Hongdae, a large area near Hongik University, is in many ways the pulsing heartbeat of the young and hopeful of Seoul. For the past few decades it has been where talented students, and others, have spilled out their ideas and designs in art, fashion, and music to share with other like minded youth. There is a passion in Hongdae that may not strike one at first glance, but the longer you stay and the deeper you delve into the back alleys, basements, and hidden corners the more obvious it becomes. Filled now with tourists and other Seoulites drawn to one of the most jam packed areas of shops, cafes, art galleries, clubs, pubs, noribangs, and live performances in the city, it still maintains its forward thinking and creative soul.
One visit is not enough, in fact a month or more of visits might still not cover all the area has to offer. The density of cafes and restaurants, not to forget street food stalls, means you would never have to go to the same place twice to eat. Bars, pubs, and places serving ‘to go’ alcoholic drinks are numerous, as are entertainment places like noribangs, and PC cafes. Music abounds within regular clubs and bars, as well as those which showcase live performances. Street performers are also a common sight in Hongdae, with some going on to become famous. Shops selling all sorts of fashionable clothing and accessories entice those looking to be on the cutting edge of what’s new and hip, while art galleries showcase young urban artist’s most innovative and avant-garde work. Art can also be seen in the ever changing street art and graffiti. There are also monthly markets featuring handmade items from students, some of whom study at the Fine Arts College of Hongik University, one of the nation’s top such colleges. The Trick Eye Museum has a location here, and there are a couple of theaters as well as a few Kdrama and movie locations. Regular festivals are also held throughout the year, most with themes that state more liberal views than those that are popular with the older generations. Even after saying this I am sure I’ve missed pointing out some of the other obvious charms and attractions of the area.
On our recent trip to Seoul we stopped in at Hongdae on a couple of evenings, once as part of a long night of ’rounds’ of which Hongdae was just one part, and another where we were looking for a couple of specific places. One of the places we were looking for was a craft beer place. Craft beer arrived late on the scene in S.Korea due to the domination of the big brewing companies and the unfavorable tax and distribution laws. However, in 2014 some of those issues were addressed and new legislation lessened the financial hurdles small brewers had to face. New craft breweries have been popping up all over Korea and ones who had moved their companies overseas have begun to return. So we wanted to see what we could find in Hongdae. There are actually a few places which serve craft beer, you can also try Magpie, and Neighborhood, but we chose to go to Platinum Craft Beer Brewing Company, one of the better known brands.
A little off the beaten track, down a side alley, the site was a somewhat tricky to find on a dark rainy night, but it was a homey place with most of the tables having groups of friends trying out the brews. We tried a couple and they were decent, probably in the 3.5 out of 5 range, and we were pleasantly surprised that the Stout was better than we expected.
Another place we wanted to try was a Board Game Cafe, one of which we found down a somewhat sketchy staircase which led us down to an interesting old basement. We were seated at one of the last 2 empty tables and a charming young man tried to explain how the cafe worked, and the prices, to two non Korean speakers. We were the only foreigners there, which was great because it really allowed us to see a representative slice of Korean social life. We only stayed an hour or so, but had fun and would definitely return next time we’re in the area.
While strolling around we managed to catch a couple of street performances, one a singer, and another a group of dancers. On previous visits we have also been lucky enough to interact with the performers. In the photos below you can see my daughter chatting and then introducing an excellent musician whose name unfortunately is unknown to us.
The really nice thing without the street performances is that they are so varied and eclectic that you don’t know what you’ll find each time you visit. We’ve seen magicians, and comedians as well as musicians and dancers. You can sometimes see guerilla style appearances by semi established groups as well as random idols. You just have to go often and keep your eyes open.
The last place I’ll mention is a chain restaurant called BHC which has a location in Hongdae as well as others around the city. It is a chicken and beer restaurant, and what I liked most about it was the way you helped yourself to your beer from the coolers and then put the empty bottles in a basket and your total bill was then calculated from those empties. The chicken wasn’t bad either.
It is hard to describe the size of Hongdae in terms that everyone can understand, but it covers many multiple blocks of area, plus many buildings have up to 6 floors of different places going upwards and then basement levels going down. For people who are familiar with 6th Street in Austin, Hongdae is that, if it were a cargo ship, on steroids. If you’re in Seoul be sure to check it out and give yourself time to discover some of the best food, drink, and music around. It is a famous spot for the young, for couples, and for groups of friends, although we saw people of all ages including groups of very respectable middle aged businessmen. (Much later we saw a group trying to get a very drunk senior manager type into a taxi, and similar to Kdramas, there was much bowing and exclaiming and carefully half lifting him into the cab.)
Hongdae stays active and awake long past when the last subway stops running, so make sure you know your Korean address and have taxi fare on you, or do like many Koreans, keeping partying until the subway starts up again the next morning.
Have a great day everyone.
Photo credits to me and Elle Marzec. Please do not copy or repost without permission and accreditation.