When thinking about the revolution of Itaewon, one’s mind immediately jumps to the side streets of Haebangchon and the climb up Gyeongridan. English friendly and exploding with craft beer pubs, foreign food restaurants and artsy cafes galore, it can be easy to ignore the fact that the other side of Itaewon is just as lively. Hidden behind the Hyundai Card Library, Itaewon-ro 54-gil combines the poshness of Cheongdam-dong with the creativity of Sangsu-dong. The street circles around to Daesagwanro-5 gil (daesangwan means “embassy”), which leads deep into Hannam-dong where many of Seoul's diplomatic families live and where it's not uncommon to see a car with a blue license plate drive past. The street maintains an ironic balance between the models, celebrities, hipsters and wannabes buying 8,000 detox juices with grandmas gossiping in front of the local senior citizen center. With the neighborhood's healthy eats, nicely-scented goods and smartly displayed high-end magazines, the word "clean" comes to mind—no garbage in the streets, no racks of 1,000 won socks and no fast food restaurants. As the year comes to a close, go for a brisk walk around Itaewon-ro 54-gil and enjoy something new right by the neighborhood you know.
The French phrase on ne sait jamais translates as "you never know" (or "you can't really tell") and indeed, it's hard to tell exactly what the concept of this café on Itaewon-ro 54-gil is. Director Park Ki-dae says the tiled walls and floors most likely cause customers to mistake it for a bathhouse concept, while others even think it's a Dr. Fish (a café chain in Seoul famous for fish pedicures). So what is it really? As Park puts it: “People can envision what they want from it.” From the blue bath-like rectangle in the center of the café one can face the kitchen from which fresh French, American, Japanese and Italian-style baked goods come out—the most famous item being their Italian tiramisu. Throngs of people come on the weekend (beware the lines) for the soft and delicious desserts paired with Anthracite coffee.
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.
Art and culture magazines, especially ones not written in Korean, can be difficult to find in Seoul. Ordering them online from overseas means having to pay large shipping fees and if you're really a zine-addict, it’s nice to be able to touch them and see the cover in person before making a purchase. Owner Won Sung-kyung has loved magazines since she was young and quit her job to start Paper Muse three years ago. “To be honest, I wanted to open it in Hongdae at first but it was too expensive. Since the Steve J & Yoni P Showroom is here, I figured a lot of fashion lovers and fashion magazine lovers would be around here, too.” A neat display of foreign magazines like Vogue, The Gentlewoman, Dapper, Kinfolk, Cereal and Monocle will greet your eyes when you eneter and though the prices may be hefty (it’s difficult to find an issue under 30,000 won)—we say you should treat yourself to such rarities as the year comes to a close.
Peeking into the left window of LSTORE, you’d almost be certain that the space was a gallery or showroom. You would only be half wrong, as part of the space is used as LART N PUBLIC where young, up-and-coming artists exhibit their work. Renovated in 2011from what as once a residential home, the rest of the space is an arts and crafts store with items for purchase.With everything from beautifully carved cherry wood stools to elegant ceramic vases and ostentatious accessories, the store boasts “edginess” with everything that they sell (we even spied a Barbie doll stuck inside a seashell) and all of the products are from promising young Korean artists. “There was nothing here when we opened. It was just a street that was easy to walk on,” explains Director Lee Jung-eun. “And we figured we didn’t need to be in a busy neighborhood because this isn’t the kind of place where people just walk in – customers seek us out and come here to come here.”
The only showroom for Monday Edition is right here on the curving side street of Daesagwan-ro. Pieces by designer Sara Kim, who owns the store with her sister Sun-young, adorn the store. Sara says that she lives right around the corner that she liked the location because there aren’t as many shops as other areas. The brand, which continues to be on the rise since its online launch in 2011, is known for items with initials on them. One of their best-selling accessories this season has been the thin velvet muffler with a gold initial on it. “You won’t believe how popular the initial ‘J’ is,” Sara notes. The winter collection is called After Blue and features products reminiscent of raindrops. When asked about the brand’s concept, Sara answers: “We like to think of our style as artsy, feminine but also bold, cool and witty.” While items are available for purchase on site, you can ask them to customize your jewelry or buy products online.
American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” If you’re looking to reach another place, then Cosmic Mansion is the place to turn to. With scent-related products being one of the biggest trends of 2015, this is the place to head if you’re looking for scented candles, soaps or fragrant room sprays. The store boasts that all of the candles are eco-friendly and 100% renewable plant-based. Room sprays are one of their most popular products and are light and fresh (nice for someone who may be sensitive to harsh smells) with your choice of Fig & Bay, Classic and Rosy. Apart from the scented items, there are other cosmic-themed accessories, such as notebooks and smartphone cases.
When it comes to nutrition and dining, the It-word right now has to be “superfood.” A term used to describe foods with that are rich in nutrients and that provide health benefits, the trend of superfood dining has hit all over cities in Europe and the U.S. In Seoul, you can find this trend happening at La Ferme, which opened less than three months ago. The menu includes several salads (with the chickpea and chicken quinoa being our favorites), while hot dishes like the seafood quinoa stew, oats risotto and chicken couscous offer slightly heartier options. Not only are the dishes filling, well balanced and healthy—they’re addictively good. The chicken is well seasoned, flavorful and tender, while the hummus (in the chickpea salad) is creamy and savory. Your mouth waters at the sight of these colorful dishes coming out of the kitchen and into the brightly lit jungle-like space. Director Park Ji-hye (who also owns the French restaurant Routine down the street) explains that she just wanted people to know that healthy food can also be delicious. La Ferme, one of our new favorite restaurants in Seoul, does not fail to disappoint.
Being health-conscious in Seoul and trying to eat out with friends or coworkers isn't necessarily an easy process. Providing an "at-home" salad place right in the heart of this neighborhood is Salad Seller. Opened about three months ago, the owners (formerly artists who largely designed the space on their own) are humble and kind. The avocado salad comes with a generous helping of fresh avocado. "Isn't it expensive to buy fresh avocados all the time?" I ask and she nods knowingly. Indeed, chickpeas, quinoa, feta cheese and kale are not cheap or easy ingredients to come by. During the summer, the store's Kale Coco juice is cold and zesty, while their chipotle soup made with chipotle, pork, chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, paprika and cheddar cheese is as hearty as it is healthy and warms you up during the long winter days. The so-called "diet-season" might start in the spring, but it's never the wrong season to make a good lifestyle change today.
A lit-up sign hanging just to the right of the entrance of this restaurant that is filled with customers every weekend reads: “Drink beer, eat chicken shrimp.” Bawley Point was opened this past April by owner Jun Min and his elementary school friends. “I live right in this neighborhood but my friends don’t. I just fell in love with the charm of these backstreets and I wanted to start something here,” Min explains. The restaurant owes its popularity thanks largely to Instagram. Search for #Bawleypoint and you’ll come across several postings of their Chimichurri Shrimp Volcano. With two chili peppers printed next to its name on the menu, the display shows a dipping bowl of spicy chimichurri sauce accompanied by a circle of succulent shrimp. All of their shrimp is imported from Ecuador and other popular items include the Bawley Point Shrimp Sandwich and the Bang Bang Shrimp (a recent addition to the menu). Pair the decapod crustacean with a beer and indeed, you might be questioning chicken after all.
An insider's talk
Park Young-hong (Go-hyang Mart owner)
“I used to be an art professor until I got fired from school for speaking out during the democracy movement. I used to speak English quite well, but I can’t remember a lick of it now. I’ve lived 20 meters from here for the past 45 years and owned this mart for the past 13. There weren’t so many young people here before but I like the change! I like the young people! They’re fresh and I don’t like the way old people think! […] Do I hang out at the senior center near here? No, never. I like to drink too much. I’ve been saying I’m going to retire from doing this job for years, but who knows how long I’ll be at it!”
Noh Ah-joo (Momo Café and Bar owner)
“I work at a café and bar just one street over and I personally think that this neighborhood’s really different. It’s a space where young people can come and hang out in all the venues nearby. Sure, there are young people in Hongdae too—but those kids are really young and the people that hang out here are a little bit older. They have a little bit more… charm. They have a will of their own and it shows. Oh, and my dogs Choco and Vanilla? They seem to like it here, too.”
Hyun-joon and Min-jung (in a relationship now for three years)
Hyun-joon We run around the city and go everywhere. Sure, we like hanging out here but I suppose we like hanging out anywhere. It’s nice because it’s right next to the art space Blue Square. I basically just go wherever Min-jung feels like going.
Min-jung I’ve been thinking that he’s been having too much pizza, so I wanted to feed him something healthy, some vegetables.