THE BEST BAR IN ASIA
Last week, I arrived back in Taichung- a very livable and pleasant Taiwanese city. Also, a city with no great bars. I’ve searched. Amazing food, cozy cafes, some nice parks, even some decent places to have an outdoor beer from 7-11- but not one great room to have a friendly quaff and good conversation. For a city of 3 million, this is criminal. And so, I begin feeling nostalgic.
Before my first trip to Asia, I imagined there would be a huge lack of bars on this continent. Shopping malls, food stands, pollution- yes. But cozy, smart bars built with carefully with love? Not what pops into mind when an Ohioan thinks of Asia. I was wrong:
Bangkok – Parking Toys
Beijing – Mao Mao Chong
Yangon – The Strand
Siem Reap – Laundry
Tokyo – Ace’s
Manila – Mogwai
Saigon – Era Cafe
Handmade, friendly, stylish and consistent, some of the best bars in the world are in Asia.
But, there will always be one bar which stands out as the best in the East. It’s cavernous, dark, mysterious, well-constructed, creative, evolving, welcoming, cool (but unpretentious) and seemingly always open- often til 5 or 6am on a good night, when the bartenders close the doors and the night goes on with friends. Inside sit people from all over the world, sipping the continent’s best cocktails and listening to Gil Evans, Tom Waits, Chet Baker, and some amazing Korean music you’ve never heard before, but will Shazam. There is a vague seafaring theme. There is also lots of wood. Wood, Jerry…wood.
Welcome to Seoul, South Korea’s Bar 다. You can call it ‘Bar Da’. Bar 다 is located on the second and third floor of a ramshackle building in Seoul’s vibrant Hongdae district. You can walk up an old fire escape to reach the third floor. That’s Cool.
The skilled bartenders at Bar 다 makes a Manhattan cocktail ($7). An actual Manhattan. It’s not just a weak, confused drink that goes by the name of ‘Manhattan’, as many bars in Asia often do. It’s an actual Manhattan, made properly with Maker’s Mark, sweet vermouth and actual, yes real, Angostura bitters. In Asia. Well done.
This past summer, in July, I arrived here at midnight, straight from the airport with my bags in hand, eager to see old friends and meet new ones. I’ve been here so many times that I just automatically walk here when I walk up Exit 9 from the Hongik University subway station. It’s not easy to find, but well-worth the effort. (see map below).
Bar 다 is the kind of place so good and comfortable that regulars will begin taking it for granted. Then, when you’re out of town and sipping a crappy mojito and listening to lounge music, you realize just how amazing and essential it is. Go in the rain, when it taps on the tin roof of the third floor. Or, in the snow, when it’s a warm shed in the brutal winter. I’d like to be there now, in fact, Manhattan in hand, jazz on the speakers and discussing where to eat our 3am dinner with my friends.
365-5, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
(ph) 82 2-334-5572