Story and Photos by Emil Goh
Emil Goh, artist and Theme correspondent, gives us the design-lover’s guide to the arts and culture scene for Seoul.
Brief bio, occupation: Malaysian-born Sydney artist smitten with Seoul ever since doing an Asialink artist in residency at Ssamziespace. Currently on an Australia Council grant to shoot a new photographic series here.
Length of time in city: Four years.
Eat & Drink
Best deal restaurant:
Maple Tree House, 31-1 Samcheongdong, Jongno-gu.
If you love meat, this is the place for you—BBQ, BBQ, BBQ.
Best street food:
Jopok Pogangmacha, Hongdae.
Near landmarks Luxury Zu Noraebang (karaoke) & art centre SangSang Madang, which anyone on the street can point you to. Jopok, “gangster” in Korean, is a street food institution, considered the best ddukbokki (rice cake) truck in Seoul. Everyone from schoolgirls to pop stars loves huddling around the twigim (batter-dipped items) & soondae (blood sausage), especially on weekends.
mmmg café, 153 Angukdong, Jongno-gu.
A longtime dream of the homegrown stationers mmmg, they finally have a space with lots of nice touches here and there. Doubles as the staff tea-room (so lucky, their HQ is upstairs!) and mini store.
Bloom & Goute on Gargosil, 545-24 Sinsadong, Gangnam-gu.
Possibly the first really well done café in what is now the most fashionable street in Sinsa, their nokchabingsu (green tea shaved ice dessert) is to die for.
d’avant, 411-16 Seogyodong, Mapo-gu.
A Hongdae favorite, this place kicked off Seoul’s love affair with Belgian waffles. Go early in the week to avoid queues.
Papergarden Apgujeong, 653-11 Sinsadong, Kangnam-gu.
One of the best-designed cafes. Great coffee, a yummy Oreo and coconut milk concoction, and BLESS on the video projector.
mk2 Gyeongbokgung, 122-2 Changseongdong, Jongno-gu.
Far from the cafe-saturated Apgujeong and Hongdae, mk2 is a little oasis next to Gyeongbokgung Palace, with a well-chosen selection of mid-century moderns, Apfelschorles and espresso. Don’t forget to run your fingers along the lines of the commissioned wall piece.
Best place to work on laptop with free wi-fi:
aA Museum Café, 408-11 Seokyodong, Mapo-gu.
Year-round mecca for coffee & vintage furniture fans.
Post Poetics, 337-4 Sangsudong, Mapo-gu.
Think Nieves of Zurich. Here you’ll find the cream of indie publishing—032c, Arkitip, Purple, Here & There—plus books by C’est mon dada, Company & Martino Gamper, etc.
Kyobo, Kyobo Building Basement, 1 Jongno 1-Ga, Jongno-Gu.
The largest bookshop in the land. Especially useful if you’re after local stuff in foreign tongues.
Best magazine stand:
Magazine Land in Hongdae, 369-11 Seogyodong, Mapo-gu.
Best spot for international art and design magazines and books. It’s the only browsable spot in Seoul where everything isn’t sealed in plastic.
Gagarin, next to Gyeongbukgung Palace, 122-22 Changsungdong, Jongno-gu.
Super new! A joint effort by Gyeongbokgung’s creative darlings—workroom design, Factory Gallery & mk2 café—stocking great used books, magazines, and artist multiples.
Daily Projects, 1-24 Chungdamdong, Gangnam-gu.
One of the few spots you can find Bernhard Willhelm and my fave, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, plus local star Suh Sang-young and a selection of young, local, up-and-comers. Don’t forget to check out their well-stocked magazine cafe and gallery plus fortnightly flea market.
TinTin aka DaKorner, 56-21 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu.
My T-shirt addiction is only quenched only with local gems like Burumarbul, CUZ&EFX and Giant Bastard.
Best design store:
Second Hotel Apgujeong, 647-2 Sinsadong, Kangnam-Gu.
A big supporter of young, local designers like Zinoo Park, Peach Kargo, Chan Ho Lee, and Lee Kiseob, plus plenty of loot from 100 percent, Marcel Wanders, Droog, etc.
Favorite art space/gallery/museum:
Kukje, 59-1 Sogyeokdong, Jongno-gu.
One of the few commercial galleries in Asia that shows museum favorites like Beuys, Bourgeois, Viola and international Korean artists like Kim Sora, Yeondoo Jung, and GIMHONGSOK.
Gallery 2, Nature Poem, #315 118-17 Chungdamdong , Gangnam-gu.
New gallery with an amazing space dealing exclusively with Korean artists such as Jackson Hong and Lee Dongi. One of the first to add some street cred to Nature Poem’s growing nest of galleries.
Ssamziespace Hongdae, 5-129 Changjeondong, Mapo-gu.
Just celebrated its 10th anniversary as one of the first independent spaces in Korea. It also runs an artist residency program with a long list of illustrious alumni including Lee Bul, Choi Jeong Hwa, Gwon Osang, Sasa, and Lee Hyung Koo.
Factory Gallery Gyeongbokgung,127-3 Changsungdong, Jongno-gu.
Great spot showing art, design, and crafts including the likes of design duo Sulki & Min, collective No Name No Shop, and rising art photographer Myoung Ho Lee.
Only local does or knows about:
After-midnight clothes shopping in Dongdaemun. Weave between hardcore fashionistas and seasoned wholesale buyers in multistory mazes picking up the “next big thing” at bargain basement prices.
How would you spend a day off in your city?
In the morning I’d go out to the Anyang Public Art Project to see architectural works by Sami Rintala, MRDRV, etc. The afternoon would be spent wandering around the light industrial supply stores and traditional markets of Euljiro3-ga and Jongno5-ga. The real gems of Seoul, these places are quickly being eroded by the forest-fire-fast gentrification of the revived Cheonggyecheon Stream project.
What is the best place to people-watch?
Best Friends (next to the Prince Edward noraebang) on a weekend night is no doubt the best people-spotting place in hip Hongdae. Don’t let the ghetto deep-fried food and weak beer distract you from the parade.
Anything else you want to mention?
Don’t forget to rent a mobile at the airport and use a T money card on the subway.