered floor, huge bowls of jungle juice – ah, what a time to be alive!
In early 2013, the partners behind Chess thought they could take over the entire Primo space, remodelling and changing the name it to [OTS] Phoenix. And much like a phoenix – feeling some writerly glee here at how perfect this metaphor fits – it burned extremely bright for a split second before vanishing completely. The name was changed back to Primo – and from what Facebook activity on their page shows, things pretty much ground to a halt after Chinese New Year season in 2014. Today, the space is an empty, sad, creepy-as-hell tangle of ripped-out construction innards and random wires.
Chess continued to operate in the smaller room, changing its name to Chess Taipei and debuting a sleeker interior. To better satiate Taipei’s craving for bottle service and sparkly sparklers, the space was remodelled to include six booths and a curtained off VIP area. The music was straight outta the Soundcloud playlist of a “hip-hop fan”: the newest Drake, some Tyga, the latest Future, a dash of the Weeknd right around that half-hour before close when the level of sexual tension rises in the room. Chess in the summer of 2014, which I experienced personally before moving away for a year – was pretty damn amazing: excellent crowd, not too crowded, good vibes all around.
When I moved back and began frequenting Chess again in the summer of 2015, it was blatantly obvious that Chess had become the de-facto late-night spot, which probably was one of the key factors to its continued success; being that it had no gimmicky shows, no LED lights, and was essentially just a big, black poor-ventilated hotbox with bathrooms that were always broken. The space was – and is – seriously small.Opening times shifted later and later, but even a midnight opening left three whole hours of dead time before the first wave of drunk revellers came through the door. It would be dead empty, and then suddenly, it would be too damn full. Chess is small – far and away the smallest club in Taipei. It probably fits 100 people comfortably, and 150 people very uncomfortably, which was usually the case. The hours of 3-6am were absolute insanity – like those videos you see of rush hour in Japan, where they have to use a board to shove people in. This was not so ideal, and with the opening of OMNI (formerly LUXY) enticing the fickle nightlife crowd to something new and shiny, well.
Good bye, Chess (at least in its current iteration). It was so much fun, until it wasn’t. At its best, it was a much-needed spot to finish out a big ol’ night in Taipei, and a venue that didn’t involve waiting in those horrific ATT4FUN elevator lines. It is not, contrary to popular opinion, the only hip-hop club in Taipei. But it was the only hip-hop venue worth going to. (Insider Secret: The DJs overlapped with that underage den of vice that rhymes with “NABE18”, if you’re really missing the music). Hopefully some other venue catches onto the hip-hop train and provides us with a new place to feel emotional to Drake; and hopefully any future iteration of Chess stays intimate, low-key and open really fucking late; which were the things that made it stand out in the first place. Lastly, sorry about the lack of chess game metaphors – I totally forgot until right now.
Just to get all nostalgic and shit, here’s a look back at my fond memories and juicy, salacious stories at Chess:
• Just kidding. I had a lot of fun but since I was blacked out on the regular (damn you, tequila) – I can’t really remember most of it. I need to stop doing that – ?
Where to go, now that Chess is gone? Check my updated nightlife guide here. For even more indecisive weaklings, here are some nightlife itineraries ready-made.
Photos c/o black-buddha.com