Grilling up good times at the alley festEverybody had a great time Wednesday afternoon at the surprisingly well-attended Itaewon Alley Festival. But nobody had more fun than Gina Cho and Chung Hyun-ah, who spent the day grilling burgers and shish kabobs next to the stage.
“Yes, today was 100-percent fun,” Ms. Chung said of the event, which transformed the usually quiet lane behind the Hamilton Hotel into a mini-Woodstock, complete with concerts and food stalls. The two thought they would only sell 15 or 20 burgers at the afternoon-long festival, but the final count was up around 100.
Another challenge the two faced, besides the smoke and the decibels, was explaining the meaning of their matching T-shirts, which were black and featured a grinning pit bull over the words “BlessU Pub, Seoul Korea.”
Turns out that Ms. Cho and Ms. Chung, who are both petite yet tirelessly chatty and convivial, run a really cool pub that nobody knows about. “It’s on the next alley over,” Ms. Cho said. “It’s small, but it’s fun. Actually it’s really cozy, so if you like cozy you’ll like BlessU.”
By “next alley over,” she meant the steep, narrow road that starts at the traffic signal across from the Reggae Pub. The one you’d never expect to find a cozy pub on.
The festival was organized to plug the diverse mix of bars and restaurants occupying the Hamilton-hind alley, such as 3-Alley Pub, Gecko’s Garden and Le Saint-Ex. (Oh, yeah ― and to “celebrate” Buddha’s Birthday.) So what were these girls from an outsider pub doing there?
Turns out they were invited by Seo Kwang-jin, the jovial owner of Scrooge, the newest bar on the alley. Ms. Chung and Ms. Cho think the world of Mr. Seo. “A lot of people worked hard to organize the festival, but Mr. Seo deserves most of the credit,” Ms. Chung gushed. “You can’t say enough about him. Whenever you need something, he’s always there.”
While the whole event was a big success, the best part about it was seeing Korean families among the many foreigners in attendance, the girls said. “I don’t know if they live in Itaewon and just walked over after hearing the music, or if they came expressly because of the festival, but it was really nice to see,” Ms. Cho said.
Also nice, the two said, were the four high-energy musical acts: The Saints, the house band at the nearby bar The Electric Cat; Gu Wun Mong, an eclectic local jazz band; Voipit, a foreigner-staffed surrealist rock band, and Kata, a local percussion group.
“They were all good,” Ms. Cho said. “But Kata were the best. Their music was really exciting and the entire crowd really connected with it.”
Back at BlessU, the girls said, their patrons really connect with the wide range of food on the menu. In fact, Ms. Cho and Ms. Chung take the idea of fusion food to an extreme. Their specialty, they say, is “chicken curry, German style.”
Only in Itaewon.
by Mike Ferrin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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