|Sinchon at night | © Sami Paju / Flickr
From Hello apM in Edae, pass Sinchon Railway Station, which separates Ewha Women’s University and Yonsei University, and is the oldest railway station in Seoul.
Originally intended to be a whistle-stop along the Gyeongui Line connecting Seoul and Sinuiju (a city in present-day North Korea), the station was constructed in 1920. After the two Koreas were divided, the station became the departure site to Munsan, a city near the Military Demarcation Line. Although the station was shut down years later, it still stands as a symbol of Sinchon’s historical importance and operates as a tourism office today.
Peek inside Sinchon Station to see photographs of the past and present area. They may remind Yoo Yeon-seok fans of Reply 1994, as the area was the setting for the majority of the nostalgic drama, which featured a soundtrack that was heavily praised.
Ice, Ice Baby
As is the case for most cuisine, dishes are most delicious when ingredients are fresh and flavors are simple. Unlike most bingsu (shaved ice) joints, which serve ostentatious and often outrageous combinations of the dessert, Homilbat (호밀밭) has stuck to the basics and, as the line out the front door proves, has had great success in doing so.
With only a few options, Homilbat is most known for its deconstructed Milk Bingsu, which consists of powder-like ice mixed with condensed milk and is served with a sweet, homemade red bean paste made from beans sourced from Korea. Distinctively fresher than the canned beans most other places use, Homilbat’s beans are addicting and memorable.
A few doors down does a less traditional twist on the summer sweet. Towering almost a foot high, Pop Container’s (팝컨테이너) Oreo Bingsu is a mountain of ice shavings, ice cream and finely ground Oreo powder. Its comfortable seating area of overstuffed beanbags invites sharing, which is a must considering the portion sizes of its desserts.
Swing into the alley across from the Changchun Methodist Church and keep an eye out for Little Cuba, Korea’s first and finest Cuban restaurant. Run by Cuban native Augusto Cesar Calzadilla, this place serves up classic dishes and has a pub-like atmosphere, complete with continuous screenings of passionate Latino musical performances.
Although most well known for its Cuban Sandwich, stuffed with ham, cheese and pickles, Little Cuba has a great selection of authentic comida. Try the ropa vieja, a flavorful dish of shredded flank steak which comes with congri (mixed rice and beans) and a salad, along with one of the rum-based cocktails. The mojitos are only available in the summer, when Augusto uses home-grown Cuban mint in the cocktails. This is about as close to Cuba as you’ll get in Asia. (Note: Little Cuba is temporarily closed as of August 2017. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for reopening information.)
The Sounds of Sinchon
Stop by Zado Ranking Shop, one of the few markets in the area that sells microbrews, and a fairly good number of them, at that. The place also carries a wide variety of international snacks, microwaveable meals and freshly baked bread and desserts. Bring your beer down to the Sinchon rotary, which starts to pick up in the early evening.
Here, hop aboard the Sinchon PlayBus, the coolest looking information kiosk in the city. Inside, friendly volunteers are more than willing to make restaurant recommendations or answer travel questions, but the unique feature about this booth is that it was established to bring locals and visitors together through music.
It features a DJ Box, where live broadcasts feature hit songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s from a collection of 150 albums.
Hanging on the walls are nostalgic images that convey the stories of Sinchon’s beginnings as not only an area of education and music, but also one that was at the center of the student-led pro-democracy movement of the 1980s. It’s also a popular place for street artists in the evenings, so stop by to catch a free performance.
Fast forward to present day. KakaoTalk is hands-down the most widely used mobile instant messaging app in Korea and since its launch in 2010 has accumulated over 140 million users and is available in 15 languages. It has attracted a cult following not only with its expansive services, but with its adorable characters that can be sent as oversized emoticons.
Even those who have never used the app will appreciate the Kakao Friends Store, where images of the app’s characters including Muzi & Con, Neo, Frodo, Tube, Apeach and Jay-G are featured on stationary, accessories and other gift items.
Galbi Gone Wild
If you haven’t tried it yet, Seo-seo Galbi is the best place in Seoul to try galbi (marinated ribs). In fact, it’s so good that despite it being the only thing on the menu and there not being a single chair in the entire place, the restaurant almost always sells out by early evening.
This no-frills establishment which started as a popular spot with truck drivers has been around for almost half a century and serves quality, fantastically marinated hanu (Korean beef), which pairs perfectly with a bottle of soju. Get here early, be prepared to stand and get ready for one of the best barbeque experiences to be had in all of the city.
Or, if burgers are more of your thing, head to Yaletown Burgers and Bar, a sports bar that serves up juicy burgers and a mean plate of curly fries. Adored by expats and locals alike, the venue is a great spot for groups, complete with a pool table, beer pong and numerous board games – not to mention plenty of TVs showing the big game.
After dinner, it’s time to explore Sinchon’s nightlife.
If you’re up for a game of pool or darts, 900PUB has both, along with arcade games and a DJ booth to liven up the atmosphere. It’s also a good place to sip on affordable cocktails and party the night away, just as Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho) and Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye) did in The Heirs when the drama was filmed here.
Or, for something a bit more laid back, head to Damotori. Established in 1987, this popular watering hole has catered to university students for two decades, and still exudes a 1990s feel. In addition to boasting a nostalgic atmopshere, the DJ also takes requests, and plays anything from protest songs to the pop hits of the era.
You can conclude your night out with a round of noraebang at one of the area’s many karaoke bars or head to nearby Hongdae for some dancing. But, chances are you will probably have shopped, eaten and partied so much that you’ll require a good night’s sleep. Hail a cab, or take the subway at Sinchon Station, just a few blocks away.
Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.