Cafes that serve something more than coffee
Cold weather is beginning to tighten its grip on the Korean Peninsula, and for many, it is no longer pleasant to stay outside for too long doing anything outdoorsy.
With this kind of weather, it’s hard to say no to a cozy, toasty cafe where the aroma of brewing coffee wafts through and people can warm up with a cup of coffee or tea. You might find one of urban life’s small pleasures at a coffee shop, where you can surrender yourself to a soft, fluffy comfortable chair while listening to good tunes, warming your icy hands and feet and sipping a hot cup of joe.
If you disagree and think that a cafe is a typical destination you wind up at every weekend anyway, how about a book cafe that offers you something more than just beverages and a touch of warmth? If you are like me and can entertain yourself for hours simply by reading a book, the idea of a book cafe may sound fascinating. But even if reading is not your cup of tea, there are some book cafes that offer unique and amusing experiences that could have you venturing out into the brisk Seoul weather.
Namugeuneul means “under the shady tree” in Korean and it promotes itself as a “five-senses event cafe.” This red brick cafe houses a coffee bar, a gallery and a small library. Compared to other book cafes, it has a limited collection of English and Korean books, so it is very possible that the only things available to read will be fashion and art magazines.
But this cafe has one distinct feature that attracts a great number of customers, including foreign tourists: a spa for your tired feet.
The foot spa, called the Dr. Fish Zone, is a customer magnet. There is a pool of water and a school of tiny fish swimming around as you dip your feet in a stream under a tree.
For an extra 2,000 won ($1.75) after a coffee purchase, you get 15 to 20 minutes of fun with the fish. As the fish nibble off your dead skin, their tiny teeth stimulate the epidermal cells. They help improve blood circulation in your body and leaves your skin silky smooth.
The cafe also has a buffet table with three different kinds of bread and unlimited refills of coffee and tea with the purchase of any beverage. In addition, paintings by local artists dot the walls to enhance the cozy atmosphere. The paintings are replaced every three weeks.
One wall is covered with autographs of celebrities who have visited Namugeuneul.
To get to Namugeuneul, go to Gangnam Station, line No. 2, exit 7. Walk straight about 200 meters (650 feet) until you reach the second crosswalk. The cafe is on the 2nd floor of the building next to Paris Croissant.
For more information visit www.restree.net or call (02) 599-1210
Make sure you keep your voice down as you walk into this cafe. Even though there is no scary-looking librarian to scold you for making noise in this book cafe - an oasis of tranquility in the hustle and bustle of Gangnam - you will be surrounded by dozens of quiet customers either reading or working on their laptops, encircled by the huge collection of books displayed on the shelves.
It is not clear what the name of the cafe means exactly, but you will definitely be wise if you finish reading all the books it houses. The cafe boasts more than 3,000 books in a wide variety of fields like literature, classics, travel, comic and art, igniting your passion for study.
The first Wisdom Rabbit cafe opened near Hongik University, and a great number of the customers there are students studying at English language schools and business people. So the owner opened another branch in the southern part of Seoul to diversify the customer base.
One regular customer said he goes to the cafe to study or work in a tranquil and peaceful environment. He said he really enjoys reading from the collection of old Korean magazines from the 1960s to ’90s.
If you feel like studying, reading or relaxing in peace and quiet, go and enjoy the silence. It is OK to stay all day if you want, nursing a single coffee without getting grumpy looks from the staff.
The second Wisdom Rabbit can be reached from Gangnam Station, line No. 2, exit 6. It is in the alley between CGV Gangnam and City Theatre.
Hank’s Book Cafe
Hank’s Book Cafe is a genuine book cafe. It is operated by Seoul Selection, a local culture content provider, and Hank is the English name of the president, Kim “Hank” Hyung-geun.
Walking into the cafe, you will find shelves of novels, primarily in English. There are also books on Korean culture, literature and art. Besides books, there are DVDs of Korean movies, with English, Japanese and Chinese subtitles; Korean music CDs; and Seoul Selection’s weekly magazine, Seoul, which is a comprehensive guide to the city.
Hank recommends that expats read “The Beauty of Korea,” which features photos of Korean history and culture, and “Korean Temples,” which introduces select traditional temple foods. He also recommends the “Modern Korean Short Stories” series, which offers well-known shorts by prominent authors - including Yi Sang’s “The Wings,” Cho Chong-rae’s “The Land of the Banished” and Pak Wan-seo’s “Three Days in That Autumn.”
Customers can also purchase small gifts such as postcards with Korean minsokhwa paintings and omija wine. Books and gift items can also be ordered online at the Seoul Selection Web site (www.seoulselection.com).
The cafe used to host screenings of Korean movies with English subtitles, but has replaced that event with occasional book readings or signings with authors and artists.
Hank’s Book Cafe is known among many expats in Seoul as a must-visit destination because it has so much information on Korean traditions and culture and offers essential information on living in Korea. Many foreigners have given “Thank you” postcards to the cafe and the postcards have pride of place in a special corner of the cafe.
The cafe can be found by going to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 1, or Gyeongbokgung Station, line No. 3, exit 4. Walk toward the eastern watch tower of Gyeongbok Palace and cross the street. The shop is in the basement of the Korean Publishers Association Building.
For details call (02) 734-9565 or go to www.seoulselection.com
Walk by Taschen’s large glass windows and catch a glimpse of Roy Lichtenstein’s paintings or colorful book-cover artwork.
This art-book cafe is named after German art-book publisher Benedikt Taschen, and the first floor of the cafe has a wide range of art books, including many published by Taschen himself. The second floor contains a classy restaurant and gallery, while the third floor is a shop that sells the books that can be read downstairs.
If you are an art lover, you will be overjoyed at the remarkable books displayed in the cafe, including “Helmut Newton’s Sumo,” featuring the works of the fashion-photo maestro; a collector’s edition of “Goat: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali” and “Hundertwasser’s Complete Graphic Work,” of which only 10,000 copies were released.
The cafe also offers books containing the masterpieces of well-known artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo Caravaggio, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Edgar Degas.
In fact, you will be able to find a more diverse collection of books related to art and design than in any regular book store.
Feel free to flip through ritzy coffee-table books that you normally wouldn’t have thought of buying due to their whopping prices.
But if you do find a book you want to take home, run up to the third floor and purchase it at the cafe’s book store.
Books are food for hungry souls, but even if a book is so compelling that you can’t put it down, reading for hours will still leave a physical void.
For readers wanting something to eat, Taschen offers a variety of delicious sandwiches. Many customers visit the cafe just for the food. Along with the sandwich menu, the cafe has an extensive wine collection with more than 100 kinds of wine from all around the world, including France, Italy, Chile, Australia, the United States and Spain.
Go to Hyehwa Station, line No. 4, exit 1. From there, make a 180-degree turn and head toward McDonald’s. Turn left down the alley between Paris Croissant and Haagen-Dazs and walk for about 150 meters. The cafe is on your right.
*For more information about living and working in Seoul, please visit the Seoul Global Center’s unofficial blog, www.seoulcityblog.com.
By Michelle Kang Contributing writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]