|Anthracite Coffee is one of Hapjeong' s best known hangout spots. |
/ Courtesy of Anthracite Coffee
Seoul's trendy Hapjeong district is booming
By Kim Young-jin
When it comes to a city's "hot" neighborhoods, there's a fine line between trendy and a-little-too-trendy. Once the masses discover an area, large retailers swoop in, diluting the hipness that was there.
Hapjeong, a western Seoul neighborhood rife with colorful cafes, restaurants and boutiques, is enjoying that beautiful moment when people are still discovering its artsy and independent spirit.
Hapjeong's rise, business owners say, goes hand-in-hand with the gentrification of neighboring Hongdae, the area near Hongik University once known as an incubator for starving artists.
The two areas flow seamlessly into one another. But clearly, Hapjeong is Hongdae's more sophisticated sibling.
|Mecenatpolis is a new commercial district connected to Hapjeong Station that includes residential towers, office space and a shopping mall. |
/ Courtesy of Mecenatpolis Mall
|Tristan Choi, owner of Fell + Cole|
The proliferation of chains stores has caused rents in Hongdae to soar. Independent-minded store owners pushed west to Hapjeong and south to Sangsu-dong, areas hugging the Han River.
"Hapjeong has really taken off in the last three years," says Justin Jun, owner of Bali Superstore, a bar serving craft beer and Indonesian-inspired food. "A lot of the artistic types have come here."
During the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), the area was an important ferry point connecting the capital to Gimpo and Ganghwa. Nearby is Jeoldusan, a hill where thousands were killed in the late 1860s during the persecution of Korean Catholics.
More recently, the area was seen as a typical neighborhood. But due to spillover from Hongdae and the relaxation in 2009 of height restrictions on riverside commercial buildings, it began to transform.
Its streets are now packed with quirky businesses. On weekdays, establishments fill up with office workers. When the weekend rolls around, it's a popular area for dating, live music and foodies.
The main strip, dubbed Cafe Street, runs between Hapjeong and Sangsu stations. The commercial area meanders south toward the Seoul Gas Thermal Power Station, a quiet, tree-line area concentrated with artistic types.
Justin Jun, owner of Bali Superstore, is among the first pub owners in Hapjeong to feature craft beers.
Last year saw the opening of Mecenatpolis, a futuristic-looking commercial district that includes residential towers, office space and an ultra-modern mall. The complex has attracted major brands such as Uniqlo and GAP; and is expected to further contribute to the area's commercial expansion.
All the attention has some worried. "It's the same story everywhere," said a musician who went by the name Han Guk-in (literally, Korean person). "Once big money takes notice, the atmosphere is bound to change."
Still the area is expected to continue blooming. Here are several can't miss spots in the area. Given its many charms, one may choose to ditch the list and simply meander through the alleys.
Fell + Cole
Tucked into an alley behind Sangsu Station, Fell + Cole is the country's first store serving "artisanal gastronomic ice cream with all natural ingredients made in small batches."
Think adventurous flavors made from quality ingredients. Owner Choi says his free-wheeling approach to the sweet stuff derives from his time living in San Francisco (Fell and Cole are streets in the Californian city).
"I do it because it's fun," he said. "And I think people in Korea are experimenting with new and interesting things."
He uses unexpected ingredients to flavor his ice creams and sherbets. There's one with kketnip, or perilla, a popular herb here; or the "Hokey Porky," which has bits of candied bacon. Try the strawberry red wine with Szechuan pepper. In all, Choi serves 10 flavors daily and 184 in all. For more information, visit fellncole.com
|Focaccia bread is one of the specialties at the October Artisan Boulangerie. |
/ Korea Times photos by Kim Young-jin
For coffee lovers, this cavernous cafe built in a refurbished shoe factory is a must-visit. The coffee is about as fresh as one can get: the beans are roasted on-premises in giant, "old-school" roasters, ground for each serving and brewed "hand-drip" style.
On a given day, it serves around 10 different coffees with beans sourced from around the world. It boasts a variety of espresso drinks, teas and pastries. Try the refreshing homemade ginger ale.
With its spacious second floor and thatched roof, Anthracite is a perfect place to soak in "Hapjeong style." Near Sangsu Station. For more information, call 02-322-0009.
One of the first pubs on Cafe Street featuring craft beers, Bali Superstore combines a laid-back beach resort theme with a drop-by-anytime vibe. The kitchen serves Southeast Asian-inspired dishes.
"It's like coming in from a day of surfing, starving, and finding a place for some good food and drink," said Jun, its owner.
Beers such as its potent Kuta IPA are domestically brewed and the pale ale and porter are from Itaewon's Magpie Brewing Company. There is a small stage for music. Near Hapjeong Station. Find Bali Superstore on Facebook or call 02-323-7871.
Little Papa Pho
Because this tiny restaurant on Cafe Street is one of the most popular Vietnamese restaurants in the city, be prepared to wait and possibly eat elbow-to-elbow at the bar. But for fans of pho, the Southeast Asian country's staple noodle soup, such sacrifices are worth it.
The broth has a deep and complex flavor and comes sprinkled with roasted garlic, an unforgettable addition. In the case of the standard pho with brisket, the meat comes in thick, tender cuts. The menu includes nine kinds of pho, and a variety of fried rice dishes and rolls. Call 02-326-2788.
While the sight of a Western-style mall filled with apparel giants may not align with the "hipster" vibe, Mecenatpolis Mall has a cool design and some surprisingly surreal motifs.
Three floors of stores, restaurants, spas and salons form an elliptical shape around a central plaza. From there, one looks up to a series of rows of colorful umbrellas that seem to be floating in air.
In the open-air mall, one can shop, grab a bite, catch a movie and generally do what malls are made for: milling about. Visit www.mecenatpolismall.co.kr.
October Artisan Boulangerie
The Hapjeong area is rife with artisanal bakeries, and these are spilling north to the nearby Mangwon neighborhood as well.
Perhaps the best of the bunch is a bright and cozy store on cafe street called October Artisan Boulangerie. It's stocked with a variety of breads, all freshly baked in an open kitchen.
Particularly eye-catching are the foccacias, which come in pillowy discs topped with olives, mushrooms or basil. The French breads are rustic, with the right ratio of outer crunch and inner softness. Our favorite, however, is the pretzel, which combines a chewy crust with a perfect hint of sourdough. Call 02-322-7882.
There are plenty of culinary options on Cafe Street, from outdoor stands serving up steamed dumplings to more exotic options.
The area is home to one of the city's most talked about Italian restaurants, Spacca Napoli, known for its wood-fired pizza ovens. Its chef, Lee Young-woo takes pride in the keeping the oven perfectly heated and it shows.
The crusts are exquisitely chewy and the pizzas are topped with fresh herbs. Some come with a honey-dipping sauce for the crusts. Find Spacca Napoli on Facebook.
Wine and liquor
While beer and soju may dominate the alcoholic beverage scene in Korea, tastes are broadening. Fox Wine Bistro (foxwinebistro.com), which boasts a dazzling selection of over 400 wines, was the only Korean wine restaurant to be included in the 2013 Miele Guide's list of Top 500 restaurants in Asia.
Sommelier and owner Lee Su Yeon, an ex-journalist, was inspired to pursue a career in wine while studying in Toronto. The wines are paired with bistro cuisine and authentic Italian pasta.
Over at the Factory (barfactory.co.kr), owners Park Si-young and Han Kiu-seon, are part of a small movement to refine the drinking culture in Korea, attempting to spread the idea that single-malt whisky is not for drinking quickly. The bar has 130 whiskeys and 170 cocktails on the list and pairs them with food such as raw oysters.
As Hongdae becomes more oriented toward the club scene, independent musicians are increasingly looking toward venues in Hapjeong. Located next to Anthracite Coffee, Mudaeruk (mudaeruk.com) is a funky, multilevel space that includes a cafe, music hall and a rooftop garden. Recently artists such as British singer-songwriter David Thomas Broughton and Hwang Bo-ryung have performed at its basement theater.
Jebi Dabang, near Sangsu Station, is a smaller, cozier, cafe-performance space venue. It's a throwback to Korea's old school salons where artists and intellectuals gathered. Performances are free but audiences contribute what they consider appropriate. Find it on Facebook.
Our list of the area would not be complete without mentioning one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in the city. Run by an enthusiastic husband-and-wife team, Gusto Taco's multi-floor main store next to Sangsu Station offers handmade tortillas and slow-cooked meat. While it offers up a wide array of Mexican dishes, the succulent pork taco is one of the best bites around. Visit gustotaco.com.