Posted by: Matt Kelley | 17 November 2008

Garosugil – Sinsa’s Tree-Lined Street

20081117_orangebldg
Bright colors are a staple of Garosugil’s trendy restaurants, cafés and shops.

There’s a habit among some to equate parts of Seoul or Korea as the “fill in the blank” of Europe or America. I’ve always found these comparisons ill-fitting. Also, why should Korea describe itself only in reference to somewhere else? For better or worse, Korean cities always feel more like Korea than Manhattan or Naples, and a lot of people (myself included) prefer it that way.

But in a nation as homogenous as this one, I can imagine it’s fun for the locals to pretend they’re somewhere else. A case in point is the popular Garosugil, in Gangnam’s Sinsa-dong neighborhood. The street officially known as Dosan-daero buk 5-gil (도산대로 북 5길), has become a trendy place for 7,000-won lattés and foreign cuisine. And to be fair to the friend who introduced Garosugil as “Europe in Seoul”, there does seem to be an affinity for faux-French.

20081117_goldenginkgo
Garosugil means “tree-lined street.” The rows of mature ginkgo are especially gorgeous in autumn.

A quick survey of area business’s revealed: “A Priori Thé: Maison du Chocolat & Thé“, “Fleur and Goûté” and “Les Chiots: Maison de Qualite, Fondre en 2003.” Never mind the spelling errors, the latter is a cute pet store in front of which I saw two well-coiffed Bouvier des Flanders a couple of Sunday mornings ago. How fitting.

Garosugil means “tree-lined street”, and the half-kilometer promenade has lots more charm than the affluent neighborhoods of Apgujeong and Cheongdam-dong immediately to the east. But like much of Southern Seoul, rents are high. As such, most of Garosugil’s restaurants, cafés and stores are cozy. Boutiques like Farmer appear to mix new and gently-used fashion at OK prices while a narrow bookstore specializes in art, design and architecture.

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Frenchy names, Italian and fusion cuisine and near-Eastern inspired décor are a curious mix in Sinsa-dong’s Garosugil.

If you’re prone to claustrophobia, make way to the new Italian restaurant Nonna. The vast, mood-lit dining floor feels nothing like grandma’s house (“nonna” means grandmother in Italian). But what she does provide is your best hope for an open table and some of Seoul’s best Italian food. Most entrées run 18,000-30,000 won. Since specialty coffee costs a silly 8,000 won, I paid 1,000 more for the tasty house red wine. If you’re not in the mood for the Italian granny, Garosugil also has an English one. The restaurant/wine bar Grandmother features a Persian-ish interior serving pan-Asian vittles. But for more cheaper fare, check out Buccella for yummy sandwiches or Oriental Spoon‘s usually tasty pan-Asian dishes.

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It’s actually a lovely place, but please make sense of the name for me.

Although I don’t mind eating alone, it’s rare to see Koreans dining solo. And on a romantic walking street like Garosugil, be it a lunch meeting or dinner date, it feels weird to not be in another’s company. For example, a personal favorite: Cork for Turtle; Mug for Rabbit. The first floor and sunken B1 is a spare but cozy café while the upstairs is an intimate restaurant encouraging wine and champagne consumption. If you were alone, you’d miss the chance to ponder the peculiar name together, or discuss Korean restaurants’ penchant for empty wine bottles as décor.

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My friend Cindy shimmying through a narrow entrance for the subterranean live music bar, Crazy Horse.

Example 2: On an early autumn evening, a friend and I happened upon Crazy Horse, a lower-level, American Indian-themed bar with an entrance so narrow you have to shimmy sideways to get in. Had I gone by myself, who would have received my bemused expression when the front man of the band “The Earls”, called out his own “En-core! En-core!” after finishing the band’s live set?

20081117_genetically
I’m not sure what this means.

As one of Seoul’s “It” neighborhoods, afternoons and evenings can feel a bit overrun with fashionable couples and amateur photographers. But if you have a chance, head on over on a morning this week or next. Good luck finding anything but Starbucks open before 11 am, but you can enjoy the gorgeous golden ginkgo trees for which the street is named, with blankets provided to ease the autumn chill. Afterwards, check out the latest offerings at Gallery Yeh (예화랑), and take the short (although a bit perilous) walk to the Jamwon section of the vast Han River Park (한강 공원).

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Bloom and Goûté’s lunch set offers a chicken sandwich, a “hot sandwhich” or Curry Rice with coffee for 14,000 won.

Overall, Garosugil is a slice of Seoul still in transition. The Dunkin’ Donuts store and a run-down noraebang (karaoke) look old and out of place. Conversely, a massive Japanese furniture store under construction is a scary example of what’s to come as the neighborhood’s popularity and shoddy zoning laws collide. But for now, Garosugil provides a nice change of pace from much of Seoul, despite remaining far more Korean than European.

map_garosugilGetting There:
→ Garosugil runs perpendicular to two major streets. It can be accessed from either end. Take subway line 3 to Sinsa Station (exit #8). Walk about three blocks until you reach a corner with the area’s tallest building. Turn left onto Garosugil.

Or, take subway line 3 to Apgujeong Station (exit #5) and walk about 15 minutes. Turn left at the Kraze Burger.

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Responses

  1. very beautiful! is there a place in korea that’s not even close to being beautiful?

  2. I’ve been visiting my family here for a couples of months now and am looking forward to heading back to Seoul. Garosugil is one of my favorite streets in Seoul but more than this, it’s the sides streets of Garosugil that are taking more of my money and interest. There are a lot of hidden gems that I’ve discovered, more cafes, more restaurants, etc. Lovely.
    Thanks for featuring this chic section of Seoul. I’ve done a lot of photographing and posting of my own about this area on my own site.

    Hope that we can meet up for coffee when I get back in February.

    Ciao!

    Felicia, This Time in Seoul
    http://www.www.nearandfar.wordpress.com
    http://www.thistimenow.wordpress.com

  3. Hi again, Dong Ho,
    Well… of course I try to focus on the more beautiful and interesting places in Korea. But unfortunately, Korea has suffered much in the last 50 years after decades of foreign occupation and civil war. Thankfully, I think Korea’s best years are to come. Let’s hope there’s a good balance of preserving the historic and natural sites and effective planning for the future!

    Best,
    Matt

  4. Hi Felicia,

    Glad to see you’re coming back to Korea! I wasn’t sure you would be back so soon. I love your photos and hope visitors to DiscoveringKorea.com will check them out. And yes, let’s definitely have coffee in Garosu-gil, Hongdae, Samcheong-dong or somewhere else… I’m sure you know of some great places that I’ve yet to visit.

    Happy Holidays,
    Matt


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