There’s a nice, new fishbowl to be seen inSure, 2005 is the Year of the Chicken (or Rooster, if you prefer). But for Itaewon ― and particularly for one of its favorite daughters, Shin Sook-hee ― it’s looking more like the Year of the Goldfish.
Goldfish is the name of Itaewon’s newest, and potentially hippest bar; Ms. Shin is its proud owner. Hatched this week in the heart of Itaewon, Goldfish replaces the juicy bar Dream on the ground floor of that four-story, mostly Russified building topped by the Twilight Zone, opposite 7-Eleven.
The name of the new drinkery is apt, for when you sit in Goldfish, a small but sleek enclosure fronted entirely with clear-glass windows, you’re on display, with a steady stream of pedestrians peering in at you.
So if you’re hiding from someone, it’s is not the place to be. Otherwise, it is. It’s right in the middle of the action and, in contrast to its surroundings, it’s clean, friendly, bright and welcoming. There’s no cover charge, and the drinks are cheap: 3,000 won ($3) per draft beer, 5,000 won for a whiskey and Coke. Consider it the ideal place to meet up before or after a night on the town.
Again, Ms. Shin is the one to thank for this positive development. Judging by her biography, she’s as qualified as anyone to run a bar in Itaewon; she’s a true local. Before starting Goldfish, she’d worked at Itaewon’s most legendary nightclub, the King Club, off and on since 1985, and she was born (40ish years ago) and raised just down the road, in Bogwang-dong.
On Goldfish’s opening night, a German expatriate since way back when was sitting at the bar, reminiscing and laughing with Ms. Shin about the King Club circa 1988 ― how it used to be packed to the gills, even on weeknights, and how it had to close at midnight (like all bars back then), but would sneak people through the back door to keep the party going.
Actually, Ms. Shin may have worked at King Club too long; she now seems averse to all things loud and rowdy. “I want this to be a place where anyone can come and feel relaxed,” she said. “I don’t want loud music, I don’t want any dancing, I don’t want any drunk guys.”
Can’t blame her. But that no-drunkard policy may be hard to maintain; it shuts out 90 percent of Itaewon’s demographic.
But seriously. One thing you will see at Goldfish, if not drunk, dancing men, is young, attractive Russian women. At any one time there’ll be two, five, seven or nine of them - including one ethnic Korean ― monopolizing the corner booth. As for what they’re doing, you can use your imagination. I asked, and all I got were shrugs.
They’re nice girls, though. One, noticing the camera I was carrying, remarked, “That’s a good camera.” It was probably the nicest thing a Russian has ever said to me. (I don’t know whether the problem is me or the Russians.) I should have returned the compliment and, like, maybe asked if I could sit with her. But it is, after all, the Year of the Chicken.
by Mike Feerin
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