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Hot spot: Oh damn, Cheongdam

Your exclusive invite to an elite Gangnam party

By Hahna Yoon
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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. 

Bars

Mixology

Bars

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. 

Mr.children

Bars Gangnam-gu

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).

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Keepers

Bars Gangnam-gu

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. 

Ciel de Monet

Bars

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.

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Alice

4 out of 5 stars
Bars Cheongdam-dong

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.

Le Chamber

5 out of 5 stars
Bars Cheongdam-dong

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.

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Twelve Cheongdam

4 out of 5 stars
Bars Cheongdam-dong

“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.

Cafes

Café 74

3 out of 5 stars
Restaurants

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

3 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Cafés Sinsa-dong

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.

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CafeDior

Dior Café

Restaurants

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.

10 Corso Como

Shopping Boutiques Cheongdam-dong

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.

Restaurants

Sushi Hyo (Cheongdam Flagship)

4 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Cheongdam-dong

In Seoul, sushi tastes are passing over conveyor belts and honing in on the more proper sushi, termed "sushiya." With sushi masters leading the way, the well prepared omakase method of dining is gaining prominence. Naturally, the quality is heavily dependent on the chef's ability and know-how. As one saying goes, "There are as many methods as there are sushiya restaurant names." Chef Ahn Hyoju is at the center of this trend. Chef Ahn is even featured in the Korean episode of the Japanese manga "Mr. Sushi King" and is recognized as one of the first generation Korean sushi masters. Sushi Hyo is therefore the place any self-respecting sushi diehard in Korea will visit at least once. The vegetable stick setting common in Japanese restaurants, elongated fish (neta - Japanese for ingredient) and the selection of ingredients according to traditional recipes feels classic compared to the menus of younger generations of sushi chefs. The ikura (salmon roe), known to be supplied from his former master in Hokkaido, and the eel dishes simply melt in the mouth and are especially popular.

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