Best bars in Seoul

CNN Travel staffPublished 12th July 2017
If these bars don't make you gasp for a drink, what will?
(CNN) — In South Korea, drinking and eating go together like gin and tonic. Sure, you can have gin straight up. But it's so much better with some tonic water. At least, that's our explanation of Korean drinking culture, which almost always involves food.
In that sense, some of the bars on our list may not seem typical as they pay equal (if not more) attention to the food as they do to the drinks. But that's not to say the drinks aren't delicious.
Bartenders are getting creative and winning awards with cocktails based on traditional Korean alcohol such as makgeolli (a milky-white Korean rice wine traditionally consumed by farmers) and soju (a spirit traditionally made with rice, although nowadays manufacturers use other starches such as potatoes or barley).
Seoul's best bars are home to some unusual and delectable drinks you can't get anywhere else in the world. Here are some of our favorites:

Vinga, Apgujeong

Posh Cheongdam-dong wine bar Vinga opened in 2005, and it has become a favorite among both Seoul's insatiable wine lovers.
"I especially love the atmosphere -- it's casual but still classy and the interior makes it feel like you are inside either an ancient Greek castle or a rusty old wine cellar," says CNN contributor Rachel Han.
The name "Vinga" is derived from French and Chinese: "vin" meaning wine in French, and "ga" meaning house in Chinese.
According to Vinga's sommelier, Vinga houses some 800 different types of wine which are stored in three separate cellars depending on their characteristics.
"Wine Spectator magazine gave us the 'Best Award of Excellence' in 2010 and 2011," says the sommelier. "Vinga was the first to receive the title for two consecutive years."
The bar also offers a menu of various side dishes and meals, which are, like the wine, impeccable. The crispy chicken thigh with mashed potato and grape is delightful and comes in surprisingly generous helpings, while the seared sea bass with sweet corn and sauce diable is a simple, classic dish.
Another attraction of the wine bar is the live music.
"If you love wine and a classy environment, Vinga is a must," says Rachel. "But one reminder. There is a mini stream that runs through in the middle of the bar, so don't get drunk and fall in."
B1 Podo Plaza, 634-1 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu; +82 2 516 1761

Bar Da, Hongdae

"Finding a suitable dive bar can make all the difference," says CNN contributor Maxwell Coll. "Drinks here are reasonably priced and generously potent."
Tucked away on the second and third floors of an inconspicuous building down one of Hongdae's back alleys, Bar Da offers a laid-back escape from the scene's many Ho Bars and jam-packed clubs.
With a Western-style bar, an interesting, hospitable staff, a smoker-friendly deck and a collection of instruments in the back corner, this dimly lit, funky joint is a solid choice for anyone looking to kick back some whiskey and converse with strangers.
"It can be difficult to have substantive conversations at the clubs, and you often run into the same crowds in Hongdae," says Maxwell. "Bar Da draws interesting characters and if it's a dead night, the bartenders are always up for conversation."
7, Hongik-ro 3-gil, Mapo-gu, (마포구 서교동 365-12 2층); +82 2 337 1818

Vinyl 'Street Bar,' Hongdae

"In Korea, I quickly came to realize that a lot of important socializing takes place at bars," says CNN contributor Jack Ackerman.
"That's all well and good -- except that I'm not a huge drinker and I don't like sitting around for a long time. So I needed to find somewhere that still had good drinks but was unconventional enough to keep my interest and had more to offer than the typical bar atmosphere."
With its colorful, portable drinks that come IV-bag style, Hongdae's Vinyl Bar is Jack's favorite haunt.
The drinks here are affordable, yet tasty, and their presentation gives patrons more to talk about than just the alcohol. While customers can put their feet up in the cozy seating area and choose from a number of options, if they get the urge to go somewhere else, they can simply take their beverage with them -- and look trendy while doing so. (Vinyl's colorful concoctions sure beat that crumpled brown paper bag.)
Hongdae, of course, offers plenty to do, drink in hard, from simply wandering the streets to perusing the shops. Most shop owners don't mind the bagged drinks and are in fact, used to them.
411-1, Seokyo-dong, Mapo-gu. (마포구 서교동 411-1) ; +82 2 322 4161

Party Station, Hannam-dong

Run by singer Lim Byeong-soo, who debuted in the 1980s and still acts as mentor on music programs such as "Immortal Song 2" (불후의명곡2), Party Station is a small but well-stocked "live music bar" located in the quiet but quirky neighborhood of Hannam-dong's U.N. Village.
A nondescript street entrance leads to a subterranean world of dark marble-topped tables and fine whiskey, where guests can sing karaoke or watch the owner perform rousing renditions of his old songs.
"I like it because it's cozy and comfortable," says Ron Lee, General Manager of Turner Korea. "And it's always fun when Lim Byeong-soo joins the party and starts singing because he has an unbelievable voice. The night turns into a private concert."
As the tiny bar only accepts up to two parties per night, be sure to call in advance for a reservation.
Yongsan-gu Hannam-dong 28-12 (용산구 한남동 28-12); +82 2 518 9090

The Timber House, Park Hyatt Seoul

The Timber House has three sections, the sushi/sake/soju bar, the cocktail bar and the whiskey bar.
The Timber House has three sections, the sushi/sake/soju bar, the cocktail bar and the whiskey bar.
Courtesy Park Hyatt Seoul
While the aesthetic of The Timber House may look distinctly modern with its large mirrors and elegant lighting, the interior of the Park Hyatt's lower level bar and restaurant is actually based on an old wooden hanok.
The traditional design concept is made more apparent upon a closer look. Details include Korean roof tiles, papered and patterned wooden sliding doors and traditional urns scattered throughout the bar.
"A lot of my friends like to come here for the cigars," says CNN contributor Frances Cha. "But it's my favorite bar because of the cocktails."
Made with Hwayo 41 (soju), schnapps, omiza syrup and iced raspberry tea, The Timber House's "Love in Sky" took home top honors at the Authoritative Korean Bartender Championship in 2011, along with the "Pine Crane," another signature soju cocktail made from Dam Soul soju, Benedicttine D.O.M, schnapps, yooja marmalade and pine needles.
606, Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, (강남구 대치 3동 995-14) +82 2 2016 1290
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.