From the elite to the cheap
With straw grass peeking out from potted boxes that sit on the sidelines and red wine being poured gracefully into tall glasses, if there’s ever a time for the words “upscale” and “countryside” to be together, it’s here. You’d almost forget that you’re right in the heart of the city, actually on Namsan, except for the spectacular view of downtown right at your feet—it almost looks like an advertisement straight out of a European travel agency magazine. Unlike many fancy Italian restaurants that are experimenting with sauces, Harvest Namsan’s menu consists of simple dishes such as aglio olio, carbonara and mare pomodoro that they’ve done well. Although brunch food is rumored to be equally good, opt for a reservation at the sunset just for the view.
What’s better than a well-tailored suit? Having that suit personally tailored for you at a beautiful three-story building where you’re also served wine and tapas on a rooftop overlooking the city. Located right above the store Tailorable for Women, is this tapas and wine lounge called T-Bar. Originally, the second floor garden and bar and the third floor rooftop were just spaces used by employees during their leisure time until they slowly started inviting customers as well and officially opened T-Bar this past March. Walking up the stairs to the lounge, one can’t help but marvel at the beautiful Turkish ceramic wall tiles and the vintage furniture that adorn the different floors. From the lounge, one can order a variety of dishes ranging from tapas to oysters and shrimp. While breezy during the summer, the lounge is making an effort to insulate the space as much as possible for the upcoming winter months. As you sink into a luxurious oversized sofa that faces the Seoul skyline you can nurse (or throwback) one of their simple cocktails or a bottle of wine. It truly is an experience of well-tailored comfort.
Think James Bond taking a summer night off his 007 duties. Located on the 21st floor of the Mercure Ambassador Hotel, this is Seoul bringing what you thought was only possible in Singapore or Hong Kong. Step off the elevator and into the entrance of a small greenhouse-like structure where young professionals are having dinner and a cocktail if it’s just past six. To your left, there’s a open terrace with breathtaking views of Gangnam. Take a table close to the ledge while a World Class 2014 Finalist bartender serves you a red rum and Campari “Blood Diamond” from their signature drink menu. Wow a date with a weeknight sunset, book in advance for a private party or come socialize on a Thursday or Friday. It’s swanky, it’s breezy—it’s Kloud, Rooftop Kloud.
Find out that Southside Parlor's got a rooftop bar is like discovering your cute next door neighbor plays the guitar too. This fourth floor American-style bar is full of boyish charms and classic cocktails. However, head up one floor higher and you'll discover a candlelit rooftop with a straight shot view of Namsan Tower. Though not particularly fancy in design, it has everything you could want from a rooftop bar: dark lounge sofas in the corner with hookah stands by its side, music in the distance and an amazing view of the city. With the rooftop serviced only on weekends and closing at midnight, its hours differ from the bar itself. Bring your cute next door neighbor, romance them upstairs and cozy up downstairs.
Standard Identity is not your standard café or bar or meat restaurant—it’s a little bit of all three. Their fourth-floor space is a step away from Hongik University Station, overlooking a street full of meat restaurants (you’ll also get more breezes and better views up here). Order a barbecue set a day in advance, and then do as the Spaniards do: siesta until well after 2pm before heading over. At 20,000 won per person you’ll get a full grilled meal: pork neck, sausages, eggplant, mushrooms and pineapple, plus salad and fried rice. Looking for a drink? Standard Identity serves up much more than beer and soju: They've got a bar with imported beers, sangria, cocktails and legit soju made from rice (yeah, like we said, not your standard barbecue joint).
Hongdae's ever-popular Thursday Party now has some serious competition with Playground Rooftop Cafe & Bar. Catering to the same fun-loving crowd of exchange students and open-minded 20-somethings, this two story establishment is located right across from the notorious playground, giving you a great view of the haunt's shenanigans. Language exchanges, international parties and all-you-can-drink events are held on a regular basis. As said events may suggest, the smiling staff is quite English-friendly (some speak Japanese and Chinese as well) and the crowd's an even balance of Koreans and foreigners. It may not be the place for serious language study but if alcohol boosts your Korean-conversation confidence, note that Cass on tap’s only 2,500 won and it does seem like the kind of place where most people come to drink Cass.
Setting the trend a few years ago before rooftops were popular in Itaewon was Rooftop Bar (literally the name). Sitting above Sam Ryan's, Rooftop Bar, with its plastic furniture and lack of decor, is not much of a looker. Bar stools line the perimeter providing a bird's eyes view of stumbling partiers on the street. Large cafeteria style tables in the front make conversation with nearby strangers easy and seating's recently been added to the back, too. It's a “self bar” so drinks are shockingly cheap (640ml Tsingtao beers are 6,000 won), especially for Itaewon prices. They sell snacks but the extra-friendly staff doesn't mind ordering chicken for you either. Though the bar's dirt cheap, don't be surprised if you run into Seoul's elite here—everyone loves drinks for these prices.
With bathrooms that look like they haven’t been renovated since the 90s, this relatively unattractive building has a huge secret. Take the elevator up to the tenth floor and you’ll know what we’re talking about. Although there are two Korean barbeque restaurants and a Catholic church even, it’s the incredibly unexpected garden-like structure that wraps around the building that will impress you. On arbitrary plots of grass, there are intermittently located benches and sitting spaces. During weeknights, middle-aged friends hang out and have beers they’ve just bought at one of the two Korean barbeque restaurants and on weekends, it’s bustling with a slightly younger crowd. It’s not exactly a rooftop bar, but there’s alcohol, a killer view and the satisfaction of having food and drinks in such a random place.