South Korea’s Best Themed Cafes

Over the past decade, coffee shops have taken over the streets throughout South Korea; it’s impossible to walk around neighborhood without running into a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or Tom and Toms. Competition for customers is high so it’s not surprising that entrepreneurs have begun to try out creative methods to make their businesses stand out from the rest. So… what to you get when you mix creativity, competition, and coffee? Themed cafes, of course, and finding them has become a favorite hobby of mine since moving to Korea.

I’ve compiled my favorites into a list below, complete with ratings, comments and a map.  Be sure to bookmark this page, as I will update it as I come across new ones. Please note that businesses close or move quite frequently in Korea; it is best to call beforehand to confirm that the business is open.

Banana Tree
Location:  Sinsa-dong, Hangangjin
Theme Extreme: 6/10
Concept:  Banana Tree is a charming cafe inspired by, well, bananas. Instead of ‘going bananas’ with the theme, Banana Tree uses hues of yellow and banana decor- a door prop here, an ornament there- in a subtle fashion to incorporate the concept.  Perhaps the highlight of the cafe’s theme is the banana pudding that they serve in small flowerpots, complete with silk flower embellishments. Inspired by the pudding at New York’s Magnolia Bakery, the dessert is not only cute, it’s incredibly delicious without being too sweet. The cafe is small, with only a few tables, but there’s a lot of light and the covered patio seating is an ideal place to chat or read a book.  [Read more.]

Bau House Dog Cafe
Location: Hapjeong
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept:  Bau House Cafe requires that visitors purchase a drink (5,000-10,000 won) to take a seat and play with some of the cutest pups in the country. I can’t even comment on the coffee, because, let’s face it: the canines are the main attraction. The cafe is divided into two parts: small dogs and large dogs. There are about 20 resident dogs to play with and visitors are given a copy of their pictures, names, ages, and breeds. The cafe also functions as a dog hotel, so there are always a few extra pups to keep you company while sipping on your coffee.  [Read more.]

Cafe 1010 (NOW CLOSED)
Location: Hongdae
Theme Extreme: 9/10
Concept:  Just as one might be greeted by a flight attendant upon boarding an airplane, lego-like pilots give a hospitable smile to patrons entering the Cafe 1010. Once inside, patrons can choose from an assortment of “air meals” which taste better than your run-of-the-mill in-flight food. The service is also better, too. I even received a receipt in the form of a boarding pass. The interior is delightfully adorned with travel guides, postcards, and maps from worldwide destinations. For a brief moment, I thought I was in Incheon, waiting for a flight. Luckily that was not the case, as I had no yet had my fill of cute themed cafes. [Read more.]

Cafe Blue Fairy
Location:  Hapjeong
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept:  Probably one of the creepiest cafes on this list, Cafe Blue Fairy boasts a huge collection of Blue Fairy ball-and-joint dolls and a clientele of grown women that talk to and play with said dolls.  The proprietor is very kind and they do a killer hot chocolate, but be warned:  you will definitely have nightmares after visiting this place. [Read more.]

Capi Capi Loom Loom Cafe
Location:  Sungshin Women’s University
Theme Extreme: 9/10
Concept:  If you’ve had your fix of Hello Kitty and want to cuddle with another cute Japanese character, Capi Capi is the place for you.  Rilakkuma, a ridiculously adorable teddy bear famous throughout Asia, is the star of this cafe and is incorporated into every aspect of the interior.  The layout of the cafe is quite unique; seating options include comfy couches, tables perfect for studying, and floor mats in cozy, private spaces, most of which were occupied by gossiping girls on my latest visit.  [Read more.]

Charlie Brown Cafe
Location(s): Oebalsan-dong, Incheon Airport
Theme Extreme:  6/10
Concept:  Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of Charlie’s crew all make an appearance at the Charlie Brown Cafe.  Although these cafes don’t really overdo it on the decor, it’s a great spot to reminisce about one’s younger years, particularly all those cartoon-filled Saturday mornings.  [Read more.]

Cupcake Factory
Location: Hongdae
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept:  This Hongdae institution pays tribute to the cupcake in all its glory.  From cupcake murals on the walls to cupcake-inspired chairs and plates, the cafe is full of eye candy sweet enough to give any visitor an instant sugar rush.  The cupcakes themselves, all of which are made on-sight, are just as tasty as the decor. [Read more.

Ding Dong Cafe
Location: Hongdae
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept: Ding Dong Cafe is one of the cozier coffee shops on this list, but despite its reputation for having the nicest atmosphere, it does not scrimp on theme.  Decorated with the traveler in mind, there are a number of maps, guidebooks, postcards and plane tickets placed strategically throughout the cafe.  For those passionate about travel, Ding Dong Cafe is not to be missed, as it offers patrons the chance to reminisce about past voyages and adventures.  There’s also an extensive drink list which is especially nice for those not keen on coffee.

Hello Kitty Cafe
Location(s):  Hongdae, Hyehwa, Shinchon, Throughout Seoul
Theme Extreme:  9/10
Concept:  As its name suggests, the Hello Kitty Cafe franchise is an ode to the world’s cutest cat and her furry friends and is a mecca for girly girls.  These cafes are super feminine, covered in pinks and pastels and offer a nice variety of cakes and drinks, all of which are decorated with the famous feline’s face.  [Read more.]

Lucy Pie Kitchen
Location(s): Ichon, Apgujeong
Theme Extreme: 6/10
Concept:  The Lucy Pie Kitchen, a pastry shop dedicated to the TV classic, “I Love Lucy” creates a sense of nostalgia with its black and white photos of Lucille Ball and classic Americana theme.  Their pies, though on the pricier side, are delicious and would no doubt would have received the seal of approval from Lucy and Ethel, had they lived in Korea, of course. [Read more.]

Location: Hongdae
Theme Extreme: 4/10
Concept:  Machebette is a spacious but quiet cafe near the entrance of Hongik University.  Although it’s theme extreme is quite low, it definitely deserves a spot on this list for its devotion to Warner Brothers characters.  From Tweety to Bugs to Taz, the gang is all here in the form of figurines and wall paintings.  Any cartoon fanatic should stop in for a cup of joe.

Miss Lee Cafe
Location:  Myeongdong, Insadong, and throughout Seoul
Theme Extreme:  5/10
Concept:  If you prefer to stay indoors, head to one of the Miss Lee Cafes locations throughout Seoul where you can write your messages over a hot cup of traditional tea.  The interior of these cafes are covered with love notes, sketches, confessions, and lots of X hearts inscriptions.  Additionally, Miss Lee Cafe oozes plenty of nostalgic charm, from old school toys and gadgets to vintage signage and advertisements.

Monster Cupcakes
Location:  Gyeongnidan
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept:  What do Cookie Monster, Chucky, and the gremlins all have in common? They’re all hanging out in Gyeongnidan at Monster Cupcakes, the creepiest bakery to hit Seoul. Inspired by classic horror movies, the monster motif at this cafe makes it feel as if Halloween is everyday.  I couldn’t help but be impressed by the artistry of the cupcakes. I marveled at all the details added, like the sharpened knive blades and the wrinkles on the Frankenstein feet. The chefs no doubt have a lot of passion for the craft and take a lot of pride in their work. [Read more.]

Polar Bear Cafe
Location:  Heyri
Theme Extreme: 7/10
Concept:  The interior of the Polar Bear Cafe resembles the Arctic: sleek white plastic chairs and tables are surrounded by ice caps on the walls and penguins welcome guests by the counter. There are two coffee menus, both of which are limited to the basics. The first costs a bit more and beverages are prepared by human attendants. The second, and less obvious menu, is posted in front of the furrier baristas. Three life-size polar bears, dressed in coats, and focused on their jobs, dance every few minutes and magically “serve” coffee via a vending machine. It’s a cute place to see when in Heyri and is especially a hit with kids.  [Read more.]

Standing Coffee
Location:  Noksapyeong, Throughout Seoul
Theme Extreme: 2/10
Concept:  Although I suppose it isn’t exactly a ‘theme’, Standing Coffee is known for their good looking baristas (all male).  Perhaps that’s why no one has a problem waiting for take-out coffee, as there are no seats and there is almost always a line, as indicated by their name.  If you don’t go for the guys, do go for the coffee, as it is reported to be the best in the city by multiple foodies in the Korean blogosphere.  I personally love their blue lemonade, particularly in the summer. [Read more.]

Thanks Nature Cafe
Location:  Hongdae
Theme Extreme: 8/10
Concept:  If you’re a nature lover, Thanks Nature Cafe is the place for you.  Beautifully decorated, the cafe exudes a zen-like atmosphere with lots of greenery and a simple, clean design.  There are also artistic portraits of various animals that hang neatly on the walls, but one animal stands out in the motif: sheep.  In addition to figurines and stuffed versions, there are two live well-groomed sheep that reside at the cafe.  Unlike the pet cafes, the sheep are kept on the outside patio in a small pen, baaaaahing every now and then.  There is no noticeable sheep smell in the cafe’s interior, so visitors can enjoy their coffee in a clean setting.  Thanks Nature Cafe’s menu features a nice selection of beverages, all of which are made with natural sweeteners, a refreshing change from the over-sugared drinks served at most other Korean cafes.  Try their waffles, which are also phenomenal.  Just don’t get them too close to the sheep. [Read more.]

Zoo Coffee
Location(s):  Throughout Seoul
Theme Extreme:  5/10
Concept:  Zoo Coffee is a chain of coffee shops that are continuously popping up throughout Seoul. While the interior is simple and clean, they make sure to incorporate lots of jungle motif in their decor. Take-out cups are are decorated in an animal print, as are the throw pillows in the booths. Artificial trees are placed appropriately throughout the seating areas, but not so much as to make customers feel swamped. There are also some over-sized stuffed animals for sale, which are always a big hit with kids and kids at heart. In addition to the decor, the drinks are another reason that make Zoo Coffee stand out from the rest. Their creamy white hot chocolate is to die for and their “I’m Korean” menu, consisting of beverages like Ginseng Red Honey Latte and Iced Persimmon, make this cafe anything but average. [Read more.]

Location(s):  Seorae Maeul, Sinsa-dong
Theme Extreme: 3/10
Concept:  Though 5CIJUNG cafe isn’t exactly themed, it’s a cafe worth mentioning. Famous for its delectable souffles, the coffee here is served up with a side of cuteness. All coffee and food is delivered with a small toy or trinket, making the somewhat pricey drinks worth it. The spoons and utensils are just as cute, often donning smiley faces. Although patrons cannot keep the toys, they’re a fun conversation piece that make one’s cafe experience a bit different than the rest.

Although I haven’t made a personal trip to these cafes, they’re very much on my radar. Check ’em out and be sure to leave your favorite themed cafes in the comments:

221B (Sherlock Holmes theme) – Gangnam

Cafe Talk (Kakao Talk theme) – Gangnam

Did I miss any?  Be sure to your favorite additional themed cafes in the comments box below and I’ll add them to the list!

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.