A night in… Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea

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The central hub of foreigners in Seoul makes for a fun-filled night out, whether that fun involves food, drinks, or dancing. Close to the Yongsan Garrison (the U.S. Army base that gave rise to the area decades ago), Itaewon and two nearby districts are within walking distance of each other. We’ll tackle the other two areas in future posts – for now, the spotlight is on Itaewon.

Author’s note: it’s important to mention that this scene changes very, very quickly. Something seems to change, open, or close on a weekly basis. Restaurants, clubs, and bars mentioned here may have moved or closed down since this post’s publishing date.

Round one: the food

A few Korean food places are around, but that’s all around the country. If you’re a foodie at heart, Itaewon has the broadest selection of international cuisine in the country, bar none. It’s a reputation that gives the foreign residents a place to congregate, while bringing in the locals to this once-seedy area. Start with the street behind the landmark Hamilton Hotel, without which few directions are complete. Head out exit 4 of Itaewon subway station, then take a left. Walk up the hill for about 50 meters, then take another left at the T. A few personal favorites down this alley: Ho Lee Chow (Chinese chain), Iron Chef (stir-fry Thai), and Panino’s (panini and brushchettos galore). Tabom Brazil (all-you-can-eat Brazilian steak) is nearby, but you’ll need to walk back down to the main road and turn right. Suji’s (New York bistro) is across the street and around the corner, but worth the walk for the pastrami sandwiches.

Iron Chef / stir-fry Thai – om nom nom.

Round two: the drinks

While there’s plenty of places along the alley for the drinks (while brand new, the English pub Rose & Crown looks to be heading in the right direction), head back to Itaewon station if you’re ready to explore more. Starting from exit 3, walk down the main street for plenty of choices. Rocky Mountain Tavern (a Canadian bar) shows plenty of sports and features plenty of live music, while Hollywood Bar is closer to the subway station (take exit 2 instead, or just cross the street).  A couple mainstays haven’t gone anywhere in years – Wolfhound Pub is down the hill and the first right from exit 4, while Roofers is a great place for live acts, comedy, and anything else happening within the expat community in Seoul. From exit 3, take a right at the Dunkin’ Donuts and walk up the hill about 200 meters.

Round three: the dancing
Oh dear. Suffice it to say you won’t be hurting for choices. Helios serves both food and drinks (good martinis, by the way), and the dance floor gets pretty hot and heavy after midnight. It’s about a 200-meter walk from exit 2.

Club UN is on Itaewon’s main drag, out exit 3. They’re known for drink specials, and seem especially friendly when it comes to their female guests – free or cheaper covers…

If you’re coming from Roofers, head down the hill for Ex-Toxic – a great place for hip-hop enthusiasts. Another club worth checking out: the spanking-new District. In case the meal wasn’t as filling as it needed to be, District serves up a restaurant in the same building as well. Find it behind Hamilton Hotel.

There’s much, much more happening around Itaewon – just follow your ears. While Korea is generally safe (and things lost at bars usually retrieved with ease the next day), it goes without saying to keep an eye on your crew and your stuff.

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