Monday, February 18, 2013

Suzie Q: The greatest bar in Hongdae

I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of bars. In fact, I'm probably one of the least knowledgeable people in the world about bars, except for maybe Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi, although I'm willing to bet they had their own preferred watering holes before they became so... sober. But I do think that our little group of eager-beaver early arrivals has found the best bar in Hongdae.

Located quite close to Cocoon and Gogo's, Suzie Q isn't really visible from the street, except for a small door. But the moment you head down the stairs, admiring the decorative vinyl records lining the walls, and walk through the inner door, you know you're going to have a night that is, mercifully, sans-Gangnam Style.

Having discovered it the night before, we decided to take our whole rowdy group of waygooks to Suzie Q to soak in the atmosphere and have a bit of a sing-along. There were about fifteen of us, so we were looking for something that wasn't too crowded. We had also had two big nights, the second ending with the subway of shame home, so we wanted a light, relaxed evening to recover from it (well, we tried, but never mind that).

On our first visit we had a blast, mixing with a mostly waygook crowd (with some Korean hipsters) and singing and dancing the night away. The second night was a Sunday night. Notably more quiet, but there were enough of us to comfortably fill the bar, so fill it we did. We caught the DJ by surprise as he spun discs alone in an empty room, and he served us as well as playing the music. I'd taken a photo of the DJ the night before, and chatted to him a bit, and he remembered me, so he knocked a few thousand won off my bill, resulting in a free beer. He also milled around, chatting with us, and being generally friendly, but we could see he was taking strain without any other staff there to help him out. Eventually his wife left church early so she could come and run the bar - very generous of her.

Kyu Nam Jo, DJ at Suzie Q, reads through requests for songs.

With as much popcorn as we wanted, cheap beer, a long queue of good music and good times all round, the owner's wife told us the story of the DJ:

As one of the few DJs in Seoul who only plays from his personal collection, Kyu Nam is sitting on an absolute goldmine, and he knows it. But he's not interested in gold. He's been collecting albums since he was seventeen years old. Someone once offered him three million dollars for the collection, but Kyu Nam refused. He's more interested in running the music than running the bar, so his wife and other people do that while Kyu Nam just plays fantastic music.

Name a song, and he probably has it. Typical bar snacks include peanuts, banana chips, biscuits, popcorn and pineapple. Omnom.

He can locate any album within a few inches of a stack on the shelves.

His collection is so big it doesn't fit in my photos.
A good place to unwind and hype up.
All in all, this bar ranks highly in my books as the best bar I have EVER been to, in any country (Club Salsa in Xi'an, China, is a close second with a completely different feel).

Prices - Cass beer is W4000. Cocktails also available, although I didn't get a chance to try one.
Service - Like family, but nicer. English is not quite fluent but if you write what you want to say down, you're fine. Kyu Nam likes making friends, and mentioned a preference for British, Canadian and South African waygooks... 
Decor - There's something interesting wherever you look, and I'd hate to spoil the surprises. An overall vintage charm. It reminded me of the radio cafe from Love Rain.
Vibe - Everyone walks in and goes 'Oh my god! This place is AMAZING!' That pretty much sums it up.
Music - Old school, any genre, your choice. Not much hip-hop. No K-pop. No Gangnam Style (so far).
Clientele - mostly foreigners, not many military blokes, some friendly locals with good taste in music.
Smokiness - smoking is allowed inside, but it was pretty well ventilated so it isn't too bad.
Bathroom facilities - located above the bar, and pretty intimate... Co-ed bathroom with girls having to go past the urinal to get to the squattie. Bring your own TP (throw it in the bin!) and work those thigh muscles.
For a good night try to get your friends to choose happy songs, not songs that make you want to kill yourself. Sing-alongs are a frequent occurrence, with things like Bohemian Rhapsody, Hotel California, and anything by the Beatles or Nirvana. Have a few drinks here, enjoy the music, and if you ever feel like leaving and want to dance, hit one of the nearby nightclubs later on. Good street food nearby too. 
This bar is so awesome it more than makes up for the inability of foreigners to aim their pee properly at a squattie, so it gets 100% anyway.

Getting there: 
To get to Suzie Q walk from Hongik University’s main gate towards Sangsu Station. After passing Club Evans on the right side, Suzie Q is located down a nearby side street.

I think the most interesting thing about Suzie Q is Kyu Nam Jo. To learn more about him, check out the Chincha article about John Weeke's documentary about him, here. They spelled his name differently in the article, but I asked him to write his name down for me and have spelled it as he did (surname first). Often Romanizations of Hangul are approximate, so both are right. Some other mistakes in my original post have been fixed. Directions were copy-pastaed from this Korea Times article.


  1. Brilliant post this place looks unreal! Can't wait to get to Korea now, glad the ninjas are having such a great time x

    1. Thanks! I'm trying to work on my writing and bring the blog up a notch from the "lala me me me" that it was sinking into. I also have a policy of not writing about my friends, but rather about experiences/places/etc. So expect more posts like this!

      Suzie Q is fantastic and so are the ninjas. I would be willing to come up to Seoul just to go there. Wish you were here to enjoy it too... Soon! Can't wait to meet you properly at orientation. :D

  2. Hi Katherine, I'm Loren, I run Chincha. Thanks for linking to my article and thanks for writing this blog post - I still haven't had the chance to check out Suzie Q and there's a lot of info in this post that has made me definitely want to go.

    As for the romanisation, John Weeke who made Han Rock told me the spelling so if it is actually wrong you can blame him ^^

    1. Thanks for the comment! Chincha is, I think, the expat blog/magazine with the highest quality and best articles. I love it. As for Suzie Q, you should definitely check it out!

      And the romanisation isn't ever set in stone. It's just how we make sense of sounds from another language, and that will never be 100 percent. Look at the Pusan/Busan, Taegu/Daegu issue. So it's no big deal. I wanted him to write it down because I didn't trust myself to remember it (or hear it) accurately. :)

  3. Replies
    1. Sorry! I don't live in Seoul and only went there once or twice. Please send me better directions if you have them.

  4. Best wishes to you. Thanks for all the great reads
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