The New Face of Itaewon
The gates to the famous district in Seoul, South Korea
For many years itaewon had a reputation for being a seedy place. Full of foreign bars and hooks where one could get anything from blackmarket goods to a night in jail. It was a place few Koreans dared to step foot in, especially after the infamous 1997 Itaewon murder.
However, much has changed since those dark years and Itaewon is now a culturally rich neighbourhood full of artists, chefs, and a vibrant cafe scene. While some parts may still have traces of the old Itaewon, much of it, for better or worse has been updated. While diehard Seoulites may hate that a number of Korean chain restaurants have moved into the area to take advantage of the scene, there are still many great spots that are unique to the area.
If you are an art lover or are just looking for something a little out of the ordinary, then this is the place for you. Brimming with modern art mixed with some stunning pieces from Korea’s long history, you will be hard pressed not to find something interesting. Located near the Hangganjin Subway station, this is a great starting point for a tour of the area.
While art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this museum is really well laid out and the grounds are amazing. Being Seoul, you are never too far from a coffee shop and the museum grounds are a perfect place for a cup of coffee on a nice day.
Heading back to the main road you will see an amazing structure and that would be non other than the Hyundai Card Music Library. Housing over 10,000 vinyl records, this stunning building was design by Choi Moongyu and exemplifies the changing face of Itaewon. This spot is not only a library but it hosts big name concerts as well. Not to mention that it has a stunning view out from the huge canopy.
If you are looking for something a little unique and a little strange than this cute little cafe might be right up your alley. Located just across the street from the Music Library, this cafe has some of the most unique deserts in the city. Each potted pudding dessert comes out looking like a potted flower. Whether you feel that this is a gimmick or not, the desserts are actually quite tasty and this makes a perfect date spot or a family treat.
Main St. Itaewon
While there may not exactly be a “main street” in Itaewon, for the purposes of this article I will call the large street running through the main area of Itaewon “the main street” as this seems to be the main area in the district. At any rate, this area has changed a lot in recent years. While the Hamilton Hotel still reminds me of the old days, much of what surrounds the hotel has changed quite a lot.
While chain and franchise cafes and restaurants try to dominate the area, it is the independent shops and restaurants that are the main force behind Itaewon’s rebirth. Here restaurants serve gourmet-level foods that are found in very few places outside of Seoul. One would argue that in some cases, you won’t find anything like it outside of Itaewon.
While Costco and Foreigner Mart may have us covered for many hard to get items in Ulsan, High Street Market is an Itaewon institution that has a lot of different items that cannot be found anywhere else. While their prices maybe too high for some, if you are really wanting a fully cooked turkey dinner or some salt and vinegar chips then look no further.
What The Book? has been around for sometime, it is one of the better places to find new and used books in English. While you can order them online, there is nothing quite like the experience or the feel of thumbing through an actual book.
One of the more unique features in the area is the Seoul Central Mosque. This is a beautiful building that really stands out amongst the seemingly uniform buildings of the surrounding area. The mosque is also located on one of the best streets in Korea to get authentic Halal food. It offers a peaceful retreat to the hustle and bustle of the city.
One of the best meals that I have had in a long long time.
Before heading up to Seoul, I had seen the pictures. They truly fit the word “food porn” as just looking at them made me drool even more than usual. Upon arriving, I was met with some friendly staff and patrons waiting to get their BBQ fix. I say fix because this food is truly addictive. Beef brisket and pulled pork are highly recommended. This no frills BBQ joint brings the meat out on a tray and the waitress will actually explain which of their homemade sauces go with which meat. The deep fried mac n’ cheese are also amazing.
With the suspect in the Itaewon Murder case Arthur Patterson now charged, a dark chapter in Itaewon’s history comes to a close. What remains is a vibrant multicultural district filled with great food and an open-minded carefree feeling that you can’t find anywhere else in South Korea.