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Seongsu, the Brooklyn of Seoul, is so cool and quirky

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 12, 2023 5:00 am

It’s called the “Brooklyn of Seoul,” an area that has been gentrified and is cool, trendy, interesting, and even a little quirky. I am talking about Seongsu, the latest hip hotspot to visit in Seoul. Seongsu-dong was once full of factories and warehouses now repurposed into craft coffeehouses, charming and eclectic stores, and even luxury shops.

Recently, Burberry had three pop-ups simultaneously. The main one was an impressive draped structure providing a “Burberry rose maze,” offering an immersive experience. Aside from clothing, there was a café where people hung out. Another pop-up I saw was of Jacquemus, which was a giant version of its puffy Bambimou bag. The space included a café and doubled as a flower shop.

The line was so long and there were many influencers posing for photos, so it was hard to get in. Seongsu is also the location of Dior’s concept store, and there is also a Chanel parfumeur and Le Labo boutique. Close to Seoul Forrest, Seongsu is a large area and there is much to cover.

One side has bigger roads and the stores are more far apart, but I personally like the side with small alleyways dotted with one-of-a-kind stores and establishments. The charm of Seongsu is that they have kept most of the facades of the buildings—looking dilapidated and derelict even, dubbed “industrial chic.” But that is part of its magic and character.

Burberry had three simultaneous pop-ups in Seongsu. Their main immersive pop-up had a “rose maze” theme and featured apparel, a café and accessories.

When in Seoul, here are a few of the places in Seongsu I recommend you visit.

Grandpa Factory

Formerly a dye factory, this café is owned by Hong Dong-hee, one of the pioneers in creating the Seongsu of today. It is an airy, warehouse-like space offering light meals, pastries and really good coffee. Modern installations are found in different areas. However, not to be missed is the outdoor area with a huge metal wild boar, and a treehouse of your childhood dreams.

Grandpa Factory in Seongsu is a café that was formerly a dye factory. Its courtyard features a huge metal wild boar and a treehouse of your childhood dreams.
Tigerpool Steak House

Multiple chandeliers hanging low amidst brick walls is a hint of the luxurious meal you are about to have. This trending restaurant, which is highly rated in Naver (Korea’s Google), serves “golden steak.” You order from set menus (perfect for three people in my opinion) that includes a fantastic salad (I can’t forget it!), pasta, and the golden steak. We had a Tomahawk entirely covered in gold leaf. I felt like King Midas.

The luxurious golden steak at Tigerpool in Seongsu
Sumsei Terrarium

In the middle of bustling Seongsu is this immersive gallery that reconnects you to nature. It offers a few moments to step back and journey into the quiet of the natural world. And when I say “step,” you are made to remove your shoes so you can feel the different textures of sand, grass, clay, stones. I went through a maze of rich foliage and emerged into this sanctuary with birds chirping. 

Sumsei Terrarium in Seongsu offers a respite from the bustle of the city by offering a sensory nature experience. Removing your shoes is a must.
Teddy’s Oven

Sometimes, I am a sucker for cute stuff like teddy bears (one of my fantasies is to have a panda bear). You are welcomed to this café by an arc of fresh flowers. The place’s interiors open up to the sun with its big windows. Remember “shabby chic”? That’s the best way I can describe the space, but the highlight is definitely the cutie patootie desserts. There is a teddy bear latte, teddy bear pumpkin spice tart, teddy bear mouse lying on its side on a plate, and more. It’s teddy bear cuteness all around.

Teddy bear cuteness at the popular Teddy’s Oven in Seongsu
Ader Error

Sometimes I forget that Ader Error is a clothing store because when you step into their boutique, you enter another world. That world is of unexpected creativity. Like its Sinsa store in Gangnam, Ader Error in Seongsu has interesting installations such as a giant crater at its entrance, an astronaut hung upside down, a fountain made of a submarine-looking vehicle, and more. Their merchandise displays are also fascinating, like holograms of sneakers and swaying shoe racks. You have to go there to understand what I mean. Creative cool is an understatement for Ader Error.

Shopping and visiting Ader Error in Gangnam and in Seongsu is stepping into another world. An astronaut hangs upside down in this installation.
JS Shoes Design Lab

Old-time cobbler Yu Hong-sik has been creating strange (according to him) shoes for a long time. This famous shoemaker has worked in Seongsu for the last 23 years, but has been making shoes (all handmade, by the way) for 60 years. At his storefront, you can see his creations, which include the many creative ways he designs high heels, and a few over-the-top cowboy boots. His store makes custom shoes in three days. He is known to make shoes for the country’s presidents and first ladies.

A few of the unique shoes custom-made by Yu Hong-sik who is also known for making shoes for Korean presidents and first ladies. He has had a shop at Seongsu for 23 years.

Aside from Seongsu, there are so many interesting and fascinating places, cafes, and restaurants to visit in Seoul. There is always something to discover, and I am sharing some new and old haunts, should you have plans of traveling to this vibrant city.

Rain Report

You won’t want the rain to go away here. In fact, you wait every 15 minutes for it to pour, in this interesting rain-themed café. Located in Itaewon, upon entry, you are greeted by the weather report flashing on digital screens. The interiors are in subdued and chic black marble and stone, with a centerpiece of monitors. An open-air café is where a simulation of rain is scheduled in cycles. Of course, their pastries and drinks are also weather-inspired such as: Black Cloud cake, Cloudy Day lemonade, Rainy Garden Matcha.

True to its concept, Rain Report simulates rain every 15 minutes in its outdoor courtyard. The café is located in Itaewon.
Alice Cheongdam

I’ve always wanted to go this famous haunt included in Asia’s 50 Best Bars. Its concept is “Alice in Wonderland,” but it is adapted in a sophisticated way. The bar itself has luxurious interiors with the whimsical touches taken from the children’s book. Like many bars and speakeasies in Seoul, Alice Cheongdam’s “front” is a flower shop. They give you Perrier Jouet as a welcome drink in a mini champagne glass. The signature cocktail menu is an accordion storybook that starts off with “Everyone, welcome to Wonderland.” And that’s when you start going down the rabbit hole of their drinks. The cocktails are superb and senior bartender Eggsy Seong recommends the perfect drink for you.

Alice Cheongdam leads you down the rabbit hole of their wonderful cocktails. Whimsical references to “Alice in Wonderland” are found everywhere.
Kyochon Pilbang

This restaurant is a specialized chimac (fried chicken and beer) bar. Located in Itaewon, its door is a black stone wall with a giant brush you pull down to enter. It’s quite a dramatic entrance experience. There’s a wall of brushes and another huge one hanging over water with mist all around. Pretty impressive and mysterious. The fried chicken was quite good too. They have an omakase menu with 12 different types of fried chicken, and a tasting of various beer concoctions. Oh, and the displayed brushes are inspired by their iconic sauce, which is brushed over their chicken. Brush decor mystery solved.

Would you believe this mysterious-looking place is an upscale chicken and beer restaurant called Kyochon Pilbang?
Golden Piece

Yagwa has made a big comeback in Korea. Yagwa is a flower-shaped cookie that used to be given by the lolas to their grandchildren back in the day. Now you see yagwa everywhere—topping desserts, drinks, ice cream, and boxes of it being sold in cafes and stands. Golden Piece is an elegant store right in the heart of Hannam, selling premium and modernized yagwa. The tastefully designed store is mostly in dark wood, with subtle brass signage, and minimal décor and lighting. Their yagwa comes in beautiful tins in wonderful flavors, reinterpreted but still retro.

It looks like an elegant antique shop in Hannam, but Golden Piece sells yagwa, a traditional Korean cookie, which has made a strong comeback. Their yagwa is modernized and elevated.
Panier Lichoux

Located in Hannam-dong, this charming neighborhood French bistro-like restaurant is focused on serving their wide selection of wines. A respite from all our gorging on Korean food, we ate more than drank wine (though we did that, too). Casual fare like baked Camembert, fondue burger (where they pour a generous amount of cheese) and pastas are delicious. Of course, bottles surround you so you can take your pick. It is also a wine shop. There is a private room where George Condo-like (can it be the real thing?) paintings decorate the area. The King of K-pop G-Dragon was known to have celebrated his birthday there.

The private room of Panier Lichoux is decorated with interesting modern art. King of K-pop G-Dragon recently celebrated his birthday there. Photo from IG of xxxibgdrgn.
Yeongdong Gyojip

If you are a samgyupsal and K-pop fan, this is the place for you. Located in Cheongdam at the Gangnam area, this unpretentious and traditional Korean restaurant serves really good food. This is probably why many celebrities have eaten there. At the entrance, there are autographed photos of stars. Even members of phenomenal group Exo have been there. Recently, Jungkook of BTS, Mingyu of Seventeen and Cha Eun Woo of Astro dined there and it was all over social media. You can even sit at the exact table they ate in. You won’t miss it, there’s a photo of them by the wall. We ordered what they ordered, which was Jeju black pork belly, soft tofu made with ground beans and spicy stew made with pork and friend rice. Yummy!

A photo of K-pop stars Jungkook of BTS, Mingyu of Seventeen, and Cha Eun Woo of Astro displayed at the table they ate in at Yeongdong Gyojip. You can even order the dishes they ordered.
Gold Pig

This premium pork barbeque restaurant has been recommended by the Michelin Guide every year since 2019 until the present, and now I know why. Their food is utterly delicious. Located in Sindang-dong, there is always a queue because no reservations are taken. We lined up at 5 p.m. and got seated close to 7 p.m. Download the Catch Table app as that is how they alert you when your table is ready. We had the pork cheek and neck with their simple but perfect sauce. Their kimchi stew is also excellent.

At Gold Pig, they serve premium cuts of YBD pork that’s cooked in front of you.