A taste of old Korea with a shot of style
The Suldabang bar offers an array of sojus with distinct flavors in an area of Seoul that fuses hip with grunge
Photo: Haeryun Kang
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In the hip, grungy neighborhood of Euljiro, Seoul, Suldabang sits on the second floor of a drab-looking building next to stores selling metals and tools. There is no clear sign of the bar on the building, except the kitschy sign of an old cafe (dabang), which stood there for decades before Suldabang replaced it in the fall of 2018.
The gray staircase leading up to the upscale bar is a poetic antithesis to the chic, warm interior, which still maintains some of the old cafe’s furniture. Inside is a world of Korean alcohol that will probably take more than one visit to explore.
Price: Definitely not the cheap green bottles in convenience stores, but reasonable when compared with other upscale bars in Seoul. Prices of soju mostly hover around 10,000 to 15,000 won per glass ($8.78 to $13.18). Cocktails, invented by Suldabang with diverse regional flavors range from 9,000 to 25,000 won ($7.91 to $21.96). For non-drinkers, there is an interesting assortment of Korean beverages like moju (a mix of orange peels, ginger and cinnamon) at 7,000 won ($6.15). Side dishes, which include rice cakes, crackers, cheese plates and boiled pork slices, start at 7,000 won ($6.15).
Specialty: It’s hard to pinpoint a specialty in a bar that prizes diversity. Try the soju – as many kinds as you can before toppling over. They’re not the mass produced green bottles, which are diluted with water. Suldabang’s distilled, undiluted sojus fill over two pages on the menu, with varying flavors and alcoholic content, ranging mostly between 20% and 40%. Some tasters: the Samhae soju is made by a master listed as an intangible cultural asset while the Lee Gangju Emile Bell, distilled with pear and ginger, dates back centuries to the Joseon dynasty.
Verdict: Suldabang is a must-visit for connoisseurs of Korean alcohol, looking for interesting flavors beyond the commercial soju, beer and makgeolli. The soju and makgeolli brands they offer are hard to get anywhere else and come from a variety of regions in South Korea. The cocktails are one-of-a-kind and the side dishes, while no culinary feats, complement the alcohol nicely. Service is casual and friendly, with English-speaking staff. The Euljiro neighborhood is fascinating with elderly artisans co-existing with new hip artists.
Rating out of five stars: 4.5