Book cafes: sit ’n’ sip at its trendiest
That place is a book cafe. It’s not a library, where the books are not for sale and drinks are banned. It’s not a book store ― good luck finding a place to curl up with a good read for a few hours in Kyobo or Bandi & Luni’s. Book cafes generally specialize in one genre, offer food and beverages and are designed for comfortable perusing. Many have book that are either out of print or are hard to find in Korea.
In contrast to the poorly-lit, dusty book cafes of the past, Taschen, located at the center of the Daehangro area, offers a polished space for casual readers. The cafe-wine bar opened in 2004 and has around 200 books, all published by Taschen publishing company. The company was founded in 1980 in Germany and publishes chic books on art, architecture, design and photography. Most of the books are in English, with some Korean and Japanese-language books as well.
Most of the customers are in their 20s or 30s, many of whom are couples sharing a bottle of wine and browsing books on photography, painters or rock stars. The cafe stocks over 100 brands of wine and its salads and side dishes, such as fresh mozzarella cheese salad, orange sauce bacon roll, cheese and salami, cost 13,000 won ($13) to 25,000 won.
The interior of Taschen is a cross between modern and classical, with brown brick walls and metallic accessories such as ’50s-style lamps, plus an entire wall decorated with shiny, silvery springs. The books are not stacked in shelves, but displayed on two large tables, one near the entrance and one in the center. The most eye-catching book is the 6.5-million won nude photography book by Helmut Newton titled “SUMO,” on display near the front of the cafe.
Hours: Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Location: Hyehwa station line No. 4, exit 1
Tel: (02) 3673-4115
Although not exactly a book cafe, the second floor of this bookstore offers a space for design and architecture buffs to gather and discuss their interest. The interior is utterly “pop,” with bright green walls, a transparent, yellow table in the center of the first floor and glossy white chairs reminiscent of the ’60s. It’s a cozy, humble space, less than 60 square meters (65 square yards), but Sim ji stocks the latest, trendiest books and magazines on architecture, interior design, urban design and illustration. There are over 3,000 books, all handpicked by the owner, Lee Seong-hwan. Mr. Lee is quick to give recommendations and advice to customers, usually design students and people in the industry. As one frequent visitor enters the door, Mr. Lee picks out his newest editions and goes over to him to have a friendly chat.
Magazines such as Architectural Review and Bob are displayed near the counter, while large books titled “Urban Spaces” and “Luxury Hotels” are stacked haphazardly on the center table.
The second floor is set aside for groups and has one big table with space for up to 20 people. The rooms can be used for no extra charge if reserved in advance. Groups can also drink tea or coffee while perusing the books there or books they brought up from the first floor.
Hours: Open daily except on Sundays, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
Location: Hakdong Station line No. 7, exit 7
Tel: (02) 543-3476
Princeton Square is a typical university book cafe, with preppy decor and over 2,000 books on philosophy, literature, psychology and history stacked tightly on bookshelves that reach to the ceiling. The cafe has a wide range of books: “Harry Potter” sits alongside 40-year-old philosophical tracts. There are also magazines and daily newspapers in English and Korean.
Most of the customers are students and professors from the nearby Ewha Womans University and Yonsei University. The menu is simple, mainly coffee, tea, juice and sandwiches, none of which cost over 10,000 won. The most popular item on the menu is the grilled cheese sandwiches.
Comfortable, sturdy-looking beige sofas fill in the two-floor cafe, and university school banners, including those of Yonsei and Princeton, hang on the walls. Classic music plays softly in the background as students sip their drinks.
There also projectors and large tables in the basement level, which are used for seminars and group gatherings.
Its owner, Lim Dong-jin, 64, is a lawyer by trade, but started the cafe in 1998 because he felt he “had too many books” in his house and wanted to share them. Eight years later, half the books are still from Mr. Lim’s original collection.
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Location: Ewha Womans University Station line No. 2, exit 2 or 3
Tel: (02) 393-5171
Bistro D, which opened last October, is a cafe and restaurant that includes a variety of books on food, wine, cheese and photography. The books can be found in the first floor, on a high bookshelf (over 4 meters tall) that covers one entire wall, and are categorized by subject, such as French, Italian, and Japanese cuisines, or cocktail recipes. Almost all of the books are in English.
The cafe’s high ceiling looms above modern black tables, neatly aligned. The cafe is owned by WiniaMando, a company that makes kimchi refrigerators (called dimchae), one reason why refrigerators are a part of the interior ― they’re used to store wine and beverages.
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays
Location: Apgujeong Station line No. 3, exit 3
Tel: (02) 3443-1009
A View of Poetry(Siga Itneun Punggyeong)
At first glance, the cafe might look like the backdrop of a Korean television drama set during the early 20th century. Its small role in history, however, is real: Many Korean cultural figures, including the poet Chun Sang-byeong, used to while away their time here. Kim Gyeong-min, a poet, opened this literature cafe in Hyehwa-dong in 1984 as part of his literature center, now known as the PenArt Literature Center. Its numerous bookshelves offer Korean poetry, novels and essays by some of the biggest names in modern Korean literature. Many of the books went out of print years ago.
The cafe mainly serves traditional Korean tea such as quince, chrysanthemum and citron tea (all 4,000 won) and is visited mostly by students and aspiring writers. Every Friday evening, a poet is invited to the center’s literary event to recite his or her poetry, followed by a discussion session.
Hours: Open daily except Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Hyehwa station line No. 4, exit 1
Tel: (02) 764-4323
by Cho Jae-eun