Looking for bliss? It’s right downstairsThe American philosopher Joseph Campbell, when asked what the meaning of life was, used to say “follow your bliss.” What he forgot to explain, though, was how you were supposed to follow your bliss if you couldn’t find it in the first place.
That’s the problem with Itaewon’s Bar Bliss. It’s so well hidden, you could live in Itaewon for years and never find it, even though it’s quite likely the neighborhood’s classiest and coziest bar.
But seclusion has its advantages. Bliss, a wine bar that’s been around since 1997, is never crowded. In fact, it’s an ideal place to bring a date, especially if you need to escape one of Itaewon’s eardrum-abusing bars, like Gecko’s or the Loft.
At Bliss, if you and your companion are feeling sociable, there’s always room to sit at the bar and chat with the eminently suave owner, Ted Park, or the dangerously cute bartender Hanna, both of whom speak excellent English. If you’re feeling amorous, you can decamp to the back booth and its lush sofas. If you want to sit outside and brave the local views, Bliss has a terrific wood-plank terrace spruced up with potted flowers.
If you’re new to Korea and go to Bliss solo, Mr. Park will give you a Korean lesson with your drink, as he did on a recent weeknight for a Swedish businessman. The Swede was a slow learner, but maybe that says something for the wine.
Mr. Park is justifiably proud of his wine, and won’t hesitate to say he has the best selection and the most competitive prices around. Though he has no pretensions of being a sommelier, he’s quick on the recommendations. He’ll suggest a Tintara, from Australia, at 48,500 won ($41) a bottle, then uncork some enophilic buzzwords: “full-bodied, deep, aftertaste lasts long.” If you insist on something lighter, for your wallet as well as your palate, he’ll produce a Pinotage from South Africa.
A fun guy himself, Mr. Park, 47, opened his bar in 1997, originally calling it California. He renamed it last September at the suggestion of an Australian advertising executive.
In his previous life, Mr. Park was a law student, then a world traveler. For much of his 30s, he said, he was a gypsy, vagabonding his way around the globe. Along the way he picked up several languages ― such as Spanish, French, Dutch and Arabic ― as well as plenty of souvenirs. Some of those finds are tastefully displayed in glass cases behind the bar, rendering Bliss a pseudo-museum. Dig the big Buddha head, carved of wood, that he brought back from Myanmar. Or the decorative dishes from Turkey. Or the gold-inlaid thingamajig from Spain.
To see them, of course, you’ll have to find Bliss. Don’t worry; it’s not all that hard to get to. Walk west from the Outback Steakhouse until you reach the Reggae Pub, then go down the stairs behind the Reggae. You’ll find Bliss at the bottom. Bear in mind, though, that this place is special mostly because it’s a secret. So don’t tell anyone about it.
by Mike Ferrin