A river runs around it: Yeouido IslandYeouido, an island on the southern
side of the Han River in Seoul, is a neighborhood with a split personality.
On one side, Yeouido is home to the National Assembly, the Korean Stock Exchange, a number of corporate headquarters and three of the country’s four major broadcasting stations. Yet parks, river and churches make up the other half of the neighborhood, creating a soft touch amid the hard forest of buildings.
On weekdays, restaurants and espresso bars in Yeouido fill up with bankers, entertainment producers and office workers exchanging political and celebrity gossip in smoke-filled rooms.
At night, most of these people are replaced by couples who take in the night views along the river. On Sundays, families flood the area to picnic after church services. And when the weather is warm, people take to the path by the river to bike, Rollerblade or jog.
Only lately, though, has the island started to realize its potential as a classy neighborhood. Karaoke bars and sleazy hostess clubs are showing signs of slow decline, and are being replaced by coffee shops and health clubs. Take-out restaurants and shops catering to hobbyists and sporting enthusiasts are on the rise. And an increasing number of office workers are taking advantage of their lunch hours to shop, read and learn new things.
The JoongAng Daily scouted the neighborhood, looking for the latest in galleries, theaters, coffee shops and more. Welcome to Yeouido ― the Manhattan of Seoul.
Saunas, cruises, Yeouido after dark
If you’re trolling around Yeouido at 3 a.m. and happen upon a long lane lined with flashing neon signs, you’ve probably discovered Seoul’s most popular street of saunas for men.
The area, an alleyway in front of the Hong-woo Building, is where investment bankers and fund managers stay the night after many late hours of drinking with colleagues and business contacts.
There are about 12 saunas on this street alone, most of which are open for 24 hours. The price ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 won a night.
A block east from the sauna street is a cluster of pochangmacha, food carts that line the streets, where you can get everything from barbecued eel to fish cakes.
A roomy sky lounge overseeing the entire city located in the 63 Building is also a good place to hang out on a Friday night.
For a night tour of the neighborhood, also check out the live concert cruise which departs at 8:40 and tours the Han River for 90 minutes. The boat heads west, past the World Cup Stadium, before turning around and returning to harbor. Dress warmly if you want to be on the decks.
The cost is 10,000 won for adults, 5,000 won for children. Call (02) 785-4411 for more information.
Food, drinks and tea in style
Located in the Dongbuk building, a few minutes’ walk east from the Allianz headquarters, Star China is a modern Chinese restaurant ― the kind you normally don’t see in Yeouido. The prices are moderate and portions are generous. Lunch A, the restaurant’s most popular set menu, includes a nine-course meal for 15,000 won a person. All menus are in Korean and English.
Price range: Noodles and rice from 4,000 to 10,000 won, main dishes and appetizers are 13,000 and up
Telephone: (02) 780-1558
This small Japanese ramen place is crowded with office workers during lunch hours. The broth here comes in three flavors ― spicy, mild and extra mild. The Sapporo ramen set costs 6,500 won, including rice rolls.
Price range: 4000 won
Telephone: (02) 6747-7114
A coffee and sandwich shop located in the same building as a Spaghettia franchise, Clip is frequented by office workers who order take-out so they can eat at nearby parks along the Han River. The cafe also provides a delivery service for minimum orders of 5,000 won. The sandwiches include paninis, bagels and hot dogs. A breakfast menu is also available between 8 and 11 a.m.
Price range: 3,000 won
Telephone: (02) 780-5131
With plush sofas and waitresses dressed in suits, this upscale cafe is reminiscent of a hotel coffee shop. Despite its fancy interior, Obelisque is mostly known among Yeouido office workers for its fresh beer, which costs only 1,500 won for a 500cc mug. The cafe is located in the Good Morning Shinhan Securities headquarters.
Price range: 4,000 won for coffee
Telephone: (02) 3772-1070
Club Fish is a cafe run by a Christian foundation located right next to Yeoido Full Gospel Church. With moderate prices for food and drinks, access to the Internet and a collection of religious books, Fish attracts a lot of families and students. Gospel concerts and performances take place weekly. Seminar halls, which accommodate up to 40 people, are available if reserved in person.
Prince range: 1,500 won for coffee, 1,500 won for sandwiches
Telephone: (02) 782-0570
The operative word here is “smoke” ― lots and lots of smoke. Established 10 years ago, this two-story cafe overlooking a tree-lined corner is a paradise for tobacco lovers. Price range: 4,500 won and up
Phone: (02) 780-2598, 2599
Good luck finding a seat at The Time. This cozy, two-story coffee shop is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving coffee by day and alcohol at night. From 8 to 11 a.m., coffee comes with toast. The beans are imported from Colombia and roasted in Korea.
Price range: 4,500 won and up
Phone: (02) 782-4429
Little-known hall hits all the right notes
Youngsan Art Hall
The Youngsan Art Hall hosts recitals and classical music concerts almost every night in the basement of the CCMM building, the home of the Kukmin Ilbo.
A bit out of the way, the hall is little known, which is a shame because it has has one of the highest-quality sound systems in the city, set up by Nakada, the same company that did sound for Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
If you’re in the building, check out Cafe Photo, a casual dining place offering homemade pastries, sandwiches and Italian dishes.
Contact: (02) 761-1597, www.youngsanarthall-.co.kr
Great selection, no library cards available
National Assembly Library
The National Assembly Library was built mainly to support the members of the Assembly in their legislative activities, but it also allows limited use ― in house ― by the public. Only National Assembly members and their assistants can take out books.
The library has a diverse range of reference materials from all over the world. Up to 1.5 million volumes are available, including magazines, CD ROMs and major research papers.
The building also offers a nice backyard with small benches where you can sip coffee and chat.
Contact: (02) 788-4143
(English service available),
Gateway to the tropics
Located right next to from KBS-TV’s annex building, the Indonesian Embassy offers travel information, books and brochures about the island nation.
The embassy also rents out traditional costumes and accessories for special occasions.
Contact: (02) 783-5675
Holy high-tech, Dr. Peabody!
LG Science Hall
To learn all about science on the peninsula, try the Science Hall at LG Twin Towers. Built in 1987 and renovated in 1995, the museum has 10 rooms that cover such topics as virtual reality, genetics and energy. You can take a ride on a bobsled, play virtual basketball, watch a 3D movie, or have your portrait drawn by a robot.
The hall is open to the public on Saturdays and holidays, but you must book two weeks in advance. An English guide can be provided. Plans are under way to begin a three-year renovation project.
Contact: (02) 3773-1052
High to low, business is looking up
63 Building, still the tallest building in Korea, has several attractions for the family, individuals and couples.
There’s an aquarium (9,500 won for adults, 8,500 won for children) and an IMAX movie theater (7,000 won for adults, 6,000 won for children) in the basement. The aquarium is home to more than 20,000 animals, from penguins to sea lions to electric eels. The IMAX theater is currently showing “Grand Canyon.”
There’s also a viewing deck on the 60th floor and the Sky Bar on the 59th floor.
Web site: www.63city.co.kr
It’s a cover up, but that’s a good thing
This small quilting shop run by two friends offers small classes for people to learn quilting techniques for everything from teddy bears to wall tapestries.
Located on the second floor of Hongwoo Building, the shop teaches and sells both traditional and Western ways of quilting.
Special classes for office workers are available from noon to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.
Contact: (02) 786-2193
Outdoor fun, all day and all night
Yeouido Citizens Park
Beneath a huge flag of Korea is an asphalt clearing where people play basketball and Rollerblade all day and all night long. Around the clearing is a bike park. The basketball courts are lighted at night, and they’re often filled with people playing pick-up games. Admission is free, but bring your own basketball.
Contact: (02) 786-0306
by Park Soo-mee, Joe Yong-hee