Tucked away on a side street in Sinsa, an artsy district just south of the Han River, hides Chapter One, a small, semi-secret bar which doesn’t even have a name sign to tell you it’s there. Instead, through a glass window above a flight of stairs descending into a basement is an old rotary phone under a neon sign, which announces that finally you’ve arrived.
The steps down to the basement lead to a heavy set of double doors, which also don’t bear a sign. However, push them open to find a dimly lit bar where books, not booze, are the star of the show.
The drink menu at Chapter One offers a full selection of classic cocktails and liquors. However, where it really shines is its seasonal menu, which changes every few weeks and is based off of different books. When I went to Chapter One last Friday evening with my friend Kimmy, the specialties were based off of The Great Gatsby.
I ordered the Ensemble, and Kimmy had the Finale.
Of course, just as would please your high school English teacher, these drinks were served with a heavy side of symbolism. Mine came with a hat, a candy cane, and a bench all on top of a green field, which was, as my bartender explained, meant to represent old sport Nick Carroway at the beginning of the novel. Kimmy’s drink came with a bouquet of flowers and a rose clipped on the stem of the glass, to show both the tragedy of the ending (no spoilers here!) but also the illogical, passionate hope the bartender saw in Gatsby through the novel.
In addition to the drinks that we ordered, we were also given some free snacks (known as ‘service’ here in Korea) and some cinnamon tea, made fresh at the bar and given to its patrons to ward off colds, as the weather has been crazy here recently.
These drinks – and more, this atmosphere – doesn’t come cheap.
There’s a 5,000 won cover charge for the bar, and our drinks were 25,000 won each. My recommendation? Bring your old friend Gatsby. He’s loaded and known for providing his friends with plenty of booze.
101, Nonhyeon-ro 175-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
How to get there:
Take the Subway Line 3 to Sinsa, and go out of Exit 8. Turn left down Garosu-gil (가로수길 – it’s a highly trendy street lined with upscale shops and trees, so it’s hard to miss), and walk straight until you reach the Starbucks (almost at the end of the street), and turn left. The bar will be a little hidden on the corner – just look through the windows for the neon sign!