For those who vow to never hang out south of the river, Cheongdam can be the epitome of everything that is dislikeable about the Gangnam area. Expensive, exclusive and elite; Cheongdam’s the meanest of the Mean Girls. All the buildings become a blur with one lavish, luxurious exterior after another, and unlike central Seoul spots where it’s easy to walk from one place to another, the blocks are long and arduous, making Cheongdam somewhat of an intimidating space to explore. A name that’s long been in the know amongst trendsetters, the neighborhood is making a comeback and it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “Cheongdam is rising again.” For many a K-pop lover, the Hallyu streets, which are becoming more and more tourist-friendly, smell of their favorite celebrities with the JYP building and the K-Star Road right in center of the neighborhood. But the neighborhood is making other developments as well—becoming slightly more affordable and mixing in some down-to-earthness without losing its upscale feeling. Put on your nicest shoes and hold your head high because this is your exclusive invite to the most elite Gangnam party.
One of Cheongdam’s hottest new spots, this basement cocktail bar looks like it could have been in a scene from a ‘90s Hollywood movie. With large leather couches and mirrors on the ceiling, the décor and dim lighting is impeccably cinematic. To add to the dynamism of the place, there are crafting classes that are held in a leather studio in the side-room and one-day classes have become a specialty of the bar, which is owned by three different bartenders. Each bartender has his own specialty: world-renowned Kim Bong-ha, classic cocktail specialist Kim Hyun and Kim Jun-hee, one of Korea’s leading ice carvers and creative drink makers. Try Jun-hee’s jasmine-infused Meditation, one of our new favorite drinks in town.
Behind a rusty yellow door, you'll find Mr.children—a single malt and cocktail bar with many different layers to say the least. Opened just this past May, the bar, which is for “those who are children at heart,” is divided into three consecutive sections—each more decadent than the next. The first section, decorated with street lamps, is the bar's most casual setting and has an indoor-outdoor concept. Through a door in the first section, you can get to the more lavishly decorated second section filled with overstuffed dark leather sofas, and through another door you'll see large crystal chandeliers and a glamorous golden mirror. The cocktails are as thoughtfully crafted as the interior, so sit back and enjoy a drink (or two).
Get bored of a good thing quickly? Try out Keepers, the new high-ceiling basement bar in Cheongdam that specializes in cocktails. Currently, the bar’s theme is “Italian” and their entire beautifully designed menu specializes in Italy-related drinks. However, the entire concept (and even the menu) changes every three months. One of this bar’s specialties is the frequency of guest-bartending sessions that they hold—recently seeing to the likes of Lewis Tsang from Hong Kong and Din Hassan from Singapore. Since large tables have no extra cover charge, it’s a great place to go in a group.
The restaurant’s name means “Sky of Monet” in French. And unlike most bars with dim lighting, this venue offers a more uplifting atmosphere. Operating as a café on the first floor and a bar in the basement, food items like crepes and quiches can be served to those sitting downstairs at the bar (last orders at 9pm). When you enter the premises, you are greeted with a glass of 30-year-old Ballantine’s and the fragrances of the numerous candles. Once seated, a bottle of San Pellegrino and a small platter of cheese and fruits are presented.
Alice, a lounge style bar, serves experimental cocktails and equally bizarre bar snacks. The bar and lounge space mimics the airs of an English mansion with sofas to sink into, and ceilings that resemble the surface of a chocolate bar. Order the "Alice Boutique" from the signature cocktail list, and the bartender will whip up a gin tonic flavored with grapefruit juice, emitting a white cloud food grade nitrogen gas. The cocktail comes served in a glass shaped like an elephant, in which the truck doubles as an attached straw. The bar’s dedication to eclecticism doesn’t end here. At the touch of a button, bartenders can make drink glasses magically appear from the bar table and the bathroom with its camouflaged walls are a mysterious find, too.
Posh. High-end. Sophisticated. All words that come to mind when you step into Le Chamber. From their pricing to their service, Le Chamber is a speakeasy that strives for the finest. Diageo World Class champions and owner-bartenders Eom Do-hwan and Lim Jae-jin offer seven-star service. Consecutive Korean champion Park Sung-min recently joined the star roster, garnering more interest. Their sign has no distinct shape or form, understandably so as a speakeasy, but the entrance to their basement is even more intriguingly mysterious. The entrance is shaped like a bookshelf, and only if you pick the right book will the door open. It's a classic mystery novel touch in a modern-day setting. With the recent growth of high-end bars like Vault +82 in Cheongdam, Le Chamber is at the top of our list of must-sees.
“I didn’t open the bar to please the customers’ requests for a location in Cheongdam,” says Kwon Byeong-su, the owner and bartender who often gets called out for his brusque manners. “The Gyeongridan bar was designed to mimic a “home bar,” like drinking from your living room, but this branch feels like the whole house.” The walls glow as if soaked in a diluted emulsion of Marciano cherries and the bar is spacious without being showy, just as a Cheongdam bar should be. An infusion of tea leaves and Tanqueray gin, the Earl Grey martini is served clean without the artfully carved out fruits, and if you’re not satisfied with the drink (or if your face shows it), the bartender will whip up another drink on the house. “At the end of the day, bars aren’t defined by concepts. It’s a place where you can have a good drink, enjoy, and leave,” Kwon adds. With fragrant cocktails, lounge-like rooms and bartenders sensitive to customers’ reactions, I resolve to often make the cut of twelve at Twelve.
Countless diners have come and gone, but here’s one with a 15-year history right in the middle of Seoul. Originally known as a popular brunch place in Cheongdam-dong, Café 74 has pushed back their opening time to 6pm since January. Restaurant and bar (the two are separate) menus have been continuously upgraded, and they also started serving Heineken on tap starting this month. Grilled asparagus and gorgonzola cheese or the squid risotto are some examples on the new menu. In the risotto, squid legs are diced and added in, and the rest is cooked uncut and topped on the bed of risotto. Some might find the rice-beer combination a bit unfamiliar, but remember that time when you had sushi and endless Japanese beer?
Rubrica café is one of the most popular cafés in Cheongdam at the moment. It is located on the 4th floor of Boon the Shop and also runs a restaurant in the same building. They serve up tasty cakes, cookies and sandwiches with simple but chic presentation. Some of Rubrica's pastries, like their butter ring cookies with jam or cookies made with half a dried fig and cream cheese, are unique and hard to find in other places. Coffee is quite expensive (upwards 9,900 won for an ice Americano), but the fact that it can be refilled once and includes two hours of free valet parking service in the heart of pricey Cheongdam somewhat softens the blow. The open view, uncommon in this crowded city, its tasteful furtnishings, and the bright smiles of the staff all contribute to a time well spent.
On the 5th floor of Dior’s flagship store sits a peaceful yet glamorous café. Once the doors of the space open, it can be slightly intimidating as one is ushered towards the elevator located near the back of the first floor. The café is known for serving up-scale desserts crafted by world famous pâtissierPierre Hermé, the Picasso of pastry. Notable on the menu is the Glacee Ispahan, which is served in a wine glass ornately filled with a mixture of red, pink, and white creams and sorbets.
Well-established and respected in the fashion industry, Ecru is a fashion centric multi-brand shop with a knack for importing the hottest foreign brands. From Swedish favorite Acne Studios to Italian darling MSGM, the shop's collection is packed with variety of emerging brands targeting a youthful crowd. Although Ecru is the central shop, Ecru Plus and Ecru Outlet are also located within the building with more reasonable prices should you wish to bring even more home.
After Jung Sik Dang, Mingles is the most interesting fusion Korean dining experience in Gangnam. As the name “Mingles” suggests, the menu consists of Korean as its backbone with Japanese, Spanish and French influences applied in various ways. To their credit, Mingles has worked hard to remove the stigmas associated with the term fusion: In Korea, fusion Korean food has up until recently been viewed a pretty name with nothing concrete backing it up. Mingles, however, has undertaken the serious work of studying the ingredients as well as demanding an exacting selection to expand and further existing concepts of Korean cooking. Their citron pot, once offered to the kings of old, and their pickled vegetables aged to perfection are just some of the innovative efforts that enable patrons to get a taste of the past and present. The Korean traditional sauce crème brûlée trio is another such recipe that defies existing concepts and offers to your palate flavors unlike any before.
Jung Sikdang is a groundbreaking, iconic Korean restaurant for a variety of reasons. Opening in Sinsa-dong in 2009 and New York in 2011, it has received two Michelin stars and is ranked the 10th best restaurant in Asia. These awards are certainly deserved, but they are especially significant to Koreans: With the Korean obsession over international rankings (whether in education, sports or economic measures), this restaurant’s international acclaim has restored some level of pride around hansik, or traditional cuisine. But traditional it is not: Jung Sikdang dubs its cuisine “new Korean,” blending Korean ingredients with Western culinary techniques and presentation (head chef Yim Jung-sik graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in NYC and worked in both NYC and Spain). With its new location in Cheongdam, Jungsik offer formal service in a sophisticated modern setting, drawing well-heeled diners from both Korea and overseas. Expect inventive and subtle dishes like crispy duck with white kimchi, ongshimi with scallion and parmesan, and mushrooms served with poached eggs and kimchi puree. Korean ingredients are deconstructed and reconstructed on this menu that plays with flavors like a painter mixing colors on a palette and layering them on a canvas.
"If you've ever been to the fames Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge in Las Vegas, you probably remember chef Akira Back's culinary creations. This celebrated chef has made his way to Seoul via Dosa, a modern Korean restuarant. His longtime signature dish, tuna pizza, as well as new favorites are all on the menu. It's surprising to see how stable their service and food is at such an early stage of the business.
The Vault Steakhouse has a great interior and ambience, but it’s the steak that really makes the place shine. The restaurant’s secret is that it orders its delicacies from Master Purveryors, Inc., where renowned New York restaurants Wolfgang’s and Peter Luger Steakhouse also order from, so you’re already assured quality meat. After the meat arrives it goes through an in-house wet and aging process. Their sides of tomatoes, onions and creamed spinach add a nice touch to the main. With the juicy meat melting in your mouth you can’t deny that this restaurant serves up a proper steak. The lunch menu is reasonably priced as well.
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse opened here in March, bringing fans of the famed New York City venue flocking to its doors. (And yes, it helps that Seoul is really, really into dry aged steak right now.) Inside, you’re transported to New York: every detail has been painstakingly selected to match the original, from the American walnut floors to the chandelier. Compromising neither saltiness, doneness or portion sizes to fit the local market, the flavors are also most definitely American. They’re Korea’s biggest importers of USDA Prime Beef, a grade given to just 2% of beef in the U.S., and extremely difficult to import. In fact, all of the beef on the menu is USDA Prime, and is aged on-site for 22–28 days, creating a more concentrated flavor than dry-aged hanwoo (Korean beef) which tends to have more marbling. That meat is taken to the broiler, where it sees 871°C temperatures for a hot minute, locking in the remaining moisture, and servers shout “Table 13, sizzle!” as they bring out the meat, surrounded by popping hot butter you can hear across the room. The porterhouse, a Wolfgang classic, is the best (and priciest) steak on the menu. Must-have sides include the thickcut bacon, creamed spinach, and buttery mashed potatoes. It’s the kind of menu that transports you to a time when shoulder pads and Ronald Reagan were in, and the American economy was thriving. All this being said, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is high-end, but fine dining it is not. Presentation is disarmingly simple. And w
The word brasserie conjures up worn but polished counters, nonchalant mustachioed servers and delicious, simple French cuisine served unpretentiously at reasonable prices. Maison de la Catégorie gets almost all of these right (maybe not the mustaches, but we’ll be reasonable). Unlike many of the fine dining establishments that fill Cheongdam, they focus on simple, filling dishes and familiar dessert favorites. Their shrimp soufflé and lamb are both excellent entrée selections, and the ice-box cake layered with cream and cookies is wildly popular (with good reason). About that atmosphere: Maison de la Catégorie is more than a corner brasserie. It’s beautifully appointed, with high ceilings and an eye-catching terrace. Well-arranged lighting guarantees a cozy dinner atmosphere, though of course day-lit meals or drinks are just as attractive in this space. In fact, one of the world’s most renowned interior architects, Adam Tihany, was involved in the design.
If you must have brunch south of the river, the question is not whether you’ll be shelling out a pretty penny but whether it’s worth the price you’ll be paying. For brunch à la mode surrounded by Seoul’s elite, Queens Park in Cheongdam is the place to be. Undoubtedly inspired by the neighborhood in London, the elegant high ceilings and porch seating make for an atmosphere fit for Her Majesty. While popular items on the menu include sandwiches with a side salad and fries, we’d recommend the blueberry pancakes with seasonal fruits. Served with a light cream and a small additional helping of blueberries, the fruit is incredibly fresh and the pancakes aren’t overbearingly sweet. If you’re a fan of having some liquor with your meal, note that only beer is served with brunch.
Chef Kim Jeong-suk, owner of Cheongdam’s Yining and JS Garden, recently opened The Round in a small building with a miniature garden. It has only been a little over a month since opening, but the filled seats indicate the restaurant’s popularity. High ceilings and spacious communal tables allow for several people to sit together without feeling claustrophobic. Private rooms with abundant sunlight can be reserved and seating at the bar is available as well. The menu has plenty of dishes to choose from—the lunch course consists of two main dishes and three for dinner. The price for a course is great for its value. Each course is very filling and within it, there are seven or more side dishes being served. The only negative point is that the same course meal has to be ordered for two people— forcing you to choose the same thing. Gourmet dishes, such as shark’s fin stew and Peking duck (cut right in front of you), can be ordered here. Even the jajangmyeon will exceed your expectations!
After receiving training from Michelin-starred restaurants as Nobu and French Laundry, the owner and head chef of the Bistrot de Yountville presents French cuisine without fuss. The restaurant opened in 2009, at a time when the trend of chefs-as-owners was on the rise in Cheongdam. This place has since garnered many devoted regulars and established a firm reputation for its quality French cuisine. The classic red exterior, which stands out among the sleeker designs in vogue these days, and its elegant interior coupled with lovely tableware lend to the feeling that you might be dining at a restaurant somewhere in Paris, rather than in Cheongdam. The sense of intimacy at Bistrot de Yountville is its greatest virtue. The lunch course with three to four dishes is a great deal at 30–40,000 won, the result of cutting down on superfluity and concentrating on the food itself. From the hors d’oeuvre to dessert, each and every dish is well worth your attention. Bistrot de Yountville is also a excellent place to take a date.
Opened in 2007, Tutto Bene is the second restaurant opened by the owners of acclaimed French restaurant Palais de Gaumont in Cheongdam. Unlike the recent trend of creating open and light-filled spaces in restaurants, Tutto Bene is more reminiscent of the mansion of an eccentric collector from the 80s. Tutto Bene's strength lies in its own brand of Italian cooking. Tallarines cooked with freshly-made noodles, egg yolk, sage and butter is one of our favorites. Others dishes incorporate Korean ingredients like their pork hock, and their lamb roast, lasagna, cream risotto and tiramisu are all popular choices. With the know-how inherited from Palais de Gaumont, their wine selection is quite excellent.