The Samcheong-dong neighborhood of Seoul is known for its many Korean-style homes, or hanok, and quaint boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Over the last couple of years, a good many wine bars have opened shop in the area, offering diners the opportunity to have a glass of wine and share conversation in an atmosphere of Korean traditional elegance. Indeed, the secluded charm of the neighborhood has turned it into one of the places to go after work for rest and relaxation for those in the know.
Samcheong-dong actually means "Three Pure (or Good) Things." Those three things would be its fine mountains, water and people. Located between the Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace, Samcheong-dong is part of the larger Bukchon Hanok Village, the largest concentration of Korean traditional homes in Seoul. Thanks to its politically important situation, Bukchon has traditionally been the preserve of Korea's power elite -- to this day, the neighborhood exudes an old-money charm. In Samcheong-dong, things have definitely taken a turn for the commercial, much to the horror of cultural conservationists. Still, there can be denying the charm of sipping a drink on a rooftop bar overlooking the palaces and several hundreds of years of Korean history.
One of this writer's favorite places to have a post-work drink is Yeon, a cozy little cafe/bar in a hanok home hidden in an alley that climbs the hillside overlooking Samcheong-dong. Here, you have two choices -- you could sit at a Western-style table and chair, or you could relax Korean-style on cushions set up on a heated floor.
◆ 8 Steps
Refined Italian cuisine in Korean traditional elegance is what 8 Steps is all about. A renovated hanok overlooking the main street of Samcheong-dong, the restaurant is approached via a flight of steps, although not eight of them. It's a very chic place, with a wonderful mix of Korean and Western decor.
◆ Dal 1887
This restaurant did not open in 1887, but the handsome hanok home in which it's located has been around since then. The interior has been highly remodeled, so it has less of a hanok feel than some of the other places mentioned here, but it's warm and cozy nonetheless. A good place to bring a date.
◆ Romanee Conti
It might be named after the most expensive wine in the world, but this Samcheong-dong wine bar is all Korean, built in a wonderful old hanok with terrific views of the surrounding area. The wine list is fairly extensive, and there's nothing quite like having a sip or two under the beautiful wood-beam ceiling of an old hanok.
High-quality Japanese cuisine? In a hanok? Yes, that's the name of Wano's game. Located toward the end of Samcheong-dong road, Wano is a beautiful Korean hanok home serving outstanding Japanese food. Now, like Japanese restaurants anywhere in Korea, it isn't cheap, but truth be told, with its most expensive full-course meal priced at W80,000, it's not so bad.