Restaurants and cafes become museum hot spots : The stylish and artsy eateries are the new places to be seen

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Restaurants and cafes become museum hot spots : The stylish and artsy eateries are the new places to be seen


1: Arario Museum in Space located in Wonseo-dong, central Seoul, actively advocates dining in museums. The five-story building adjacent to the museum features restaurants and cafes with different characteristics on each floor. 2: The French restaurant Dining in Space received a one-star rating in the 2017 Michelin Guide Seoul. 3: Opened in Sinsa-dong, Gangnam district, in southern Seoul the K Museum of Contemporary Art features a space to dine while appreciating art as well. The exhibition space holds the “Lobbyist Show,” introducing the work of new artists. The artwork on the wall is artist Ko Myung-keun’s “Face 1.” [JANG JIN-YOUNG]

Restaurants and cafes in museums have mostly existed as places to take a break after a long day of exploring exhibits. However, circumstances have changed. There has been a spike in people looking to visit museums not only for the exhibits, but for these very restaurants and cafes. Museums have transformed into complex cultural spaces that feature food, entertainment and places to learn and shop as well. At the heart of this transition, is food.


Top: The PKM Garden Cafe’s salmon sandwich. The cafe not only features light meals, but also course meals as well. Left: The PKM Garden Cafe, on the second floor of the PKM Gallery. From the cafe, one can enjoy the unhampered views and the garden.

Museum restaurants, a worldwide trend

Located in Wonseo-dong, central Seoul, the Arario Museum in Space features the French restaurant Dining in Space, on the fifth floor. A restaurant that only features course menus and operates by a reservation system, this small space holds about twenty seats, with the lunch menu priced at 60,000 won ($52.30) per person. It was acknowledged in the 2017 Michelin Guide Seoul, the Korean edition of a worldwide restaurant recommendation guide, receiving one star. Arario Museum in Space is a separate, but connected building built right next to the Arario Museum for the opening of the museum, in 2014. The building houses a French, Japanese and Italian restaurant, with cafes on the first and second floors.

“It was originally a restaurant for museumgoers,” said Yang Min-hee, senior publicist of Arario Museum. “But ever since opening, we see more customers that dine here regardless of the exhibitions.”

Even without stepping into the museum, a visit to the restaurant features many pieces of art. The exhibition building viewed from the big windows is one of prominent architect Kim Swoo-geun’s (1931-86) major works, the architecture studio Space, which is a registered cultural property. On the other side of the building, English conceptual artist Liam Gillick’s neon work is installed on the glass skywalk connecting the restaurant building to the exhibition building. The scenery of Changdeok Palace, seen from the spacious windows, is also mesmerizing. “We took French restaurant The Modern, situated in the Museum of Modern Arts in New York, as inspiration,” said Moon Jung-hyun, who manages the restaurant building. “[It] is not just a subsidiary facility of MoMA, but an outstanding facility in itself. We focused on differentiation, by grafting intriguing content in the form of a museum, with a restaurant.”

It is common to create a fabulous restaurant inside a museum overseas. Musee d’Orsay, situated in Paris, houses restaurants and cafes that exude a majestic vibe - Cafe Campana of the fifth floor, and the Restaurant du Musee d’Orsay of the second floor. An enormous chandelier, splendid murals and a wall clock that dates back to its train station era, mixes together to create a space that resembles art work. Le Georges on the sixth floor of Centre Georges Pompidou, and Palais de Tokyo’s Monsieur Bleu on the first floor are also restaurants of reputation. The Art History Museum of Vienna, that opened in 1891, houses a reputable cafe-restaurant as well. One can savor a cup of Vienna coffee right below the typical renaissance-style round dome in the ceiling. The aforementioned The Modern in MoMA was awarded a two-star recommendation in 2017’s Michelin Guide, a promotion from the one-star recommendation it received in 2006. In addition to the excellent food, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden is visible outside, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Henri Matisse among many others.

An inviting space

“Our competition is the movie theater.”

These were the words of K Museum of Contemporary Art’s director Kim Yeon-jin, spoken at a press conference on Jan. 11, in celebration of the opening of the museum in Hakdong intersection of Gangnam district, southern Seoul, in December of last year.

“We wanted to make an inviting space that anyone can drop in during the day, not a place where people have to make time in order to visit,” said senior curator Ryu So-young. “The first floor in particular is [designed] under the concept of a ‘Lobbyist Show,’ with the cafe introducing new art so that anyone can approach and enjoy the art work.” The act of appreciating artwork, eating and drinking all happen in this single space. Of course, photography is allowed as well.

Han Jung-hee, management director of Daelim Museum said, “There are limitations in attracting enough people with exhibitions only, especially in an era of easily accessible visual arts in the form of movies and performances.”

She continued, “Museums’ increasing focus on the subsidiary facilities in the form of cafes and restaurants are due to this competition.”

The fact that it also is a good method to boost sales is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. “The restaurants and cafes in the galleries or museums are not only for the audience’s refuge,” Kukje Gallery’s Olive Han of the public relations team said. “They also are spaces for personnel meetings, collector education, parties - a space for food and beverages is an absolute necessity.”

Kim Mi-jin, professor of culture and arts management of Hongik University said, “A museum that doesn’t receive any fees outside of special exhibitions, the Tate Modern, an art museum in London, is famous for its successful operation of subsidiary facilities such as cafes and restaurants that make large earnings.”

A unique experience

The cafes and restaurants that have popped up recently are carefully built to be regarded as hot spots, and not as subsidiaries to a museum. It is designed to be an independent place to attract not only visitors to the museum, but the general public. PKM Gallery located in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul, opened the PKM Garden Cafe on Jan. 20. Initially built as a space for opening parties for exhibitions and collector meetings on the second floor - it has a separate staircase outside leading straight to the second floor - it has reopened to the public as a cafe boasting its unhampered view, grassy garden and a refined interior.

Visitors can enjoy the exhibitions on the first-floor gallery and proceed up the stairs to enjoy food and beverages, or come straight to the PKM Garden Cafe through the exterior stairs. With diverse artwork on the walls, customers can appreciate art while having a feast. “A cafe or restaurant in a museum or a gallery is frequented by trendsetters,” said Park Kyung-mee, president of PKM Gallery. “Not only do we have strengths in the art appreciation and delicious cuisine we provide, but the leisurely and quiet atmosphere coupled with neat interior is well-received by people who favor that kind of ambience.”

The Kukje Gallery, also located in Samcheong-dong, is renowned for being a gallery excelling in operating the restaurants and cafes under its roof. The gallery operates three subsidiary facilities: The Restaurant, with Abe Koichi as head chef, and Wine Bar on the second floor, which both opened in 1999, and the Cafe on the first floor. Most customers of the cafe are ones that stop by before or after the visiting exhibits, but customers of the restaurant and the wine bar are loyal customers that dine regardless of the ongoing exhibition. Manager of dining at Kukje Gallery Lee Jong-hwa said, “In the restaurant there is photography by author Ku Pon-ch’ang, and installed on the walls of the wine bar is artist U Sunok’s video art. Many customers ask about the pieces while they dine.”

Kukje Gallery’s Olive Han of the public relations team added, “Art is a unique mutual interest between the people that frequent this place, and that creates a special atmosphere in the restaurant.”

A restaurant as content

Bill Restaurant located in Gana Art Gallery, in Pyeongchang, Gangwon, was very busy on Jan. 11. “We are currently changing the paintings on the wall to ones that are more fitting with the mood of the dinner reservations,” said manager of Gana Art Gallery, Kim Min-kyung. “If the customer shows interest in the work, we guide them to the exhibits.” Bill Restaurant also has more visitors for the restaurant than ones for the exhibition. The restaurant is favored among groups that care a lot about class, thanks to the fact that they are able to dine while surrounded by art.

“Contrary to the past where museums were a rarity, now there are more than a handful of museums to choose from, and in terms of free time, it’s a competition not only between exhibitions but shopping malls and other forms of entertainment as well,” said Kim Mi-jin, professor of culture and arts management at Hongik University.

“Restaurants in museums have evolved from subsidiary facilities to independent, standalone places that can be enjoyed by themselves.”


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