On my first night out in Seoul, still recovering from trans-continental jetlag, a friend of mine took me out in Insadong.
We met @ Exit #6 from Anguk station, disengaging from the crowd to make a left down the very, very narrow alley between the police station and the parking lot. Coming out of the alley we turned right and found ourselves in front of a "Hanok", a traditional Korean-style house. We walked in through the old wooden door of the "Pub of the Blue Star". As we crossed the little yard, I couldn't help but be curious about several strange looking shamanistic dolls, interspersed with an array of traditional clay pots, and a few bits of dried cod which were meant to bring you luck.
We grabbed a seat at the back of the bar, lucky to get the last table - perfect as I really wasn't in a mood to walk any further to find an alternative bar. The crowd was a good mix of post-work salarymen, a bunch of Americans (well marked by their attire of sandals with white socks and backpacks), and even a well known TV actor drinking with his friends.
We ordered some Korean pancakes and some Makkoli (Korean rice wine, milky white in colour) to start with. My friend invited the owner of the bar, Mr Choe to our table. He used to be a stage actor, when he mentioned he had played in the classic Korean movie "Taebaeksanmaek" I told him: "Then I saw you in 2D years ago, and I even managed to get the DVD of that movie last year!"
His true passion was travelling, over the years he had visited over 90 countries and he was about to go to Dharamsala in India where he will be spending time with some Tibetans. The pancake looked delicious and did not disappoint: not too oily, but warm and crispy with a mix of fresh vegetables and kimchi.
All the food from the menu was organic, although it wasn't mentioned anywhere, but Mr Choe said he wanted to offer the best for his customers. The Makkolli is from Sangju, a city in the south-east of Korea. Before opening his bar 2 years ago, he had travelled throughout Korea to find the best Makkolli, settling for this one. As soon as he took the first sip he knew it was the perfect variety. Although he has taken additional liberty to mix some green tea and a herbal powder mix to teh Sangju brew, just to add some special flavors and make it healthier. "Less hangover...so you can drink more!" he said, with a knowing smile.
I truly enjoyed the evening, a mix of good food and drinks - specially prepared to prevent hangovers - couldn't help but make the perfect combination. Great barside conversations made it even more enjoyable, When I went back there with a Japanese singer, that hipster already knew the place, but was impressed I chose to take him there. When my friends Ruben and Gaelle came from Paris, they loved the dumpling stew and the pancake, and couldn't get enough of the Makkolli.
Makkolli used to be the staple drink of farmers, fermented milky rice liquor that they made at home. For a long time it wasn't so easy to find in bars catering to the younger city crowd, but from about 2 or 3 years ago it made a huge comeback. Not only in cheap eateries, but even some triendier and more posh places started serving Makkolli; even cocktails based on Makkolli have started popping up on selected menus.
On my next visit I hope it will rain, so I'll be able to sit quietly, have a drink and eat listening to the sound of rain. That's what we are meant to do on a rainy day: drink Makkolli with some good food. And with Mr Choe's Blue Star recipe, I can drink as much as I want without fear of a hangover's reprisal.
Address: no address just directions...
Directions: Go out Anguk station exit 6 and make a left down the very narrow alley between the police station and the parking lot.
Prices: $ (which means not expensive in case you are not familiar with the scale we stole from Yelp!)