A night in… Haebangchon, Korea

WHILE within walking distance of foreign-food-haven Itaewon, Haebangchon offers a scene better suited for local residents than tourists. That said, read this basic guide to the area and you’re off and running.

The name Haebangchon (해방촌, 解放村) translates to ‘freedom village’ or ‘liberation village’, which makes some sense considering you’ll walk along the Yongsan Garrison’s outer wall for a couple hundred meters along the way. The US military still boasts an impressive artillery inside, but civilians can barely glimpse a peek inside without a military escort. That’s alright, because the main attractions are past the base and up the hill. The street sign may say 신흥로 (Shin-heung-ro), but everybody – including the taxi drivers – know it as Haebangchon. It’s one part camaraderie and one part alcohol, but there are no clubs to speak of. Come to talk, to drink, and to meet – dancing is just around the corner in Itaewon.

The very first place to check out is Craftworks Taphouse – a microbrewers hall-of-fame and some good food await aside. Seven selections in all – everything from a stout to an IPA – and not a single one of them resembles what passes for beer in the mainstream Korean world. The beer sampler is a good start if you’re with a friend – get two if you’re in a group. Noksapyeong station, line 6, exit 2, and walk straight a couple hundred meters to the pedestrian underpass. Go under the road, taking the left exit. Cross the side street, then look for the Craftworks sign just past NOXA restaurant. The entrance is down a short alley. If you reach the pedestrian overpass, you’ve gone too far.

Note that all directions from here assume you’re starting from Haebangchon’s main drag. Take the Seoul subway system to Noksapyeong station, line 6, exit 2, and walk straight a couple hundred meters to the first intersection. Bear left, where you’ll pass a large collection of brown clay kimchi pots. This point is where all other directions start.

Quick! Time to start walking. One of the newest to the HBC scene is Casablanca, a Moroccan sandwich place. Very delish, and surprisingly cheap – a hot sandwich and canned soft drink will set you back 6,000 won (about $5.25 USD at today’s exchange rate). The last time I went, they were still so new that they didn’t have a business card. That’s alright, though, because it’s still good food.

Moroccan chicken, anyone? Give them about 10 minutes to make your sandwich(es) to order. Call them at 02-797-8367 if you happen to miss the storefront.

While not steep, the Haebangchon hill never quite seems to end. The good news is that your second stop, Jacoby’s Burgers, is famous for making you wait at least 20 minutes while they hand-make burgers to order and bake fresh buns every day. It’s also open until 2am everyday (closed on Tuesdays), and can easily serve as a final round for food and drink.

Honorable mention also goes to Phillies, just across the street. It’s a bit smaller on the ground floor, but always has a sports game or two on the overhead screens. The basement is great for the occasional live shows and a more intimate scene for the locals.

While it doesn’t necessarily get more interesting as you climb, there’s an impressive variety of places serving the hundreds of foreigners living on the hill – plenty of other places could have ended up on this particular night in Haebangchon. Since they primarily serve locals and residents (not typically tourists) the HBC might rank a notch above nearby Itaewon in the ‘reasons to visit’ category.

Take the Seoul subway system to Noksapyeong station, line 6, exit 2, and walk straight a couple hundred meters to the first intersection. Bear left, then walk past a large collection of brown clay kimchi pots. This side street is the main Haebangchon drag.