It’s a brand new year Mamas & Papas and we couldn’t be more excited to get back into the swing of tasting and exploring the awesome world of Korean traditional alcohol. We have been meeting regularly for 5 years now, and that means we have covered a lot of makgeolli ground. We have visited over 60 different bars in our time, so finding awesome new places that wow us can be somewhat of a challenge. So we take it as a good sign that 2017 will be a fantastic year, when our first meeting location is so incredible we wondered how we could have missed it!
Located in the Sinchon area not too far from Hongdae is an amazing culinary find. Not only has the food been highly praised by other chefs in the Korean dining community, but one look at the fridge tells us he also carefully curates his makgeolli selection to be some of the absolute finest.
The interior is not the largest, so we will keep the numbers at this meeting at a smaller level.
If you would like to join us to kick off our makgeolli exploration for the year, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and get in quick 🙂
Name: The Manjok (만족) *translates as ‘The Satisfaction‘
Location: Near the entrance to Hongik University.
Reviewed by: Mamas & Papas August 1st
Thoughts: Anyone visiting the area around Hongik university will quickly become aware that there is no shortage of places to choose from for food and drink. Whatever your fancy, there are a dozen places that will provide it for you. Makgeolli is of course no exception. Typically what’s been offer has catered for the predominant student demographic. Places such as Hongdaepo, Hawaiian Makgeolli and countless other nameless places, selling “house makgeolli” for cheap, fun times. Although more recently some more upmarket places have appeared in the area, including the fantastic Olsoo.
Not until the opening of The Manjok in the area, has there been a restaurant that has quality brews at a reasonable price. The owner is one of the brewers for 좋은술 (Joeun Sool), who are one of the most prominent premium makgeolli producers in the country. Their products include 천비향 탁주 (cheonbihyang takju) and 약주. The Manjok serves this brewery’s usual premium fare, as well as a variety of other craft brews that 좋은술 produces… great things….things that we had never seen. We were excited.
Service: ***** 5 Stars
Style: *** 3 Stars
Ambience: **** 4 Stars
Overall: **** 4.5 Stars
Baked Pork (보쌈): **** 4 Stars ~ Fatty, Juicy, Plentiful, Pairs well with Ihwaju.
What we liked: The Brews. Usually when we get together with our Mamas & Papas to try things out we start at the cheapest side of the menu, and try to sample our way up towards the really awesome items. However, we were (pleasantly) denied that chance. The owner was so keen for us to try the premium side of menu that he recommended us a large number of things that we hadn’t tried before. The majority of these brews do come from 좋은술, however there are varieties that as far as we know can’t be found in other spots, and they are priced much cheaper than can be found in other bars. If you’re not on your premium makgeolli game however, there are still a large number of regular takjus and makgeolli blends/cocktails to be enjoyed as well. (When we visited, the most prominent drink being consumed by patrons was 장수 (Jangsu)… stick to what you know I guess. #sadface)
What we disliked: Ice! At the time of our visit, a lot of the 천비향막걸리 was being stored in a refrigerator on the veranda of the restaurant, and although they were (fairly) cool, the manager insisted on blending the brews with crushed ice. Which though making them pleasantly cold, also made it a little difficult to drink. It seems a bit petty to pick on this however as they are still smoothing out the kinks in the newly opened venue. (We visited on their first weekend). We will update this section soon (we will definitely be visiting again)
Recommendation: We were elated to discover that The Manjok opens it’s doors at 11am. Even further elated to hear that they provide a lunch special. Our minds were blown when we told that this lunch only costs 5,900won. This makes it cheaper than most lunches you can find in the area, and with all that excellent makgeolli to pair it with I can imagine many afternoon workers arriving at the office with a spring in their step. This place also works well in the early evening, so feed and drink up before the rest of your Hongdae adventure.
Directions: Facing Hongik University’s main entrance, turn left and walk a few moments, taking the first left just before the Starbucks. You will see a CU convinience store on the corner. The Manjok is in the building directly across from there on your left, on the second floor.
Address: 서울 마포구 서교동 344-6 칼리오페빌딩 2층 (Seoul Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong 344-6, Kaliope Building 2F)
Thoughts: Located on the trendy street of Sangsu which is lined with cafes, brunch restaurants and cool bars, Booze Frog (our own affectionate translation of the name 술 개구리) is a recent addition to the scene of makgeolli bars. While some places offer a menu of ten or so brews, this place has a most impressive four page menu and scores of options to choose from. The atmosphere is intimate and lively, and if you’re lucky enough to get the one table by the terrace, you can people watch the trendsters below with your makgeolli cup in hand.
What we liked: The atmosphere. The interior has been designed like a Spanish villa, and it is a very popular place filled with imbibers. The menu being so extensive, they offer samplers which come out not in small shot glasses, but tall water glasses. If you’re not sure what you like, this is a good way to try different types without having to buy a full bottle. It’s also a great visual to come to the table, though we found it a little difficult to pour without spilling for each person. Mamas & Papas also liked a somewhat unusual aspect, the prawn crackers. It may just come out as free anjou, but multiple Mamas & Papas raved about them saying ‘I would come back just for these’.
What we disliked: The slow service. Taking into account they are a relatively new establishment, so keeping up with its popularity might mean still working out the kinks. We ordered makgeolli and the order was forgotten until they were reminded 15 minutes later. However the owner was apologetic and compensated with free bottles, and his efforts definitely made up for the service lapse. Mamas & Papas were also a little disappointed with the lack of craft makgeolli, as the only bottles listed on the menu were out of stock. The house three color jeon was a bit spicy to go well with the makgeolli, with one Mama commenting ‘It blows out the taste buds so you can’t taste the makgeolli’.
Recommendation: This is a good place for a casual makgeolli experience with a relaxed atmosphere and extensive selection. If you’re in the Hapjeong/Sangsu area and want a late afternoon brew, the open terrace and windows let in some nice light and open air. It’s also good if you want to sample a whole selection of makgeolli you perhaps have never tried before, the owner also speaks some English and can recommend you to order.
Directions: From Sangsu Station come out exit #1 and walk down the hill on the main road towards Hapjeong station. When you reach the carpark at the bottom entrance to hongdae area turn right, and at the next left you should see a CU on the corner. Turn left here and follow the street for about 3 blocks and then you should cross a 4 way street. The bar should be just on the right on the 2nd floor and it’s called Sool Frog (술 개구리)
Note: It’s also accessible from Hapjeong station at about the same distance
Thoughts: Right in the middle of Hongdae: the thriving, bustling beating heart of Seoul’s nightlife, where students, tourists, party lovers, musicians and artists all collide in a seemingly endless network of streets crammed with bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes, you will find this diamond in the rough. Olsoo, with it’s attention to quality and careful selection of Korean traditional alcohol feels somewhat out of place among the cheap barbeque restaurants, soju bars, and rowdy old fashioned makgeolli bars that fill the neighboring area right next to the Hongdae subway station.
The word Olsoo (얼쑤) is the one of the calls of encouragement and emphasis commonly given by the percussionist to solo singer during Korea’s ancient Pansori musicals and translates, perhaps somewhat crudely as “Yah Hoo”. Olsoo is owned and managed by the bar’s chef, who’s passion is not only in modern reflections of Korea’s cuisine, but also in it’s wide offerings in the field of traditional liquor. His staff also share his enthusiasm for makgeolli, cheongju and well crafted soju and are more than happy to offer recommendations and suggestions on what you may like to drink.
JahuiHyang Nabi 자희향 나비 (chalky, mild, floral, aromatic,silky)
Do Mun Daejak 도문대작 (Pungent, nice finish, mild/pleasant bitterness,slightly higher alcohol content)
What we liked: The Menu. A bit of a cop out to mention the menu, however it has such a delicious selection of food on offer that it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off the recommendation. The selection of makgeolli and cheongju on offer here is also very good, with a large number of premium bottles as well as some more interesting and less common varieties of takju/table makgeolli, the selection deserves an honorable mention. We were very happy with the direction this bar has taken in terms of its well chosen, predominantly non-aspartame bottle choices. Mamas & Papas also were quite satisfied with the quality of food, the fried oysters being a particular hit with the general comment being simply ‘Yummy!!’ (Note: Oysters are a seasonal menu found mostly from September to December/January)
What we disliked: The Price. Well, in hongdae, you would be forgiven for thinking that most places in this area offer cheap and cheerful drinks, with the target demographic being students and party goers. However if that is what you are looking for then this place is perhaps not for you. Although nothing on the menu is unreasonable, it is certainly more expensive than other makgeolli bars that are in the vicinity of Olsoo. You are certainly paying for the quality of the produce and drinks you are receiving here though, and we are more than happy to recommend it.
Recommendation: A great place for a nice meal and a chat with a few friends who either are makgeolli lovers, or who want to get into the world of premium makgeolli. If you have the budget, you will be able to sample and compare most of the higher end makgeolli that is available in Seoul; paired with some very tasty dishes as well. It can sometimes get a little rowdy, as it does appear that the also sell common soju as well which is still popular with the local clientele and the company dinner customers as well. However, the atmosphere is fun and it is certainly a good place to start you night in the most happening place in the city.
Directions: Come out exit 8 of Hongdae Station and walk straight. You will reach a roundabout, and Olsoo is on the opposite side of the street, on the second floor. Look for a staircase and a white sign with black writing that says 얼쑤.
THOUGHTS: Just a short walk from the subway station towards a street sprawling with nice restaurants and fancy cafes, a turn into could be mistaken for an alley or car park entrance lands you at New York Makgeolli. It’s unassuming location and signage make it an easy spot to miss. It’s tented front section (in winter) shelters red tables that would not be out of place in a street food vendor’s stall (포장마차). Beyond the threshold thought there is a tightly packed, bustling restaurant with a couple of rooms and ample seating. A popular location with locals getting their makgeolli buzz either after dinner, or before hitting the town.
Note: Beoldeok is a spirit and not a Makgeolli ~ You’ll recognize the bottle by the extremely phallic bottle top:)
What Mamas & Papas liked: The Service. The staff were generally very attentive, despite the place being very busy when we visited. Our night started in the tented outdoor front section, however as space cleared up inside we were promptly moved inside to more comfortable seating. The owner seems to know about makgeolli, which is always good. He explained a little about the types he had on offer, and also revealed that he is studying makgeolli brewing himself. This is the kind of passion we like to see from makgeolli bar owners, and a knowledge of brewing skills will perhaps lead to a more varied selection of brews available at the bar. Mamas & Papas were also quite satisfied with the food, with one mama commenting ‘feels like a fusion dish’.
What Mamas & Papas Disliked: The Selection. Despite having several makgeolli types to choose from, almost everything on the menu was sweetened with the exception of Song Myeong Sub (송명섭). This is quite a common finding in the nightlife/술집 type makgeolli bars, which don’t tend to curate a wide palate of brews. One papa commented on the Sindong Makgeolli combo as “This is a 750ml aspartame hand grenade, and there’s no expiration date”. Also the lack of any premium brews was a little disappointing as well. This place is a popular location on the local Korean nightlife scene and as such it seems to be catering to the preference for sweet makgeolli, which has been the trend here for some time.
Recommendation: This is a great place to come for some light food and some drinks before heading out into the Hapjeong/Hongdae area for your night of fun. It’s usually busy on the weekends and that can either be great or not depending on your style. This isn’t really a good place for quiet drinks and conversation, however if you are on a night out it is certainly a good place to soak up the rowdy atmosphere. The prices are reasonable and won’t break the bank, however there is nothing on the drinks menu that is above entry level table makgeolli, so the caveat is the selelection. All in all it’s an enjoyable place to start your evening.
How to get there: Come out of Hapjeong station exit 4 and walk straight briefly before taking the first left before the main road. After a couple of moments walkding down the hill you will see a carpark on your left, and just beyond that you will find New York Makgeolli tucked away down a little alley way.
Thoughts: Like many of the Makgeolli bars dotted around Seoul this one finds itself in an inconspicuous, treasure trove of an alleyway between donggyodong junction and Yeonsei University. If you weren’t looking for anything specific you would be forgiven for walking past the alley and missing out on a microcosm of wonderful little cafes and restaurants, including Korea Bistro. It has a fair selection of lower and mid priced Makgeolli, and seems to fit itself snugly in the alcove between Makgeolli bar and cafeteria diner with groups of revelers drinking and laughing as common as individuals having dinner and a few cups of Makgeolli to themselves.
It seems as though the have potential to stock a lot of Makgeolli however at the time we visited they didn’t have too many non-aspartame selections. The staff were passionate however and it seems as though they were tasting a lot of interesting varieties with a view to add to the menu…. watch this space!
What We Liked: The Style. This is a cozy little place with low lighting and plenty of space. The staff were very friendly and willing to help and offer suggestions from the Makgeolli and food menus. This is a place that isn’t prohibitive to individuals coming in on their own to enjoy a meal for one with a nice refreshing cup of Makgeolli as an accompaniment. Many restaurants in Korea only provide menu items to be shared among groups, however this little place caters for all possibilities: with large items for groups and smaller, very reasonably priced individual meals available too. The best part: the food is actually very good, with lots of side dishes to boot! yummy!
What We Disliked: The Selection. Unfortunately as mentioned before there are not many options for additive free or premium Makgeolli. For non aspertame it was Dae Dae Po or SongmyeongSeop. If you don’t mind aspertame then there is quite a variety of bottles available. It does seem like a newer place and as such may be still finding it’s feet regarding its drinks menu – we hope it will branch out a little more and offer some bottles from the upper end of the market makgeolli selection.
Recommendation. Come on your own and have a couple of cheeky bottles with dinner or bring your friends and have dinner and a chat in what is a popular but not rowdy establishment. Either way you approach it – as a diner or as a bar – I am sure you will find something for your taste on the cheap and extensive food menu and you enjoy your time in this comfortable and friendly venue.
How to get there: Come out of Hongdae Station Exit 3 and double back to the main road and turn left towards dongyodong junction. Walk straight for about 6 mins and you will pass a Gimbap restaurant with a craft beer pub on the second floor. Turn left, go down the alley and it will be the first store on the left.
Thoughts: Wolhyang is one of the largest and most reputable chains for makgeolli. They carry an extensive range of makgeolli from all over the peninsula, as well as their own brewed makgeolli. The Itaewon location is the last of three, the others being in Seogyo dong and Hongdae (Scroll to the bottom for links to reviews of other locations). The Itaewon location carries a similar feel to the Seogyo-dong location, though it is even more hidden in the back alleys of Itaewon. In addition to carrying an extensive makgeolli range, it is also open from midday for those who are looking for a makgeolli lunchtime option.
The Itaewon location of Wolhyang is the most recent of the three bars, the first being Hongdae followed by Seogyo dong. This bar is situated far from the busy end of Itaewon and down a winding alley, ensuring that you feel far enough from the Itaewon hype. Inside is the signature sparse Wolhyang decor with open tables and big windows, though it is a little darker than the Seogyo dong location. It is consistent with the other locations in terms of menu and food, and you can always guarantee you will eat and drink well.
What We liked : The Service. All three Wolhyang locations offer just about the same food and makgeolli, but the staff at the Itaewon location are just that little bit more attentive and personable. If you come here more than once, the staff will be sure to remember you and recommend new things to try. We also love their daytime drinking policies, as this location in particular is popular for some afternoon makgeolli specials.
What we didn’t like: The price. As with the other Wolhyang reviews, we still struggle with the high prices. Even though Wolhyang has some excellent makgeolli from a range of reasonable to expensive prices, it’s the food costs that will hurt the wallet. If you are frequently ordering to replenish the food, the final bill can definitely get out of hand.
Recommendation: Wolhyang Itaewon is a great place for an afternoon hangout with friends. The distance from the main drag of Itaewon means it is quieter and more comfortable for a longer visit without, getting too over crowded.
How to get there: Come out of Hangangjin Station (Line 6) exit 3 and walk straight. Take your third left and walk all the way down the hill until you see a bar on the corner called Moonshine (this is the wine bar connected to Wolhyang), the front entrance to Wolhyang will be just around the corner.
NOTE: This location is now CLOSED as at December 2015
Name: Wolhyang (월향)
Reviewed by: Mama Julia & Papa Dan
Thoughts: Wolhyang is one of the largest and most reputable chains for makgeolli. They carry an extensive range of makgeolli from all over the peninsula, as well as their own brewed makgeolli. The Seogyo dong location is the second of three, the others being in Hongdae and Itaewon (Scroll to the bottom for links to reviews of other locations). The Seogyo-dong location is in a large white house with two floors and a balcony, and the sparse decor makes it feel light and roomy. It is probably the brightest and most upbeat of the three, and it lends itself to some cheerful dining and makgeolli tasting.
The Seogyo-dong location of Wolhyang has a very different atmosphere to the Hongdae location. As it is nestled in the backpacker side-streets of the neighborhood across from Hongdae, it has a slower and more relaxed feel. However, as with all Wolhyang bars, you can expect the same standard of menu and makgeolli on offer. It has large rooms for bigger groups which are not so easily accommodated in Hongdae, and there is no rush to leave to make room for other customers.
What We liked : The Selection.
The biggest draw for Wolhyang is the sheer selection and choice on the menu.
You can choose from the usual suspects which are common in many bars, or you can sample from a range of premium makgeolli, cheongju, and their very own wonju. The food is also of very good quality, though the serving portions can leave a hungry group wanting more.
What we didn’t like: The price. Even though Wolhyang has some excellent makgeolli from a range of reasonable to expensive prices, it’s the food costs that will hurt the wallet. If you are frequently ordering to replenish the food, the final bill can definitely get out of hand. The decor is also quite sparse, so it can feel like it is lacking in a bit of character.
Recommendation: Wolhyang Seogyo-dong is a great place for groups who are looking for a quality makgeolli and dining experience. If you have people visiting or would like to experience a wide range of traditional Korean liquors in a bright, open atmosphere, this is the place.
How to get there: Come out of Hongdae Station (Line 2) exit 1 and walk straight for two blocks. Turn at your second right and then right again. Take your first left and you will see a big white building which will be Wolhyang Seogyo-dong.
Reviewed by: Mama’s and Papa’s on: August 20th, 2013
Thoughts: Located on the second floor just blocks away from Hongik University, this funky, retro styled Hongdae bar offers an affordable makgeolli experience. Each table is set with retro Korean snacks, and the low-lighting, combined with the converted cafeteria feel make for a casual dining and drinking experience. The fresh varieties of house made Dong-Dong-Ju cocktails give the customer an added incentive over the more premium bottled varieties of Makgeolli available. It’s a very accessible lounge-like atmosphere with prompt and friendly service.
What Mamas & Papas liked: The service. Prompt, friendly, and receptive, there was never a moment without food or drink in hand. Mamas & Papas also liked the dong-dong-ju. It was super refreshing, and it tasted great, even when infused with different fruits. We were also impressed with the Buldak (spicy chicken), with one Mama commenting ‘It really packs a flavor without knocking your tastebuds off’.
What Mamas & Papas didn’t like: The lighting. For those wanting to take photos, they may struggle if they are ushered into one of the black light lit side rooms, as they will invariably be blue. Mamas & Papas were also not sold on the honey dong-dong ju that wasn’t well mixed. If it hasn’t been carefully mixed, the honey sinks to the bottom and is beyond sweet.
Recommendation: To feel the pulse of Hongdae in the heart of its entertainment district before a night out on the town, head here with a group of friends and enjoy the cheap food, fresh drink, and merry atmosphere. You could stay a while, or just for a stopover, but either way it is a fun and vibrant place to enjoy company with friends.
How to get there: Come out of Sangsu Station, exit 1 and walk down the hill towards Hongdae. When you get to the main street just before Club Evans and the 7-11, turn left. Follow this street for three blocks (make sure to move over to the left side of the street), then turn left. You will see a café on the first floor, and the second floor is where Mak Ka Pa is.
Reviewed by: Mama Julia & Papa Chris on May 15th, 2013
Thoughts: This tiny little makgeolli bar away from the bustle of central hongdae is a delightful stop for a quiet bottle. The interior is cozy and home-style, and the outdoor deck is perfect for the warmer weather. The service was great and it was a relaxing place to enjoy a mid-week makgeolli.
Overall: ***1/2 (3.5 stars)
We did not get around to trying any of the food when we were there, as we were had already hit our food capacity. However the menu had a decent selection and it is all made from scratch. The menu states that as the food is all homemade to allow for some waiting time.
(Fresh, strong, balanced, tart, hits the back of the palate)
What We liked: The Nurungji Makgeolli. Nurungji is burnt rice, and the flavor of this makgeolli was unique and just simply delicious. It had a nice balance to it and we both agreed that we could drink many jugs and still want more. We also really liked the quiet location and outdoor deck option.
What We didn’t like: No bell. Whilst the service is very good, if you sit outside you basically have to get up and go inside to get the attention of the staff. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it would be better if there were a way to get their attention without having to go get them.
Recommendation: If you are in the mood for a casual yet intimate chat with one or two friends, this is the place. It’s in a very quiet part of hongdae, so you can unwind and relax without feeling the bustle of the nightlife area. Not suitable for big groups, but great for close friends for an after work jug.
How to get there: Come out of Hongdae Station (Line 2) Exit 3 and turn left. Walk down this street until you see I Am Makgeolli on your left.