The Best Bars in Seoul

The speakeasy tradition is going strong here: dozens of lounges serve sophisticated cocktails in elegant settings, but traditional soju sipping goes on, too. Drinking is taken seriously in Seoul. So choose your poison (and drink responsibly).

Seoul, South Korea
Aptly named 37 Grill & Bar is set on the 37th floor of the Conrad Hotel, and overlooks the Han River and the Seoul skyline. The slick, dark wood-and-glass establishment is famed for its wide variety of beef, including cuts from Korea, Spain, Australia and the US. The menu is rounded out with a few seafood and pasta options, making 37 Grill & Bar a popular choice when one has overdosed on the kimchi. Thirsty? Snack on curried popcorn as you choose from a classic cocktail on the drinks menu, or a vino from the hundreds of choices on the wine list, including a 1994 bottle of Château Pétrus for a mere $8,000. Don’t forget to bring your gold card. 10 Gukjegeumyung-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
684 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Well worth the effort it takes to locate this tiny establishment, Flower Gin is a hybrid gin bar and flower shop that feels as though you’ve stumbled into a bygone speakeasy, yet smells like an English country garden. The space is decorated with Alice in Wonderland-esque images, and serves six different cocktails, all created with cucumber-infused Hendrick’s gin. Opt for the classic G&T, or get fancy with an Elderflower Collins or Hot Gun Punch. All are picturesque and served with a delicate pink rose on top. Be sure to say hi to Coco the Boston Terrier, the little mascot that happily greets patrons who are lucky enough make their way in. Kyungnidan 684, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
In a sleek, black brick building lies C27 Cheesecake & Coffee, a trendy café where chicly dressed Koreans take selfies as they sip cappuccinos amidst the whimsical interiors (the entire third floor has been transformed into faux kitchen Architectural Digest would be proud of). A glass case at the entrance displays—you guessed it—27 varieties of cheesecake, from the classic original, to flavors like green tea, Dutch apple, and marshmallow chocolate options. Hang out and choose from the surprising wine selection, or take your cheesecake to go, and they’ll wrap it in an adorable, cheese shaped box. 39, Dosan-daero 15-gil, Gangnam-gu
Despite the fact that speakeasies of the prohibition age were illegal, their illicit nature created an allure that drew people in—never mind getting arrested. Nowadays, speakeasies are a sophisticated trend, and fortunately, visiting one doesn’t involve the possibility of jail time. Good thing, because it would be a pity to miss out on Charles H., the decadent, speakeasy themed cocktail bar on the lower level of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. Named after American cocktail writer Charles H. Baker, the menu features concoctions found by the cocktail connoisseur on his world travels, and showcases interiors meant to resemble the subterranean New York of a bygone era. Like a true speakeasy, there are no signs leading the way to the hidden door, but chances are an accommodating hotel employee may be able to provide a hint. 97 Saemunan-ro,Jongno-gu, Seoul
220-4 Seogye-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
For a true Korean drinking experience, look no further than the corner convenience store. From 7-11 and Family Mart, to GS 25 and Buy the Way, the stores have wooden picnic tables or plastic chairs set up outside so patrons can enjoy a frosty Cass or Hite (Korean beer), or a swig of soju (Korean distilled alcohol) while watching the traffic lights of Seoul flash by. It may seem strange, but Korean convenience stores are a prolific part of Seoul’s landscape and the perfect, low-key way to while away a weekend afternoon.
Founded by five friends who missed the taste of craft beer so decided to brew their own after moving to Seoul, this laid back brewery has become a magnet for beer lovers in Korea’s capital. There’s a location in Hongdae, but the original in Itaewon is still the place to be, where classics like porter and pale ale are served up in a the laid-back, industrial-chic space that also hosts regular concerts, classes, and food and drink workshops. Magpie also offers a small menu that includes pizza considered to be some of the best in Itaewon—just sayin’. 244-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Yongsan-gu
15 Samcheong-ro 9-gil, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Set amidst the quaint hanoks (traditional Korean houses) of tourist favorite Bukchon Hanok Village, this upscale brewery serves a special kind of Korean alcohol that in days gone by was served only to the ruling gentry class. Made with rice and brewed three times, Samhaeju was popular during the Jeseon Dynasty, but production halted when the Japanese colonization of Korea began in 1910. Working to revive this nearly lost traditional beverage, the brewmaster leads tours and shows visitors how this traditional liquor is made. After the tour, it’s tasting time, so come thirsty. Reservations are required and English isn’t spoken—bring an interpreter. 15, Samcheong-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu
Step through a flower shop and into this swanky bar in the buzzing Gangnam area and you’ll forget you’re in a major Asian capital city—you’ll think you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and ended up in an English country manor. With dark wood accents, chandeliers and tufted footstools, you’ll wish you had a tweed hat and a pipe, but what you can have is a fine scotch or a gin and tonic to occupy your hands. Choose a drink from the signature cocktail list, which are served in whimsical glasses, then press a button which makes another drink magically appear. It it’s a whimsical, eclectic evening you’re after, it’s time to introduce yourself to Alice. 47, Dosandaero 55-gil, Gangnam-gu
73-4 Dokseodang-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
The speakeasy trend is alive and hopping in Seoul, and you never know behind which nondescript doors on the city’s streets people are stylishly sipping rare single malts or G&Ts. Speakeasy Mortar is one of those mysterious doors, where in-the-know patrons are only allowed to enter after the staff approves them through a peephole. Although the price of drinks is steep (nearly $20 a piece), the whiskey selection, atmosphere, and ambient music are meant for those who truly want to have a classic speakeasy experience. 73-4, Dokseodang-ro,Yongsan-gu
86 Dongmak-ro, Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
The whisky bug has hit Seoul hard, and the past few years has seen an explosion of the fine amber liquor making its way from the bucolic Scottish Highlands to the bustling streets of Seoul. Sangsu-ri is single handedly responsible for the whisky education of hundreds of Seoulites, the bar shelves stocked with favorites including Glenfiddich, Macallan and Glenmorangie. The owner, a passionate whisky lover, spent three months biking through Scotland on his quest for the perfect dram, and brought his knowledge (and a few bottles) back to serve up in Seoul. B1, 86, Dongmak-ro, Mapo-gu
South Korea, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong, 365-5
For a fun night out in Seoul, locals know to head to the Hongdae neighborhood for dining, drinks and music…and more drinks. Set near Hongik University, Hongdae is a nightlife lover’s dream, with jolly crowds, flashing lights, and pulsing music, and a great place to start (or finish) the night is in lively Bar Da. With its low lighting and divey feel, Bar Da has developed a reputation as a hip hangout with cheap cocktails and a good atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants around if you’re hungry, or snack on the dried anchovies Bar Da serves up with your drink.
33 Dosan-daero 17-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
It all started when a Korean couple went on a craft beer trip to the US for their honeymoon, and became enchanted with the sleek, industrial-chic bar in San Francisco. When they returned to Seoul, it was only a matter of time before they decided to open a Mikkeller Bar of their own. With a simple and distinct Scandinavian design, combined with distinctly Korean touches, the Mikkeller Bar Seoul joins the growing global brand that proffers craft beers from over 30 different countries worldwide. Grab a sidewalk stool, order a frosty glass and watch the world go by. 33 Dosan-daero 17-gil, Gangnam-gu
Addresses in Seoul are notoriously difficult to figure out, and that combined with the countless number of unmarked alleys makes finding even the most popular hangouts a challenge. Finding the unmarked door of one of Seoul’s coolest speakeasies isn’t easy, but it’s worth it, as the unassuming door opens to reveal a trendy bar with a dark wood interior that specializes in craft beer and single malt whisky. It’s the only bar of its kind in Gangnam, as most of the craft beer places are located in the more international neighborhood of Itaewon, so leave early to ensure you get there in time to nab a good seat. Eonjuro 134-gil, Gangnam-gu
4 Dosan-daero 17-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
There are some things that are universal, including people’s love of a good dive bar. If you’re looking for a low-key vibe with cheap drinks and greasy bar food, look no further than Cuckoo. Set in the trendy Garusogil shopping area, this unfussy bar and restaurant with graphitized walls and a raucous party vibe is often packed with 20-something locals playing Korean drinking games and downing copious amounts of soju. Although it may serve fried beef tripe, clam soup and stir-fried chicken gizzards with garlic, the beer is cheap and cold and that’s something that can be understood in any language. 4, Dosan-daero 17-gil, Gangnam-gu
There are some bars where you walk in and you can just tell it’s a serious place where the drinks are stiff and the bartenders know their Negronis from their French 75s. Craft cocktails are on the rise in Seoul, and a great place to go for the real deal is SAHM. An acronym for Strong of Heart and Mind, this sophisticated yet unpretentious place on a side street off Apgujeong’s, Rodeo Drive is where aficionados and those craving true craft cocktails can go without disappointment. The low lighting and black clad staff add to the contemplative atmosphere. Needless to say, don’t be afraid to ask for more unusual selections. 5-6, Apgujeong-ro 46-gil, Gangnam-gu
606 Teheran-ro, Daechi 2(i)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Meant to resemble a hanok (traditional Korean house), this sophisticated bar in the basement of the Park Hyatt is separated into three distinct sections, meant to represent different rooms in the house. Start with some couldn’t-be-fresher sashimi at the sushi and sake bar, then grab a martini at the cocktail bar, followed by a rare single malt at the whiskey bar, all while listening to mood-setting music emanating from the sleek grand piano. There are also vintage champagnes that need to be fitted into the schedule, so save room for some bubbly. 606 Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
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