My first foray into the big badass world of single malt scotch was thinking, at age 12, that my father’s Macallan 25 was iced tea and downing a mouthful then promptly passing out much to the horror slash amusement of my parents. I was fine of course but running around and being active, then drinking a bunch was probably not and still probably isn’t the best combination in the world.
I’ve acquired a taste for the stuff since then having been educated a tad by my friend Hyun Jin in New York (and somehow ending up on the Wall Street bull in the process – another story for another day) so I was quite pleased to find that Seoul has a few decent malt bars at moderately reasonable prices (by Korean standards anyway).
Off is by far my favourite single malt bar and frankly, I am a little reluctant to share this place because it’s my secret spot and I would like to keep it that way but it is needed to compare the other two. Located near Gangnamgucheong Station, it might be easy to miss if you don’t know where you’re going. The space itself is cozy and has limited seating but it makes for a much more intimate experience. The staff is courteous and know their stuff and in the past have made several excellent suggestions based on the flavour you’re craving at the time. Get to know them and make use of their expertise and maybe they’ll give you a piece or two of the lovely dark chocolate that pairs well with the smokiness of the scotch. Also, this is the only place in Seoul that offers Port Ellen (“the Tupac Shakur of scotch”) a distillery that is now closed.
Malt Bar Off
9-7 Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu
T: +82 2 516 6201
Speakeasy Mortar is owned by a quirky gentleman with a penchant for squirting water with a water gun at his customers. I read somewhere that he was quite displeased when Speakeasy Mortar started to get overrun by customers and said that he might just lock the door. The bar staff here is also quite knowledgeable and will suggest doing a tasting for first timers so that they can compare several different types of scotch from a variety of distilleries. The seating isn’t as comfortable as Off and does get a little loud at times but definitely worth a visit if you’re in Hannam-dong. Just FYI, there’s no sign on the door so you might want to get someone who has already been there to take you.
Yongsan-gu, Hanam-dong 29-4.
Seoul, South Korea
No phone, no reservations.
Burn has the best location but the worst service I have ever experienced in my life. I left the place seething and said my piece before storming out. Early on, I noticed that the couple sitting next to my party was asked to move off of the couches and onto the bar top table because the rest of their party hadn’t arrived. It was fairly empty at this point so I didn’t understand why the waiter said ‘We have more people coming and you’re taking up space.’ Yes, lovely way to talk to your customers. It did end up getting rather packed and some customers just left because the wait staff didn’t even bother to seat them. I understand that when it gets busy service becomes a little slow but these guys just stood there chatting up some girls, stopped responding to our requests and didn’t fill our orders. The last straw was when we were asked to move to the bar tops because the owner’s brother had come with his party and since he was a VIP gold member and we weren’t, he got priority. If it had been a polite request with an apology it would have been alright but it was said in the rudest most disrespectful way… Ridiculous. Definitely not going back here again and I recommend heading to either Off or Speakeasy Mortar – they have a better selection anyway.