5 best makgeolli bars in Seoul
Most people are aware of the makgeolli-led drinking revolution in Korea. The once-derided rice wine preferred by farmers has graduated from being a low-rent buzz to a full-fledged star of the after-hours scene, especially in Seoul.
But while makgeolli is now appreciated by almost everyone, it's often still served in humble back alleys or tented pojangmachas.
At these five Seoul bars, however, not only does makgeolli take precedence, the bars aren’t too shabby themselves.
While the vintage décor, whitewashed walls and old school metal pots indicate that Moon Jar fully embraces makgeolli’s homey roots, at night, the proprietors blast techno and electronica, changing the ambiance from quiet café into full-blown club.
The two-story building regularly seats celebrities from the likes of 2AM’s Jokwon and Brown Eyed Girl’s’ Gain (on a date for the reality show "We Got Married") to members of Kara.
Moon Jar's menu offers President/Luxury Makgeolli, as well as makgeolli cocktails. The most popular cocktail is the Yuja (Citrus) Makgeolli. Moon Jar uses a stronger makgeolli (GeumJeong SanSeong) in order to offset the citrus flavor, resulting in a perfectly bittersweet concoction.
“For the best flavor, makgeolli should be drunk within 24 hours after it is made,” says manager Seo Hyun Wook, 31. “Because we’re lucky to be popular enough to sell out our makgeolli almost daily, we can offer some of the freshest makgeolli to our customers.”
Side dishes (anju) are a little pricey, but worth the extra won. Portions are large enough to serve as dinner and range from gourmet (sirloin steak) to rustic (tofu kimchi). The food is good enough to almost make you forget why you’re there in the first place.
Moon Jar is usually packed early in the evening. Reservations are advised, especially on weekends.
644-19 Gangnam-gu Sinsa-dong (강남구 644-19 신사동) ; +82 2541 6118; Daily, 5:30 p.m.–2 a.m.
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The Mui Mui “terapocha” (yes, that’s a combination of terrace and pojangmacha) is both sleek and chic. The wooden cafeteria-style tables and benches evoke a traditional Korean drinking atmosphere.
Don’t flinch at the prospect of a ₩23,000 drink, and order a D.I.Y. cocktail. Despite the name, the waiters will do most of the work for you and bring out a pitcher of fresh makgeolli, as well as a smaller pitcher of a seasonal fruit juice of your choice of kiwi, orange, pineapple, grapefruit, strawberry or grape.
Mui Mui also offers a selection of anju that tends to be more meal than side dish, such as pastas, brisket and sandwiches.
653-4 Gangnam-gu Sinsa-dong (강남구 653-4 신사동); +82 2 515 3982; Hours: 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
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Wolhyang’s calm, café-like ambiance belies the type of alcohol it serves. Its brown rice makgeolli is 15 percent alcohol, almost double the alcohol content in standard makgeolli.
Thanks to its fresh, organic properties, however, Wolhyang food stylist Haeri Park swears that it won’t get you hungover.
Park also insists that the Wolhyang version is 20 times healthier than standard, white rice makgeolli, and can help with skin, diet and health problems.
Unsurprisingly, the clientele tends to be female and young.
“Right now makgeolli and traditional things are becoming trendy, but we wanted to upgrade the ‘old’ to something more appealing,” says Park, 30. “We’re constantly changing the menu to suit the season and make the makgeolli better, so that it never gets boring.”
For seats at this popular place, call ahead, or make reservations by tweeting to twitter.com/sunsame. Customers can also buy bottles for ₩3,000 and take away food, with a 20 percent discount.
Wolhyang offers makgeolli classes on weekends -- call to reserve a spot.
335-5 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 335-5 서교동); +82 2 332 9202; Monday-Wednesday, noon-4 a.m., Thursday-Saturday, noon-1 a.m.
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ㅎ [: h]
Although (or perhaps because) [: h] is located in a heavily foreigner-populated area, it’s quite possibly the most “traditional” bar on this list. The bar offers an astonishingly diverse selection of makgeolli.
The menu comes in the form of an altered photo book and takes a while to flip through, as each page features a detailed profile of each makgeolli drink, including its origin, size, alcohol percentage, price and a brief history.
Pretty much every region of South Korea (aside from Jeju-do) is covered.
You can order a five makgeolli sampler platter for ₩2,000. If the decision is difficult, [: h] kindly provides a list of the week’s top five makgeolli.
The most expensive bottle is ₩15,000 (not available for sampling), while the rest are in the ₩5,000-₩7,000 range, making [: h] the best place to get a makgeolli education.
44-18 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu (용산구 용산동 2가 44-18); +82 70 8950 8362; Hours: 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
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If you've been to Hongdae, you're probably familiar with Chin Chin, if not by reputation, at least by sight.
Located off the the loud, club-packed streets Hongdae is known for, Chin Chin proudly displays empty makgeolli bottles as its patio decoration -- proof, at least, that the bar sells lots of makgeolli.
Although the selection is not as extensive as [: h]’s, Chin Chin has enough makgeolli to make the 5 Tasting Menu attractive. For ₩25,000, you’ll get to try some of their best-selling drinks (enough to split each type into four shots), as well as a fusion food dish.
If you’re still looking for a kick, or just want some dessert, order a bottle of Makgeolli Sherbet. While it’s not quite the consistency of ice cream, it’s refreshing and good for a hot, humid summer night in Seoul.
343-9, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 343-9 서교동); +82 2 334 1476; Hours: 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m.
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