In the weirdness, the Zone stands outIf Winston Churchill were still alive and were hanging out in Itaewon, he would look up at the bar called Twilight Zone and call it a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
That’s because our favorite crash bar of yore has been taken over by the Russians. Fortunately, though, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Especially if you like borscht.
Twilight Zone, on the top floor of the dingy, four-story glass building in the very center of the hedotainment district, used to be the headquarters for Itaewon’s core revelers.
You’d go there early in the night to meet up with your friends for a pre-disco OB (1,200 won). You’d go back at midnight when the curfew cops forced the King Club to close. Then, after leaving for some more carousing, you’d come back at 4:30 for an Itaewon breakfast of omelette rice and another big OB before curling up in one of the Zone’s ample booths and sleeping until 6, when the buses started running again.
Back in the late 1980s, the Twilight Zone was an excellent place to go fishing for romance. Now, though, you have to be careful ― if you’re not, the dish you end up with could be a “pickled herring under the fur coat.” That’s because Twilight Zone is now a quasi-Russian restaurant, and the fish-potato-and-beet salad with that curious name is on the food menu, a few lines below the borscht.
As always, Twilight Zone and its kitchen never close, so it’s the perfect place to go for a late-night feed. Brave the scary stairway past the Manhattan Club on the second floor and Club International on the third, then get a booth and order the borscht and the stuffed rolled cabbage. Your waitress will be a tall, tough, brusque Korean-Russian woman; don’t smile at or attempt small talk with her unless you want her to think you’re more of an idiot than you actually are.
If you’re feeling really brave you can forget the cabbage roll and try the cow’s tongue. Or, if your stomach is leaning more toward Central Asia, try the plov ― Uzbek-style fried rice.
Just like in the old days, the atmosphere in the Twilight Zone isn’t especially conducive to an epicurean experience. The place still suffers from an identity complex: It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a bar, a coffee shop, a restaurant or a disco.
Nevertheless, eating there can be pleasant enough. The booths are still big and the walls are still glass, so you get clear views of the fights down on the street. And someone seems to be wiping down the glass once in a while, unlike in the old days.
And don’t feel intimidated by all the mean-looking Korean-Russians and Russian-Russians in the Zone with you. They probably left their guns down in Busan.
If you do get the jitters, though, you can drown them with a Baltika beer or a White or Black Russian.
That’s what Churchill would have done.
by Mike Ferrin