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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Pub HQ

By Aaron Crossen

Hite and OB, which together control most of South Korea’s market for slightly malted beverages, have been churning out untold millions of bottles of their trademark tasteless swill, with virtually no appreciable competition from upstart breweries, since The Olden Tymes. Partial credit is due to the famously competent central government and specifically an old federal law regulating the production of alcoholic beverages. For Westerners (and in particular, Canadians and Americans – Europeans have long had more options) this spells trouble.

Why? Because some time ago we revolted against the tyranny of bad beer and helped create the craft brewing movement, which finally elevated the concept of taste from ‘what taste?’ to the level of ‘principal concern’ when buying beer. The peerless champions of that battle that have lived in Korea for a while must be demonstrating symptoms of phantom limb by now, reaching for invisible steins of that sumptuous porter you so often enjoyed across the pond(s). Just to use my case as an example, fifteen miles equidistant in two cardinal directions from the town in which I attended university lie no fewer than three independent breweries, in which I regularly enjoyed freshly brewed stouts, ales and IPAs that, when accompanied by pub fare and my usual band of very handsome acquaintances, often made for heavenly evenings of imbibing.

Basically, it was hard not to find an amazing beer.

So if you’re like me and were spoiled rotten to your monkey core by fantastic brews back Home, you came to Korea and immediately punched yourself in the face when you realized it’s almost impossible to get a decent draft of anything outside of Seoul. Enter Pub HQ, located behind Shinhan Bank in Seobu-dong, just a short walk from the Hyundai Department Store in Dong-gu. Bam:

Woah! Real beer!

John Quigley, his wife Hyeon-shil and son Sean have answered the hitherto neglected prayers of Ulsan’s beer lovers. Praise!

The family had been selling traditional British hard cider at sister bar Early Doors further down the peninsula for a while, and it had long been the only place in Ulsan where you could get some. Correctly thinking there was unmet demand for craft-style beer in Ulsan, Sean contacted Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery, Early Doors’ supplier, prior to HQ’s opening, and asked about expanding the relationship. Big Rock agreed. And now? John:

“Our IPA outsells the [traditional ale] and the cider combined.” By a considerable magnitude.

Not a bad premonition on Sean’s behalf, right? “It was like Inception.” Naturally.

The traditional ale on offer tastes like a typical brown ale, malty and nutty. There’s also an IPA, which if you’re an IPA-lover like me, tasting the hoppy brew for the first time since being in Korea will be like reconnecting with that one girlfriend you probably shouldn’t have been such a dick to back in college, but now finally have the chance of redeeming yourself with. Actually it’s not like that at all, it’s more like drinking beer, but it’s a good beer, more British than American in its flavor profile. The cider is cider. The first dream I had on cider was about a zombie apocalypse, so if there are any lucid dreamers in the audience you’ll

probably like it. Of course there’s Guinness and Hoegaarden; cheap bastards can opt for the Cass. Quigley the Elder is also a wine enthusiast, and I would tell you HQ has a pretty impressive wine selection, if I knew anything about wine. There are a lot of bottles with important-looking chateaus on them. I think I saw one with a tree. And of course John will mix up any cocktail you can dream up.

ALL HANDS ON DECK! John, left, and Sean Quigley manning the weaponry.

The building that currently houses HQ started life as a noraebang, but you’ve never guess from the décor, which is classic: all brick, wood and glass, and it’s beautifully lit, in contrast to the karaoke dungeon it replaced. John wanted to put an emphasis on creating an airy, open and inviting atmosphere, as opposed to the cloistered, dank, and why does this smell like pee? ambience Korean drinking establishments tend toward.

“There were three things we wanted most,” says John. “Good toilets, good ventilation, and good lighting.” Check, check, and check. You’d never mistake HQ’s bright façade for a brooding soju hof; nor will you need to bring a space heater in order to evacuate your bowels. Both Koreans and waygooks are responding well to the Quigleys’ foresight, as John said the mix of foreigners-to-natives has been roughly 60/40 in favor of the former. That bodes well for business, since as many of you reading this are doubtlessly aware, a predominately foreign clientele has meant little but an ignominious end for a number of once-beloved beer halls here in Ulsan.

Of course, some of its success has to do with location, location, location. It’s a skip, not a jump, from the department store, which has meant plenty of daytime customers and naturally, a full kitchen. “Anyone that comes in during the day is eating, basically,” John said. “We’ve had a good response from the customers.” He told me that the fajitas were popular. Try them and let him know what you think.

Both John and Sean will take your pride and money over this beautiful table.

Dong-gu is an embarrassment of riches these days, so you should require neither cajoling nor training in order to hop on a bus/taxi/zeppelin and make your way down here. To get to Seobu-dong from Nam-gu, take the 104, 106, 108, 133 or 401. From Joong-gu, you can also take the 123, 104, 133, or 106. From Book-gu, take the 102 or the 112, or just tell the taxi driver to take you to Dong-gu Seobu-dong Hyundai Baekhwajeom. Get off at the department store, which is right next to a McDonald’s, and walk along the sidewalk next to the massive arts center. You’ll see a Shinhan Bank. Take a right and walk up the hill until you see HQ on the corner.

Pub HQ


Real darts!