Out on the main street of Garosugil, it’s hard to find a quiet café—even on weekdays during office hours—much less one that also manages to feel cozy and elegant at the same time. However, here at Kobalt, located near Saerosu-gil, you’re invited to come sit, order a coffee and read a magazine (Time Out Seoul is also available here, wink wink). Kobalt, which used to be on the main road of Garosugil, relocated here in 2012 and with the reopening, added a café as well. Assistant manager, Geena Woo, who spent some time in London said: “Once I came back to Korea, I realized how few spaces exist where one could sit and read for hours.” The menu includes a variety of drinks that range from simple coffee to the Double Espresso Chocolat and several yogurt parfaits to alcoholic beverages, such as mulled wine. For those that come to the café empty handed, there are a variety of goods, such as several editions of Monocle books, fashion and lifestyle magazines, journals and calendars, for sale upstairs at the Kobalt Shop to occupy one’s time. It is safe to say that Kobalt is one of our new favorite venues.
Walk into the first floor and café of Collection Café and Lounge’s three-story building and it’s hard to imagine that the building was originally a kindergarten. The bright corner space faces a large seating area for you to enjoy your coffee while you admire the collection of LPs arranged on the wall. In stark contrast, but keeping with the kitsch and vintage feeling, there’s a lounge hidden downstairs in the basement level where a stronger sense of playfulness pervades. A different type of artwork, reminiscent of a jungle theme, occupies each dark nook. On weekends, DJs come to spin music that flows out until 3’o clock in the morning (incredibly late for Apgujeong lounge standards), while professional baristas prepare exquisitely detailed cocktails. The second floor is reserved for smaller exhibitions. Collection’s CEO, Shin Yoon-ju, says they would like for the space to become “more than just a café” and plans to hold cultural events, concerts and pop-up stores for local designers.
Luckily for Seoulites, plant-heavy options are growing and one of the restaurants setting the bar for salads is Bad Farmers. Popular amongst many Korean celebrities (supposedly, rapper Beenizo is a regular), the restaurant offers a select number of cold salads, hot salads, fresh pressed juices and yogurts. One of the most popular items on the menu is the Avo Cobb salad, which is made with romaine lettuce topped with cherry tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, corn, olives, smoked salmon, roasted chicken and a choice of either the sesame doenjang or blue cheese dressing. As flavorful as it is colorful, this salad (like many others on the menu) is both hearty and filled with protein. All of the dishes come with a small bowl of soup on the side and a small slice of bread. It’s healthy food that won’t leave you hungry.
For many Western expats, the issue of finding a good pancake is a puzzling one for sure. How can there be so many waffle kiosks in Seoul but nary a pancake to be found? Coming to the rescue for all the pancake-deprived here in Seoul is the pancake place you might already know—the Original Pancake House from Portland, Oregon. While the restaurant has more than 100 franchises all over the U.S., this Apgujeong location was their first outside of the country. Especially for Americans, the menu items of Dollar Pancakes, Banana Pancakes and French Toast might do more than ring a bell—they’ll remind you of home. Many of the items, such as Boyd’s Coffee and Daily’s Premium Bacon are imported from the U.S. (even the faded yellow of the menu feels as if it were brought over from Portland). One of the most popular options at the restaurant is the Fresh Fruit Dutch Baby, a German style pancake served with a generous helping of seasonal fruits, whipped cream and fruit syrup. (Note: serving sizes are “American,” so those looking for smaller portions can opt for a “half” order and get three pancakes instead of six.)
If New Yorkers talk about Magnolia Bakery, then Californians talk about Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. Originally from San Francisco, this Seoul location is the first to branch outside the U.S. Customers are limited to a max of two products each and this place doesn’t even have a signboard. But people still stand in line to eat here. In their bakery in San Francisco, people stand in two different lines—one for cruffins and the other for baked goods. The cruffin has a Croissant-like texture and the flavor of a muffin. Meanwhile, their brioche donut (a French donut made of butter, eggs and sugar) comes in at a close second favorite. To ensure likeness in quality, the bakers working in Seoul received two months of training in San Francisco. The neon sign inside mimics the one in San Francisco reading, “I got Baked in Seoul,” reflecting the atmosphere and wit of its main branch in the U.S.
When one looks for traditional Korean china to give as a souvenir or to decorate one’s abode, the initial thought is to head to Insadong where tourist shops are chock full of such things. Unfortunately, these days many of the products in that neighborhood are overpriced and not produced locally. A surprising alternative exists here in Saerosu-gil where you can find some high-end china with simple designs at an affordable price. Entire china sets come in matching colors, making it easy for even the novice interior designer to prepare a fancy looking dinner. Designer Yang Hye-rin says: “We wanted it to be easy for anyone to do plating at home and the for the concept of beautiful dinner settings to be available to any and all.” Come pick up an entire matching set or just a few plates for your home. If you’re looking to take something overseas, let them know and they can package it accordingly. For a simpler souvenir, we recommend the chopsticks setter. Dainty, without taking up too much luggage space, it’s the perfect gift for your homemaker friends.
A man’s best friend is his dog, so when you take your best pal out, you know you have to do so in style. Providing all of the most stylish wear for your canine companion is Betters, a company that specializes in fashionable apparel for small to medium sized dogs. They sell everything from onesies, vests and t-shirts to leashes, collars and food. Betters, the company, even makes snacks, such as dried anchovies and octopus, which are common ingredients for popular Korean side dishes. While products from the Betters brand can be found in department stores all over the country, they also have their own shop on this street in Saerosu-gil. Here, doggie-experts and a small terrier named Doo-doo will greet you. Bring your dog while you’re at it because the place is, as you can imagine, quite pet-friendly.
These two designers are best known for their signature look; his mustache and her blonde hair. Steve and Yoni have made it into high-end department stores and shops like Colette in France and Luisaviaroma in Italy. Most recently, they collaborated with SK Networks and have been going from glory to glory as they made Garosu-gil the home for their newest project. Before, they had two separate spaces, one in Hannam-dong (Steve J & Yoni P Showroom / Studio), and the other in Garosu-gil (SJYP, their second brand). Now, they’ve brought the two together under the same roof at one big flagship store. Under the mother brand Steve J & Yoni P, they have a denim label called SJYP—both of which are available at the store. The showroom is fourstories tall with interior design by the well-known stylist Yang Tae-o. With bursts of royal blue and silver steel décor as well as cactus pots, streetlamps and wooden doors, even those unfamiliar with the brand will find the store itself a sight to behold.
Beloved design store, Gentle Monster, which has its flagship store in Apgujeong, is planning to open a branch in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. They are famous for decorating each of their stores with different concepts. For example, earlier last year in Saerosu-gil, the theme was “Kitchen,” and this past summer, it was decorated for “Home and Recovery,” presenting a European bedroom, built-in closet and bathroom. Anyone, including those who do not wear sunglasses or glasses, can have an interesting experience at Gentle Monster’s showroom, as it is more than just a showroom, but a playground and a gallery.
Interview with Bae Yong-tae
How did you start your store?
In the beginning, around ten years ago, I opened my store on the main street of Garosugil. Back then, the street was full of small, local shops and everywhere was pretty empty—even on the weekends. It was difficult to imagine a franchise setting up here. And the store itself was pretty much the same as it is now but about four to five years in, all the big businesses started moving in. I had the chance to move [to the Saerosu-gil area] and I took it.
Why didn’t you open in Hongdae, where, in some ways, a store like this seems more appropriate?
I had a pop-up in the Insadong area and I realized there was a pretty big difference between Gangnam and Gangbuk. What one might consider expensive in Gangbuk, another person might think is affordable if they find it here in Gangnam. While in the Hongdae area, there are a lot of students and they’re looking for and willing to pay for, a different kind of thing. Here, where I encounter parents and professionals, it’s a different story.
Did you have a lot of toys growing up?
When I was growing up, our generation didn’t have any toys. This was especially true because I grew up in the country. When my son was around 3 or 4 years old, I made up my mind to buy him some and began to be interested in toys. I also found inspiration in the books my son liked and started to import those as well.
Do you ever have any toys that you wish wouldn’t sell?
Sure, I have a lot of toys I wish wouldn’t be sold. There are some that I store away and keep for myself. I have a few books I really like as well. Everyone wants to know “how many” I have and I hate that question. It’s not about “the number,” but what it is.
Sonia Lee (customer of My Favorite for ten years)
I’ve been coming to this store since it was on the main street. Amongst other designers like myself, it’s a much-talked-about reference point. It’s different from other places because after a while, you really begin to trust Mr. Bae’s taste in things. I like the books here and the look feel of the place. In my house, there are so many of them that I’ve collected over the years. Mr. Bae imports most of these items with the “give-away” concept. Me? I like to keep these treasures for myself and look at them over and over again.
While “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” may be some of Julie Andrews’ favorite things, Bae Yong-tae features some of his favorites—books, figurines and postcards—at his store, My Favorite. Barely 20 feet long and seven feet wide, the store, which is in its tenth year, features vintage and hard to find figurines, as well as stacks and stacks of illustrated books, including children’s books, cookbooks and travel books.