Cafe Guide: The Ko-ne, Odakada, Doing Nothing
One of the coolest – and sometimes most overwhelming – things about Seoul is how many cafes there are. Even ignoring the major chains, it sometimes seems like there’s an independent café for every resident of the city, with each having its own style and flair. Each week we take a look at 3 independent cafés in different neighborhoods, to help you out next time you need a place to get some work done, take a date, or just grab a cup of coffee.
1. Café the Ko-ne – Banpo
카페더코네 – 반포
Café the Ko-ne shares a building with a Hagwon, Banpo’s major draw, and is a popular spot for kids and teachers to hang out in between sessions. It also sits directly adjacent to Gangnam Terminal bridge [강남터미널고가], meaning if you’re walking to the Han River [한강공원] park from the Gosok Terminal [고석터미널] area, this is the spot to pick up a cup of coffee. What’s cool about Ko-ne is that unlike a lot of other Seoul cafés, it’s actually really tiny. It consists of the main ordering area, which is small by itself, and then branches to the side into one small, very narrow corridor. The result of this is that the only seating consists of a long bench parallel to the large windows at the entrance, with about 6 small tables placed in front. Because of the conservative seating, this isn’t a great place to chill with people, but if you have work to do, or just need to rest and people watch (the seating arrangement makes for A+ people watching), keep this café in your deck. The quiet atmosphere and lack of distractions creates a productive space, and to compliment your productivity, the drinks are all really cheap. Americanos, for example, are ₩2,000, which is basically unheard of in Seoul. It’s solid coffee, and they make a nice lemon tea too.
2. Odakada – Isu
오다가다 – 이수역
The area around Isu station isn’t a particularly hip or young area – instead, this is a really good spot to come if you’re looking for traditional markets or old school foods like gobchang [곱창] and, yes, boshintang [보신탕] (we don’t judge). Because of this quieter, more residential vibe there are very few cafés, but if you’re looking to get a coffee or dessert in the area, Odakada is one of the coolest spots to do it. Odakada’s name means “come and go”, a notion of ephemerality echoed in the simple, understated design of the interior. It may also refer to how fast their homemade desserts sell out, and with good reason. They make a decadent tiramisu, a matcha cake that is both silky-creamy and deceptively light, and a very neutral color palette of macarons. One of their 10 or so tables actually uses a bunch of the macaron cookies under a sheet of glass to create a really dope design. While their straight up coffee is really good, they make a number of specialty beverages including a Vienna café that comes topped with rich whipped cream sitting on the dark espresso base in dollops. It’s a small spot with an airy, light vibe and usually space to sit, as well as a table where they sell small crafts like books and bags. While it’s admittedly one of the only spots to sit and sip a coffee drink in the area, it’s fortunate that Odakada is also such a cool one (they also have a fire instagram, because of course they do).
3. Doing Nothing – Yeonnamdong
두잉나띵 – 연남동
Look, the reality is, it’s really hard not to find a hip café in Yeonnamdong. The quiet neighborhood bordering Hongdae [홍대] has, in recent years, become the perfect area for such businesses to thrive, since the people that live and chill there are generally artsy, young, but not tryna do all that shit that goes on in Hongdae. But I’m telling you, you’ve never been to a café like Doing Nothing, which by the way is the real name as opposed to a translation. The café is on a real quiet street, and the entrance is accordingly low-key. A humble looking green door sits next to a wide window, blocked by a curtain, in front of which the name is emblazoned in gold and a still life of dried flowers, books, bottles, cameras, etc. has been arranged. As subtle as it is, the entrance is extremely instagrammable (you’ll see what I mean), but that’s only the beginning. Walking inside feels like you’ve stepped into the full still life on which the window was based. The tables themselves are pieces of the art that encompasses the entire interior: white cloth draped everywhere, crinkled pages of music, candelabras, torn yellowed books, Victorian statuettes. It feels like you’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of a psychedelic dream sequence from an edgy drama about Mozart. Clearly the owners are on some European vibe-y shit, and the menu is reflective of that, listing numerous fancy-sounding drinks in addition to the standards. An Einspanner, it turns out, is a Viennese coffee, and I have no idea what a Rockpanner or Gamericano are, but they’re probably banging. All the coffee here is delicious, as are the various yogurt parfaits they make with fresh fruit. This is a rare café that’s low-key on the outside, but casually a fucking trip on the inside.
If you’ve been to any of the spots we listed this week, or think we fucked something up, let us know. For more Seoul cafes, check out last week’s list.
Photo credits: Author, @no.1_b, @cafe.odagada, @so_bonita_