Korea's best bars to wrap up the summer
Although most of the bars that open in Seoul spend heady amounts of money on design and rent, there are few places that make it in the long run.
Jaejin “JJ” Lim, a 2009 World Class Bartender Korea Champion and currently the brand ambassador for Diageo Korea, says the turnover is mostly due to Korea’s sensitivity to new trends.
That, and boring drinks.
“Many of the bars that open pay so much attention to interior design and far less attention to the actual drinks,” says 31-year-old Lim, who is one of the best-known faces on the Korean bar circuit. As part of his job, he consults for bars and concocts new signature drinks for various events all over the country.
“It’s one of my ambitions to make a signature drink for Seoul along the likes of the Singapore Sling,” says Lim.
We asked the bartending champ and bar consultant to pick Korea's best bars for the looming few months of perfect weather.
The Glass Bar, Haevichi Hotel, Jeju Island
“Haevichi's Glass Bar is great for families or couples because of the inventive events,” says Lim.
The poolside bar at one of the newest luxury resorts in Jeju Island is tended by a world-class bartender-in-residence and enjoys a panoramic view of the palm-lined beaches and the hotel’s awesome pool.
As its name suggests, the bar is made completely of glass -- all four walls and the ceiling.
When the weather is nice, the walls open and visitors can walk straight into the pool.
The Glass Bar is currently encouraging guests to bartend for their loved ones themselves.
Lim concocted the bar’s new signature cocktail, the Pinky Basil, a vodka-based cocktail with watermelon and basil.
40-69 Pyoseon-ri, Pyoseon-myeon, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do (제주특별자치도 서귀포시 표선면표선리 40-69); +82 64 780 8000; www.haevichi.com; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
The Aqua Bar, Oasis, Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul
“The Aqua Bar has one of the best views in the city,” says Lim.
Located in the middle of the Central Business District of Seoul, the pool at the Banyan Tree Club & Spa provides cabana service for its members, and is open to the public after 7 p.m.
The resident bartender recommends a French Fizz, a Champagne and Ciroc cocktail.
The House DJ spins a mean soundtrack.
San 5-5, Jang Chung-Dong 2-Ga, Jung-Gu, Seoul 100-857 (서울 중구 장충동 2가 산5-5번지); +82 2 2250 8000; www.banyantree.com; Thursday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
BETWEEN, Itaewon, Seoul
The opening of BETWEEN, a dining and tapas lounge with six resident DJs, officially crowned the Itaewon district as the hottest area in Seoul.
The glass-lined lounge and the outdoor patio is popular for its Champagne brunch by day, and for the first round of drinks at night before going clubbing.
“Foreigners especially know this place well already because it is such a hot spot right now, but no one really knows how skilled the bartender is,” says Lim. “I really recommend the cocktails there."
Try the Don Forget Me, a signature martini made with a Don Julio Tequila base to commemorate the late Don Julio Gonzales.
Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 124-7 (용산구 이태원동 124-7); +82 2 795 6164; www.betweenitaewon.com; Sunday-Thursday noon-2 a.m., Friday-Saturday noon-4 a.m.
Coffee Bar K, Cheongdam, Seoul
The Cheongdam district has seen an exodus of clientele to the newly minted red-hot Itaewon district, but a select few favorite haunts still endure.
Coffee Bar K is a concept imported from the Ginza District in Japan. Lim calls it “the best business bar in Seoul.”
A team of professionally trained bartenders and a collection of more than 600 whiskeys and spirits equal a cocktail menu that could double as a coffee table book.
Resident bartender Ippei Okuma recommends a whiskey highball with Singleton, a Highland district single malt, and crafted with a special factory-ordered, high-density crystalline ice that doesn’t compromise the whiskey base.
Also recommended is the Smoky Martini with Talisker, accompanied by a cigar from the short but selective cigar menu.
89-20 Chungdam-dong, Kangnam-gu, Seoul (서울시 강남구 청담동 89-20번지); +82 2 5161 970; Monday-Saturday 7 p.m.-3 a.m. closed Sunday
RUFXXX, Itaewon, Seoul
Home to an experimental performing arts group of the same name, RUFXXX is primarily a performing arts venue that was converted from an artist’s studio.
The lounge on the first floor is meant to be another space for interaction between the audience and performers, who also moonlight as bartenders serving up house cocktails such as the Bailey’s Milkshake and Mojitos made with spearmint grown in-house.
The real scene stealer is the top-floor standing-only deck overlooking the Itaewon hills with a spectacular view of Namsan Tower.
Performances are staged Friday to Sunday at 9 p.m.
5-27 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu (서울시 용산구 이태원동 5-27); +82 2 511 2570; Tuesday-Sunday 4 p.m to midnight, closed Monday
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