Reggae minus the joints

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Reggae minus the joints

Being white and averse to marijuana, we never really took to reggae music. It’s not like we loathe it ― if we were invited to a Bob Marley concert we’d probably go ― but reggae just isn’t our cup of tea.
Still, we often find ourselves in reggae-themed bars, because wherever you go in the world ― Amsterdam, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Bangkok ― you’ll find one and all the cool people will be there.
And we need to be where the cool people are. In fact, now it’s our job.
Itaewon got its first reggae bar, the Reggae Pub, back in 1996, when a couple of Canadian expatriates thought it up and made it happen. It was wildly popular at first, but by 1998 the Canucks had taken the money and ran, and the new owners had to shut the bar down after police started targeting it for drug busts.
But now the local Reggae Pub is back, and in the same location as its forerunner, just off the traffic signal in the middle of the main drag. Running it this time is Lim Suk, a veteran Itaewon entrepreneur, and his partner Jackie, an Ethiopian-Canadian who originally came to Seoul to teach English.
If you remember the old Reggae Pub, you know it had great atmosphere. It was casual and intimate, and the expats behind the bar never failed to fill your pitcher without a hearty greeting and a wisecrack.
But one thing about the old Reggae was that it had nothing to do with reggae. It played mostly Canadian music and served mostly Canadian food. If you had visited the Reggae Pub in 1997, you would have thought the music form originated in Kingston, Ontario, instead of Kingston, Jamaica. You would have assumed that reggae’s top recording artists were the Tragically Hip and the Tea Party, and that the foods most associated with the genre were crazy fries and poutine.
Mr. Lim, by contrast, has redesigned the Reggae Pub to keep it faithful to its name. The interior, though less homey than before and annoyingly bright, has the color scheme ― red, yellow and green-on-black ― that reggae bars the world over adhere to.
And Mr. Lim has hired a cook, Kim Dong-sook, who has taught herself how to make Jamaican food. Try the jerk chicken: a big plate of rice and spicy grilled chicken with a boiled egg for only 8,000 won ($7). Heed two warnings, though: Don’t think about the moral implications of eating chicken and egg together, and prepare to feel like the inside of your mouth’s on fire.
As for the music, Mr. Lim is doing a fine job of amping out springy reggae sounds, especially considering that he knew nothing about reggae just a month ago.
Mr. Lim, manning the deejay corner, at first played it safe by sticking with the Bob Marley library. But now he’s branched out and includes in his rotations other reggae greats such as Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Beres Hammond and Dennis Brown. Mr. Lim also encourages reggae buffs to bring in their CDs or submit requests that he can download and play.
So can we, Caucasian and anti-pot, ever “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” and learn to like reggae? We hope so, because we would like to “jam it wid you.”


by Mike Ferrin
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