Main Stage of the Guobin Cabaret

Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓

Guóbīn Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓 is an ugly ruin in the heart of Zhongli, a city of around half a million people in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Built at the dawn of the booming 1980s, it was home to a variety of entertainment businesses over the years, and appears to have been mostly abandoned sometime around the turn of the millennium. Much to my surprise I’ve not found much about this place online, which suggests whatever newsworthy calamities befell this derelict commercial building predate the era of digital journalism. Without any sources to draw upon I can only make some educated guesses about what I captured during a brief visit in the early days of 2017.

The Derelict Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓
The derelict Guobin Commercial Building in the heart of Zhongli’s old entertainment district.
Entrance to Shuizhonghua Jiudian 水中花酒店
Ground floor entrance to the hostess bar on 2F.
Breaking Down the Lounge Door
Breaking down the lounge door.
VIP Room 110
One of a dozen private rooms in the gentleman’s club on the second floor.
Pirated Bunny
Strange, but I think I’ve seen that bunny somewhere before…
Remains of a Jiudian
This floor is in better shape than the others, which isn’t saying much.
Inside an Abandoned Jiudian in Zhongli
A small stage in the main room of a gentleman’s club in Zhongli.

As with many ruined entertainment complexes in Taiwan this one isn’t completely abandoned—you’ll still find a run-of-the-mill betel nut stand out front, for example—but most of the rest of the building is a dangerous, crumbling ruin. The second floor is occupied by the remains of Shuǐzhōnghuā Jiǔdiàn 水中花酒店, a hostess bar and karaoke club named after a famous song by Cantopop legend Alan Tam 譚詠麟. A jiudian is a place where men drink and cavort with women but they’re not exactly brothels and sex isn’t necessarily on the menu (despite what the blatant appropriation of the Playboy bunny logo might suggest1). Such disreputable establishments are commonplace in Taiwan and dozens more can still be found in this part of Zhongli.

Charred Remains in the Guobin Commercial Building
The charred remains of whatever was on the third floor.
Scorched Bar in the Guobin Commercial Building
This could have been a bar, nightclub, restaurant, or something else.
Fire Damage in the Guobin Commercial Building
Fire damage on the third floor. Making art from the charred remains.

The fire that swept through the third floor cleansed it of anything that would reliably identify what it had been. The charred remains could be those of a bar, restaurant, nightclub, arcade, or something else entirely. Business records suggest this was a dessert shop for much of the 1990s but it’s hard to say if it was still in business when the blaze broke out.

Stairwell Sign for Guobin Theater 國賓大戲院
First sign of the theater, located in one of the stairwells.
Entrance to the Second Cinema at Guobin Theater
The entrance to the second cinema in the Guobin Commercial Building.
Second Cinema at Guobin Theater 國賓大戲院
Does this look like it was purpose-built for cinema?
Behind the Screen at the Second Cinema in Guobin Theater
Everything about this cinema seems to have been slapped together.
Discarded Film Decaying in the Guobin Commercial Building
There’s no shortage of cinematic trash laying around.
Cinematic Stairway Loop
Film loop leading the way to the fifth floor.

The fourth floor is home to the smaller of two cinemas found within the building, part of the eponymous Guobin Theater 國賓大戲院. Business records suggest the theater occupied both 4F and 5F since 1980 but I have my doubts about this. The lower theater is unusually cramped—just look at those concrete beams running along the ceiling. It also looks like the screen would have been illuminated from behind, an unusual setup for old theaters in Taiwan. Finally, the crude printed sign welcoming customers on the fourth floor contrasts with the proper sign on the fifth. I would speculate that the theater on the fifth annexed the fourth floor at some point in the 1990s.

Forgotten Entrance to Guobin Theater 國賓大戲院
A more official sign for the Guobin Theater.
Main Screen at Guobin Theater 國賓大戲院
Now this has the look of a hall built to house a theater! The red curtains still feature advertising for an old brand of soda pop.
Abandoned Film Spools
Discarded film spools.
Discardard Nineties Films
Old movie adverts from the 90s.
Film Roll at Guobin Theater
A decaying roll of film in the projection room.
Shrine to a Missing God
Shrine to a missing god.
Inside the Main Projector Room at Guobin Theater
Staggered holes inside the projection room. No sign of the original equipment remains.

It is clear from the layout and design of the fifth floor that it was purpose-built to be a movie theater. Here you will find a projection room—but no projectors, for the building is far too exposed to have retained anything of value—as well as a big silver screen. The screen is framed by red velvet curtains advertising a defunct brand of soft drinks2. Globalization has taken quite a toll on Taiwan’s beverage market and many classic brands, Warinta 華年達 among them, went out of business long ago.

Upstairs to the Guobin Cabaret
This way to the Guobin Cabaret!
Heaps of Junk on the Sixth Floor
The lobby of the sixth floor is an absolute disaster.
Vintage Phone at Guobin Cabaret
Vintage telephone in the cabaret.
Melting Television
Melting television.
Guobin Cabaret VIP Card
VIP card for special customers!
Guobin Cabaret Cinderella
Cinderella’s lost slipper?

The sixth and final floor of the building was a regular venue for niúròuchǎng 牛肉場3 (literally “beef fair”), a common form of bawdy entertainment combining song and dance with striptease, essentially a kind of Taiwanese burlesque4. Originally known as the Guobin Cabaret 國賓大歌廳5, this particular establishment was part of a wider circuit of clubs operating in the shadows of the martial law era. It isn’t at all unusual for sleazy karaoke bars and other adult-oriented businesses to colonize old entertainment complexes in their twilight years—but in a remarkable twist this venue was in continuous operation throughout the building’s history!

Main Stage of the Guobin Cabaret
Main stage at the Guobin Cabaret. Light seeps in from a hole in the rooftop through which women might have descended to the stage.
Guobin Cabaret Sunbeam
An angled view of the fire-damaged main stage at the Guobin Cabaret.
Machinery Beneath the Cabaret Stage
The contraption beneath the stage.
No Spitting Betel Nut Juice
A scorched wall and the remains of a sign imploring guests not to spit betel nut juice on the floor.

The sixth floor is in bad shape after a fire, quite likely the same blaze that struck the third. It is difficult to discern whether the cabaret was already out of business but it is not uncommon for fires to break out in abandoned buildings in Taiwan. The interior of this building is in very rough shape and there are holes in the floor in several locations. Be sure to take appropriate precautions should you wish to explore this ruin—although I should note that as of 2019 the entire building has been sealed and there is no obvious means of entry.

Final Exit From Guobin Commercial Building
Time to leave.
Empty Arcade Machine
An empty arcade machine near the exit.
Stairway of Doom at Guobin Commercial Building
Peering down the broken stairway into the gloom.
Decrepit Sign Outside Guobin Commercial Building
A closer look at the decrepit sign still hanging out front.
Last Glance at the Guobin Commercial Building
One last glance at the Guobin Commercial Building in Zhongli.

One additional mystery presents itself after a close inspection of the exterior of the building. Here we can discern the remains of a sign for Lánjíyǎ 蘭吉雅, the Chinese transliteration of the Lancia brand of automobiles. Was the ground floor once a car dealership, was this merely an advertisement, or might it have been something else? Sometimes these posts have a way of jostling loose additional information so I’ll be sure to update this post if I learn anything new.

Update: as of 2020 this building has been demolished. Nothing remains.

  1. There is at least one article out there explaining what jiudian culture in Taiwan is all about—but you’re on your own here. I won’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of what you find. 
  2. Such advertisements were not uncommon in the 1970s and 1980s. If you’re curious to see another example have a look at this theater in Puli
  3. Apparently the euphemistic name is derived from the more direct descriptions of the show: yǒuròu 有肉 or ròuròu 肉肉, which simply refers to exposed flesh. Anyone literate in Chinese might get something more out of this than I did. 
  4. Niurouchang is part of a continuum of risqué practices including electric flower cars (電子花車), funeral strippers (葬禮脫衣舞), and cross-dressing shows (反串秀). 
  5. The business changed hands several times over two decades, undergoing a name change in the process. In the late 1980s it was known as Guóxīn Cabaret 國新大歌廳 (as seen in this vintage poster from 1989) and, still later, Dōngfāng Cabaret 東方大歌廳, but I suspect it reverted to its original name at least once. The English translations here are my own. 

1 Comment

Write a Comment

Markdown and basic HTML are both allowed in the comments.
Your email address will not be published; required fields are marked