When we’re in a new city, our first priority is always to find the closest haunt. A convenient watering hole that serves at least beer and is within stumbling distance from our apartment. In Sumida, Tokyo, we had Tetsu, our punk bass playing tattooed father of four who got me hooked on Japanese whiskey and soda. In Shinjuku it will always be Bar Brilliant with her Cuban cigars and Harajuku has Baird Beer’s intense microbrews.
I may not have chosen the perfect location for our first time in Seoul. The neighborhood around Gyeongbokgung Station ticks many of our boxes like restaurants, the subway and a Palace view. What it lacks in shopping and a night-life, it makes up for with an honest taste of Korea and some fantastic AirBnB hosts. Even though it’s getting late and we’ve just flown in from Tokyo, our quest for a place to unwind must go on.
It always begins like this:
“Which way do you want to go?” Husband asks. He wants me to sense ‘where the party at’. To do this I must first, survey my surroundings by looking in each direction for neon signs and sandwich boards. Then, listen for music or voices. If there are no people inside, it’s probably not open. Finally, I call upon the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. If I let him, he’ll guide me to the weirdest spot within walking distance. Finding the right bar takes a little bit of intuition and a whole lot of faith.
On the corner of a busy intersection (always a good starting place), to the right are the walls of the our local Palace where there could be gift shops, cafes and law enforcement. Behind us is a Mega Church, so we can nix that direction. To the left I see a bowling alley, a billiards hall, a convenience store and the Embassy of the Sultan of Oman. This looks promising but my instinct says, straight ahead where there are lighted sandwich boards out on the sidewalk and an Asahi beer sign in a place that might have food. If possible, always go the way that clearly has booze.
By now, it’s nearly midnight and February which means it’s cold and we don’t have time to look for options. The first place we see is called, ‘Cats. A CC bar’. Husband and I study the sign for a while and discuss what a CC Bar could be.
“Cocktail Club?” I suggest
Husband’s turn, “Maybe it’s a Cyber Cafe.”
“Let’s go.” I decide for the both of us.
He’s always hesitant about trying a new establishment. He’s worried that maybe it won’t have beer or worse, that a couple of American tourist won’t be welcome there. Luckily he has me because I live for shooting first and asking questions later.
In I go, and ‘Cats’ is looking pretty good so far. A nice beer selection in the cooler, music playing so I know they’re open and some ladies who seem happy to see us except, there’s no us. I look over my shoulder and Husband isn’t there. It’s just me. He didn’t follow me so I show the ladies my index finger, the Universal Charade for ‘just a second’, and dart out the door. He isn’t in the hallway. I leave the building and he isn’t outside either. Kidnapped, spontaneous combustion, there aren’t many explanations for suddenly disappearing. Seriously, what am I going to do now?
“Next time you go to the bathroom, tell me, ok?” I request when Husband emerges from around the corner. “Come on.”
We (I) re-enter ‘Cats. A CC Bar’ and this time the ladies jog towards us. The first lady to reach us is in her early 40′s and she ushers us to the nearest table. She pulls back the sheer red crepe drapes and kneels on the steps where she offers us slippers before we crawl onto the benches around our curtained table. Next comes Granny, with water and snacks followed by a third and youngest lady. When we order two beers, all three ladies immediately stop their fussing.
Granny asks, “Is that all?”
“And whiskey?” Comes out of my mouth as if momentarily possessed by a spirit who I summoned earlier.
This appeases the ladies greatly because they smile, laugh, and return with a bottle of Johnnie Walker, a half dozen glasses, ice and more snacks. This is when I start to think maybe ‘Cats’ isn’t the bar we were looking for. As a rule, if we end up at an establishment that doesn’t jive for us, we’ll just finish our drink and move on but this time there’s an entire bottle of whiskey standing between us and the exit.
Youngest Lady pours Husband and I each a glass of whiskey and asks if there’s anything else we need. We thank her and she closes the red drapes, leaving us secluded but we are’t alone for long. In the time it takes for Husband to offer a trade of his whiskey for my beer we meet our first visitor, Very Drunk Korean Man.
Very Drunk Korean Man ambushes our veiled table, flailing his arms past the curtains. He stops to put on some slippers and sits himself directly across from me. Very Drunk Man places his forearms on the table, leans my way and suavely asks, “Are you Americans?”
I let Husband handle this one, that’s his job as husband. “Yes, we’re Americans.”
Very Drunk Man says more words but I can’t tell what they are. They could be Korean words, or drunk words but either way they aren’t intelligible so I just nod. Very Drunk is staring at me, as if my nods aren’t good enough. He wants more than nods. In our defense, Middle-age Lady rushes over. She slides in next to Very Drunk and interlocks her arm with his at the elbow. Sweetly, she whispers in his ear and gives him a little tug away from our table, but Very Drunk isn’t ready to leave and he yanks her back.
What was once an awkward moment quickly turns into a fascinating display of feminism.
“Tell her you are….comfortable with me.” Very Drunk Korean Man pleads with Husband.
“No! Blow smoke in his face, tell him to leave, tell him to go away!” Youngest Lady chimes in, suggesting an impressively bold solution. What was once an awkward moment quickly turns into a fascinating display of feminism.
“What are you doing in Korea?” Very Drunk tries to win over Husband with some small talk.
Husband doesn’t understand (because he’s a man and that’s ok) that, when subject to unwanted advances, one must never answer with open ended statements. Instead, lie and say something not engaging like; ‘Work’ or ‘Je ne comprends pas’. But no, Husband tells the truth. “We’ve never been to Korea before, we just arrived tonight.”
At Husband’s admission, the Ladies go into hysterics. They both start pulling on Very Drunk, begging him to leave us alone and not to ruin our impression of Korea on our first day. Very grabs a hold of the table and tries to pretend nothing is happening, “Can I have a drink?” Very Drunk asks.
We have plenty of whiskey and I could honestly use Very Drunk’s help with drinking it. If we had his assistance, Husband and I could be back to our apartment at a reasonable hour. But, is drinking with Very Drunk Korean Man worth it?
“Do not give him a drink.” Youngest Lady insists, pulling on the Very Drunk’s leg as he struggles to keep his butt in the booth. “He’s leaving.”
All the commotion has gotten the attention of Granny, and Granny doesn’t mess around. Granny firmly attaches herself to Very Drunk and speaks words into his ear that he’s actually listening to. As if by magic, Very Drunk Korean Man collects his shoes and retreats from our table.
After escorting him back to his own table and setting up Very Drunk with Middle-aged Lady, Granny returns to us with a lovely platter of fresh fruit and assorted nuts. She apologizes profusely and offers Youngest Lady. Youngest takes the seat nearest me, leans in and says quite frankly, “He liked your face. May I have a whiskey?”
Dearest reader, this isn’t the end of our evening, in fact, it’s only beginning. Tune in next time when I’ll tell you the story of, A CC Bar Part 2: The Companion.