Itaewon Entertainment & Nightlife 이원동
Itaewon has changed tremendously over the years. Not that long ago, it was regarded with a certain suspicion by many Koreans. Located on the doorstep of the huge American base in the middle of the city and offering an oasis of western pubs and grub in the capital of South Korea, it was seen almost as separate from Seoul.
Not now though. A stroll around the Itaewon district on a sunny afternoon reveals that the majority of visitors are young, Korean and affluent and all keen to sample the ever-increasing international delights of Itaewon.
The 'Won has become gentrified to a large extent with trendy bars and clubs matching prices on offer in Apgujeong and Gangnam. There is still something of the old atmosphere around for those who miss it, but now there is much more.
Getting Your Bearings in Itaewon
The easiest way to get to Itaewon for a visitor is by subway on line 6 - parking is tough.
Perhaps the best-known landmark is Hamilton Hotel, a large hotel that sits in the centre of the main drag.
The Itaewon Station brings you out onto an intersection. With the main drag running from west (the direction of the military base) to east (where it continues up the hill). From here, there is also a run that runs south, towards the river.
Like in much of Seoul, the main street doesn't offer anything special. You have your Mcdonald's, Burger King, Subway as well as Adidas and Nike stores.
As well as the street vendors selling sunglasses, t-shirts and souvenirs, there are clothing stores and a couple of Itaewon mainstays.
There are lots of special offers in pubs and bars on this evening. Wolfhound does two fish and chips for the price of one and a number of pubs sell cheap buffalo wings. It can be a busy evening.
Drinking in Itaewon
The Old Guard
New pubs and bars pop up all the time in Seoul and Itaewon is no exception. Below are some of the mainstays that may not be quite as trendy as some but have been around for quite a while and show no signs of flagging just yet.
The first is Seoul Pub (Exit 4) - If Itaewon has gentrified, Seoul pub is flying the flag for the old guard. Basic but with a great location on the second floor over the street crossing opposite Hamilton Hotel, it is a place where expats have long gathered. Great views of southern Seoul out of the back window, beer on draught and bars snacks, pool and darts - you know what you are getting and it gets lively in the evening.
Nashville (Exit 4), just a few doors down, is similar. A large bar on the second floor and a roof garden that is a very pleasant place to spend a summer afternoon and/or sultry evening, it is also an institution, popular with the soldiers and well-known for its burgers.
Three Alleys (Exit 1) On the street, perhaps now Itaewon's liveliest and best, that runs behind the Hamilton Hotel, the pub, known for a good selection of beers and good food, has a loyal clientele. No longer German-owned and perhaps not as popular as it was, it can still be a decent place for a beer or two. There is now a sports pub - Sam Ryan's - on the second floor.
Three Alleys has now closed
Gecko's (Exit 4) - Another firm favourite, just around the corner from the subway station. Popular with teachers and the US military, the service may be surly but the drinks selection is impressive and the food is good. A comfortable pub that offers reasonable value.
Gecko's Garden/Terrace (Exit 1) - A spin-off and a little more upmarket. Situated in a pleasant Meditteraenan-style villa behind the Hamilton Hotel, this is a great place to sit outside in summer time, though nothing special if you have to be indoors. More expensive than some other pubs, it has an extensive wine list and food is not hot dogs and burgers but more seared tuna strips and rocket salad. Can have a romantic feel but may be tough to get a seat on weekends.
Hollywood's (Exit 2) - A large open space of a bar with multiple large screens is a great place to watch sports. Decent food, decent burgers.
Rocky Mountain Tavern (Exit 3) - A little further up the hill but popular with English teachers and especially Canadians who like the hockey on television and other North American sports. Pretty basic but lively in the evenings with good breakfasts.
New (er) Kids on the Block
Wolfhound (Exit 4) - Wolfhound is an Irish pub popular with English teachers, turn right down the street after Gecko's. Wolfhound boasts an extensive drinks menu, excellent pub food and a friendly atmosphere. Wolfhound is a popular place.
Rose and Crown (Exit 1) - A new English style pub with London Pride on draught. Small but atmospheric. Keep walking past 3 Alleys for another 50 metres.
Sam Ryan's (Exit 1) - Above 3 Alleys, this is a sports pub so expect lots of screens, wings and beer. A good place to watch the big games but get there early.
Restaurants in Itaewon
Nobody comes to Itaewon to eat Korean food. There are a growing number of international restaurants, some of which are pretty good. There are always new ones springing up all over the place.
A wander around the streets will lead you to places from around the world - from Australian pie shops to Austrian delis to Bangladeshi curry houses but some of the best-known restaurants are below.
Buddha's Belly (Exit 1) - A good Thai restaurant just behind Hamilton Hotel.
Zelen (Exit 1) - Just further along the same street, just past 3 Alley's, is this Bulgarian restaurant that gets rave reviews from many who go. Not cheap, but these days, that can be said of most restaurants in the neighbourhood, Zelen is worth a visit.
Villa Sortini (Exit 2) - There are two Italian restaurants with the same owners at the opposite sides of the street. Both have good reputations and authentic food - ie, the carbonara is not swimming in a pool of sauce - but you pay for the quality. Great for a date.
La Cigale Montmartre (Exit 2) - Well-established French restaurant where you can sit outside in the summer time and watch the world go by. Has a good reputation though the lunch specials may provide better value.
Petra (Exit 1) - Actually, above Noksapyeong Station but still a 5 minute or so walk from Itaewon. A well-established Middle-Eastern restaurant, that doesn't serve alcohol but lets you bring your own, that offers good kebabs, falafel and more besides.
Santorini (Exit 2) - Moved to near McDonald's but has been serving Greek food for years. The quality is regarded as good and while the portions could be bigger and the prices lower, it is the only decent Greek food you're going to find in Korea.
Copacabana Steak House (Exit 1) - unlimited cuts of meat brought to your table. If you are hungry and in the mood for a steak orgy, then this is the place for you.
Itaewon Access - Getting to Itaewon
Take a Seoul subway Line 6 train to Itaewon Station, which is four stops from Seoul Station, change at Samgakji. The station has a tourist information, with internet access, on your right as you ascend the escalators to street level. The staff can offer tourist information in a variety of languages including English.
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