Zen Bar

34, Wausan-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu B1, Seoul

The view:

Is of the walls. Zen Bar is underground, so you're in for more of a busy, dimly-lit experience.


The vibe: This is a traveller's hotspot in the bustling, youthful neighbourhood of Hongdae, so it's pretty raucous most of the time. It resembles your favourite local pub, if it let hundreds of passing travellers add their own flair to the decor; the wall is packed full of strange posters and memorabilia, which lends itself to the friendly, open vibe. Whether you're sitting down for a casual drink or keen for a party, either experience is available to you, and for solo travellers, it's easy to strike up a conversation with chatty strangers here. Games of pool and fussball take up the central space and act as social hotspots.

The chat: Was relaxed and friendly, though certainly noisier as the evening passed by. Bartenders were quick and attentive, cheerfully serving the noisy crowds. They even graciously charged this punter's low-battery phone safely behind the counter.

The menu: Cheap and cheerful. Basic beer and wine will set you back roughly the equivalent of NZ$5, though there are pricier cocktails available to those who wish to challenge their tastebuds. I was drinking Cass, a light, delicious, easy-to-drink Korean beer available in most bars and restaurants.

The expectation: We'd heard about this place through fellow travellers who recommended it as a starting place for a fun night out. The language barrier can prove challenging at many establishments in Seoul - as it should for monolingual Westerners – but it can be relaxing to grab a quick drink somewhere that's familiar with passing hordes of travellers.

The reality: Exactly what we ordered. If you're looking for somewhere classy that'll look great on your Instagram, this isn't it. If you're looking for a good night out, however, regardless of what day of the week you're in Seoul, Zen Bar provides cheap drinks and a party-oriented vibe that can be the kick-off to a wonderful night.
- George Fenwick.