Seoul gleams with glass towers and brims with centuries-old architecture, but beyond the intense lights, it has a hidden intimate side, should you know where to look. Miles of winding back streets can lead you to a tucked-away cafe, a delicious recent restaurant or a complete enclave ripe for exploring. All you may have to do is take step one.
Locals flock to 2 under-the-radar neighborhoods specifically for his or her insider cachet: the downtown industrial hub Euljiro, which is dotted with back-alley bars and eateries, and Sinheung Market, an old street mall that’s getting a well-deserved makeover. (Each enclaves are inside just a few miles of the location of last Halloween’s tragic crowd crush in Itaewon, but neither typically draws the big numbers of revelers for which Itaewon has been known.)
In these two areas, getting off the important roads to explore will reward visitors with cocktail bars, restaurants and other nightspots whose outsize personalities defy their cozy confines.
Tread carelessly in Euljiro, an area just off the business district in central Seoul, and also you’re certain to walk right into one in every of dozens of grizzled, stubble-faced motorcyclists transporting stacks of fresh newsprint or machine cogs through these narrow streets still full of print and manufacturing businesses.
But turn down the fitting alley and push the fitting door and you could possibly discover a candlelit wine lounge with a veranda perfect for stargazing. That magic has earned this enclave the nickname Hipjiro, where tucked-away watering holes and casually chic eateries entice native Koreans and foreigners in equal measure.
The trickier it’s to locate a destination, the more stylish you possibly can bet it’s. But irrespective of where you go, the dress code is frequently low-key — probably the greatest parts of lounge life in Seoul.
The realm is changing quickly as redevelopment projects goal older buildings, so get there fast. Listed here are three Euljiro spots price peeking around the fitting corner to seek out.
Vinyl vibes and disco shine
Marked by only a brief sandwich board out front with a red beacon behind it, the music-forward lounge the Edge is straightforward to walk past, but it surely’s well definitely worth the careful climb up steep metal stairs paying homage to a Latest York City fire escape. The Edge is an element vinyl shop, part bar — all laid-back — serving coffee by day and beer and cocktails by night, often with a D.J. keeping the beat. The vibe is sedate and fewer see-and-be-seen than it’s watch-and-chill-with-friends. Sit among the many boxes of records within the back or on the bar to stare upon the disco ball. Soak in its glow as you nibble on a plate of meat and cheese or sip a cold-brew-coffee-accented Negroni or a Scotch ale. To satisfy larger appetites, the owner, Antoine Le Toumelin, debuted a restaurant last fall with a similarly chill vibe, also called the Edge, two floors down. Check the lounge’s Instagram to see the approaching weekend’s slate of D.J.s (Samjin Constructing, 8 Eulji-ro, 12-gil, third floor).
Straight-up Madison Avenue
A barely lit wood door adorned with only a conventional carved-window design is all that indicates something might exist at Bar SookHee. Opening it reveals a staircase that appears to steer you onto the set of “Mad Men,” complete with a bar that extends the length of the room, fronted by chunky leather armchairs and backed by dapper drink masters in ties. Whiskey is the specialty here, as evidenced by the bottles sharing wall space with art by the owner Lee Soo-won’s mother, and a brief list of drinks, featuring seasonal fruits, is out there on a printed scroll.
A second location, in nearby Myeong-dong, is tantalizingly harder to seek out, hidden on a seemingly vacant floor above a Starbucks. Each branches serve tempting entrees and snacks. Don Draper could be proud — and possibly capable of visit soon: Mr. Lee has his sights set on opening an outpost in Latest York City. For now, benefit from the Euljiro branch while you possibly can. It’s relocating to a yet undetermined location in March (Eulji-ro: 23 Samil-daero, 12-gil, second floor; Myeong-dong: 7-9 Myeong-dong, 10-gil, fourth floor).
Enter through the garments shop
Finding the racy restaurant-wine bar behind the Ajobyajo Fink Label clothing boutique should allow you to forget, if not forgive, the nightspot’s unprintable name. Pass racks of streetwear and ascend the steps: A picture of a biker wearing no bottoms signals you’re at the fitting place. A sleek, low-lit room awaits beyond the door, with giant aquariums below the bar drawing your eye and hinting on the seafood-heavy menu, which incorporates entrees like udon with uni and salmon, mixed seafood tartare, and raw oysters in grape granita. (The owner Hwang In-seop’s kitchen retooled the menu in December, also adding sashimi and steak to the combo.) The lounge also offers a hefty list of natural wines. With city vistas, flickering candles and statues set into the wall, the rooftop dining area is even sexier than the indoor space, even without the floor-to-ceiling photo of bare glutes marking the doorway (42-21 Supyo-ro, fourth floor).
Deep throughout the Yongsan District, within the enclave of Haebangchon (often shortened to HBC), the decades-old Sinheung Market is getting a refresh. The gathering of mom-and-pop storefronts along winding alleyways is newly repaved, with a cover of neon lights suspended above it, summoning curious drinkers and adventuresome diners. Still, bringing friends here feels almost like a betrayal — it’s so cozy and charming you must keep it a secret. However the word is getting out: Lines and wait times are getting longer at the world’s cafes, roasteries, wine bars and cocktail lounges. Pop in on a weeknight for more elbow room.
Listed here are three tantalizing spots to find around Sinheung Market.
Thai spice and skyline views
Blink and also you’ll miss the narrow door resulting in Pad Kapaw, a restaurant that seats not more than 10 to fifteen diners. The chef-owner, Sriprateep Paw, hails from a Thai family of restaurateurs, and he prides himself on serving authentic meals as a substitute of the Korean-Thai fusion that’s more commonly present in this city. For those who can snag a table, expect impeccable takes on classics like pad krapow, tom yum soup and pad kee mao, all perfect with a bottle of Singha beer (97-6 Sinheung-ro, second floor).
Ginn-Laoo, a sister restaurant and a more casual Thai bistro, opened in August across the alleyway from Pad Kapaw. Here, simpler specialties from the Isan region of northeastern Thailand, like a palate-singeing papaya salad and a sweet-zesty beef noodle soup, are on offer. Don’t run off if the restaurant looks full (and tiny) at first glance: A tough-to-spot back patio offers a shocking view of the Seoul skyline — and neighboring Pad Kapaw (99 Sinheung-ro, first floor).
Classic cocktails with a fluffy friend
If each of Mr. Paw’s Thai restaurants are packed, join the waiting list then head to Gil Bar Dak, a darling drinking spot that even has its own mascot dog, often seen poking its head out the window. The bar’s proprietor, Kim Woo-sin, recently doubled the space of what had been an intimate one-unit storefront, installing an expansive counter for more room to enjoy a number of the city’s most affordable classic cocktails, including a Luxardo-cherry-adorned old-fashioned and a mojito with the best mint-lime balance. Stools perched outside sliding windows offer airy seating with a taste of the market atmosphere. Pro tip: You possibly can usher in your individual food and even get restaurant delivery at your table. Just keep an eye fixed out for the fluffy gray Bedlington terrier who loves to smell out human food (26-18 Sinheung-ro, 20-gil, first floor).
Moss on the table, peat within the glass
One among the market’s newer outposts is Bar Harding, a handsome, signage-free whisky bar. Pull back the luxe velvet drapes and discover a one-room spirits library with bottles on backlit hardwood shelves and only eight seats around a raw-edged wood table with moss in the middle. Whiskies like a spicy Highland Park and a peat-forward Laphroaig are available in shots, 90-milliliter bottles and full bottles. For a spot with such a minuscule kitchen (behind one more velvet curtain), Bar Harding seems surprisingly wonderful food, cooked and served by the owner Ko Tae-won (he also owns Third Culture Club, the vigorous wine bar across the corner). A bundle of sesame-seed-sprinkled cold spinach in soy sauce cooled the fireplace of our chosen whisky, which itself cut through the oil in a crisp fried mung bean pancake. Gather your mates and take over this place for an immersive experience. (Reservations are really useful, but walk-ins are welcome on slower nights.) When you’re past those curtains, the sounds of the road market fade away and, as with so lots of these hidden treasures, you get a way that your explorations have led you, a minimum of for a night, to your individual private Seoul (95-15 Sinheung-ro, first floor).