My stomping ground in Seoul is an area just one stop north from Dongdaemun market on Line 4 of the subway. It’s name is Hyehwa. I chose this area to live based on a couple of things. It is in an area of Seoul that has history, and buildings aged over 50 years that have not yet been pulled down to make way for unsightly tower blocks courtesy of Hyundai. Furthermore, there are a number of universities with campuses based in the area, and a large number of actors at the start of the careers giving the area a youthful energetic atmosphere, filled with the hope and possibility of what may be.
That is right where I am at with my own acting career and we suit one another well. Another reason why I love Hyehwa is for it’s sense of creativity. I love wandering through back streets and coming across unusual sculptures and art installations. Hyehwa has a heart. Something which many other regions of the city seem to lack.
Hyehwa has been dubbed the Broadway of Korea, owing to the 80-90 theatres within one square mile around the main thoroughfare – University Road (대학로). As a result it can get particularly busy, especially over the weekend and on holidays. In addition, on Sundays, the Filipino Market brings another crowd to the area.
Currently The Seoul Open University is extending its current campus here and Hongik is building its own fresh campus which means there will be a steady growth in the region.
Historically, before Hongik University grew to its current stature, the Hongdae area was not the main night entertainment spot north of the river in Seoul. That mantle was previously held by Hyehwa. However as youthful tastes and proclivities changed with rapid globalisation, the hip jazz bar culture of Hyehwa was abandoned for the emerging night club, live music culture of the more modern Hongdae and Gangnam areas.
Hyehwa does not generally have the space to accommodate a large club, and to my knowledge, ‘The Bunker’ is the only club in the area. Personally I prefer the smaller bar, many of which are at basement level. Many have rows of vinyl on the wall behind the bar which you can select and listen to. I call these places vinyl bars and in Hyehwa there are at least 7 that I know of.
My favourite vinyl bar has never struggled to find anything I have requested, even obscure bands like Minus the Bear. There is nothing better than having a chat in a bar with friends, drinking beer, shooting some pool and listening to your own playlist.
In addition to theatres, there is a large CGV cinema with a giant Gandalf the White sculpture outside (one of the many random sculptures scattered liberally about the area).
A final thing that Hyehwa offers is a good range of cheap food. Some of the fancier areas such as Gangnam, Apgujeong, Hongdae and the glitzier Itaewon that is emerging offer global cuisine at inflated prices. Hyehwa has seemed to keep prices reasonable so you get a great quality to price ratio. The area between exits 3 and 4 away from the main road is filled with decent Korean BBQ joints and the odd little surprise like Brazilian and Italian. The opposite side of University road are the European themed areas, with the occasional Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
Failing that, around exit 4 are the pojang machas (big tents outdoors where you can eat and drink), and a great little fish place, which is incredibly cheap, a little way out of exit 1 (take your second right turn).
Outside exit 2 of the station is Marronier Park. If you walk uphill away from University Road from there about 100 metres you will find yourself close to the old city fortress wall and a number of curious and unique little shops and boutiques.
For those who are interested in the theatre, head to the theatre information booth just behind exit 4 of Hyehwa station. There are not a great deal of English language plays, but occasionally you can find them. Hyehwa is worth a look for anybody who know Korea well and would like to experience something a little different. Come during the day and you might even witness an impromptu street performance or flash mob which are pretty common here.
When? – 24 hour area. Plenty of bars, restaurants and coffee shops are open round the clock.
Where? – Line 4 of the subway, one stop north of Dongdaemun, or 4 stops from Myeongdong. Many bus routes pass through Hyehwa.
Why? – Theatre, sight seeing, good eating and drinking, youthful atmosphere.
I’m not talking about Dustin, or Philip Seymour. I’m not paying my respects in this post to David Hasselhoff either (although I probably should be doing). Nope, a hof when Korea is concerned is a watering hole, bar, public house, stank pit, cocktail lounge, tavern, rathskeller, alehouse or saloon.
When pronounced it sounds a little more like our word ‘Hop’ with a softer ‘p’. It certainly doesn’t seem like a word with Korean origins, and some stipulate that it may be named after the German Bavarian city of Hof, the Germans having helped spread lager around the world.
Whatever the origin, hofs are ubiquitous in all areas of Korea and often have the English spelling on their signs.
Most of the ones in the area where i live are located underground. In fact in most areas, you will walk down dark, often dank stairways. However the bar itself can be surprisingly chic. My area, Hyehwa, is famed as the Broadway of Seoul. As such there are a number of arty hofs, jazz hofs and record hofs. Also known as vinyl bars, the latter are by far my favourite. Along one whole wall will often be thousands of old LPs from which you may select songs which the proprietor will put on for you.
The hof is a staple of Korean life and business and in my opinion is the best place to have a bottle of soju with friends.
Okay and because I can’t help myself, on a different note, check out this video.