Craftworks: Epicurean perhaps, Bohemian, Hell No

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By Mizaru

Craftworks Brewery and Bistro is located just a little off the thoroughfares dividing Kyungnidan from Haebangchon; the two expanding eat and drink destination areas for foreigners and neo-liberal Koreans. The easiest way to get from one to the other is to use one of the ugliest overpasses in the world. But it must be a good location. It’s 6 p.m. on Saturday night and Craftworks is full. The only available table is in the group smoking tent, but no one usually smokes enough in that area for it to make a difference to anyone.

You probably won’t miss Craftworks; the sign board on the street is a good catch all. Inside the two sets of front doors is a swag menagerie where Craftworks t-shirts and mugs are displayed and for sale. This reminds me that Craftworks is expensive. The last time I passed the t-shirt display I had a self-deceiving revelation. I thought if you drank at bars with happy hours in Itaewon and HBC you could save money for the plane flight to Hoboken, NJ and drink where the noir giants drank (like Sinatra and Bogart), but that’s not gonna happen. I have checked the price at beer and burger joints back there and it is all categorically the same. No smoking is a big part of the appeal at meathead brew pubs and they all sell t-shirts. I think Yankee Stadium was the first venue to sell t-shirts.

As a veteran English teacher, I don’t have the money to buy food or Scotch at Craftworks. I am saving money in hopes of buying the New York Mets. I know the ownership grubstake will be infinitesimally small. A drop in the ocean literally but it is good to have something to look forward to. We all need that. The linoleum plastic bar here is really a large wait-station for the serving staff.  Of course it is spill proof and of course again it is think proof. Really they don’t want you milling around at the bar. It’s not that kind of public house and no one can let fly moments fit for riotous banquets. To keep the place cleanly circulating you have to be sitting up in your chair at a table with a pre-course drink, eating, or have eaten enough and be getting ready to pay the bill. And it all has to start as soon as you get here. Could you pay ahead and eat something soon (though I am pretty sure Craftworks won’t cash bank or day-labor checks for you). If you go right to the batter, three or four small ones will fuel the downtown train with a one-way ticket and you’ll be shit-faced in pallookaville. There really isn’t a ‘session’ beer at Craftworks, one that is light and cheap. After an I.P.A (International Pretentious Asswater), I straight went to the pilsner at 5000 won for maybe 6 or 7 ounces.

The bartender that night was Jeremy. He’s amiable and professional yet can you really inspect the secrets of the world with a bartender who hasn’t seen the latest Woody Allen film? Can you? I remember some months in the past there was this wonton attitude impersonating a woman. Some Lady Gaga chick just waiting to bust out and tell you that she doesn’t like white men and then start dancing (without a pole) about that fact. So who was there? A familiar face peering out of the corner from the kitchen, Melvin. He is Cora’s (the one who runs the Pinoy Mart in HBC) son. He didn’t seem too drunk. Why is it always a pleasure when you spot someone you know working in the kitchen?

There was not a sport jacket or a pair of corduroys in the place. And no wool, virgin or otherwise. It’s denim and it’s leather but it’s not rock ‘n’ roll it is ‘the smart set’. I am not self-conscious in my polyester herringbone pants. The one thing that is obvious is that the world is divided into two kinds of people–those who get drunk and the tourists who watch. And I’m all for the fine drink and fine food mantra of brew pubs, but where are the fine people? I don’t mean Facebook-ready posers but those with a fine soul. The place could use a fireman or a cop telling the bar about the day they had. Of course firemen and police officers have their own neighborhood bars. Can you blame them? I can’t. The Korean natives like sitting at the tables and looking at the menu almost as much as the foreigners do. The average couple spends about 60 minutes tableside at Craftworks and one of the thrills for the patrons has to be reading the menu. I doubt many foreigners read much for anything and read even less offline. It’s like they are exercising grey cells before those get lost.

Being I am one of them I hate when the world turns it back on scruffy people and Craftworks makes me feel scruffy. Because the bar is new, on close inspection you will realize that it has some personality but no one hanging out in it does. There has never been a time when someone crossed a diamond with a pearl and the place just went off. What you spend your time and money on in here is racket and camouflage. People are consumed in their own-table world. I mean I don’t know if the food is good, but I am sure that the pitch of the place is set up so one can’t really hear anyone else (pun intended). This is exactly what today’s out-on-the-towner wants: a place to talk about themselves and where they can’t hear anyone or anything else.
The out-of-towner at Craftworks wants to get it right by sticking around long enough to eat twice. That should be fun but there is no real epicurean style here, no citizens of the world banqueting with outbursts of wit followed by clanking of glasses with strangers. Yet everyone exudes the ‘I was popular in high school and I am popular now’ vibe.

“Housing prices are going up more and more”

“And as a woman”

“Steve Jobs”

“I would like to have a boy first then a girl.”

“I hired 15 Korean staff.”

“Drink twice because you lost the first game.”

“I’m depressed because it’s my birthday and I don’t eat cake.”

I mean it is Saturday night in the big city and this is all the poetry you are gonna get. Table consumption! It is what it is. Except something is changing. The drinking culture in these expat neighborhoods is not making sense now. Everyone seems happy during the quiz nights–how nice–but real thought and peace? Gentle solicitude and impromptu outbreaks of a muse? That stuff is running to the past. Why even the owner and barmaid across the river Styx at The Local in Haebanchon just had all the beauty treatments. Now, she expects bar tips because she looks like Michael Jackson. And by the way: Craftworks serves its beer to go!

This place would be a great place to start a class war—if anyone here was actually upper-middle or working class that is. I’ll think of a way to steal that corner patron’s purse or ask the Australian, ‘are you finished with that white bun and ketchup ’? But I shouldn’t do that because nice is the essence of Craftworks: it’s like a chain restaurant with, nice-nice food, nice-nice beer and drink, nice-nice music and nice-nice people. Our nice-nice who art in nice-nice and hallowed be thy nice-nice.

Beer: 4 stars
Food: N/A
Atmosphere: None: A lot less than a meathead bar in Hoboken.
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27 Responses to “Craftworks: Epicurean perhaps, Bohemian, Hell No”

  1. Charles Montgomery Says:

    You should try the new Maloneys… much more neighborhoodie (If I’m allowed that neologism), though often a bit of a sausage fest. Not any cheaper.

  2. Regina Says:

    What the hell is this about? Did you go around detailing what everyone was wearing and saying?? Sounds like you need a friend or a pill or something to brighten your dark world you “veteran” you.

  3. Richard Biggs Says:

    I don’t get it. Are you looking for some kind of fin de siecle Parisian cafe, replete with Absinthe and dissipation and disillusionment? The Muse, you say. Pretentious load of bollocks.

  4. RabbitRabbi Says:

    Brew is good. I rarely visit this spot. The high prices just ain’t worth it.

  5. Mizaru Says:

    Charles. Good description of Maloney’s– where is the working class beer?

    Regina. Thanks for bringing your poetry into it. Don’t worry kid you’ll do better when you retake your English classes in the next life.

  6. Werdna Rickshaw Says:

    “I remember some months in the past there was this wonton [sic] attitude impersonating a woman.”

    Did you mean wonton as in the soup, wonton as a vague Asian slur, w[a]nton as in a sexually immodest woman, or w[a]nton as deliberate and unprovoked?

    Because I am having some trouble with this sentence and your telegraphic writing in general.

  7. Napoleon Blownapart Says:

    I especially love how I feel like I’ve been somehow dropped in the middle of a Portlandia sketch when I’m there. I didn’t know people who were so young that 80′s fashion qualifies as “ironic” or “hip” were old enough to drink by now. I sure wish those people would talk louder and the staff would crank the music even louder. If you want to spout pretentious shit in a bar, you should have to shout it loud enough so everyone can hear.

    They still make decent beer and haven’t jacked the price up.

  8. k Says:

    This review is rather trite.

    At ‘Craftworks’ the beer is generally very good, the whiskey list is outstanding for Seoul and prices are fairly reasonable, the service is very good, the food is very bad – I’d go as far as to say it’s rather shocking. If they improved the food (a lot) it would be a contender for one of the best bars in Seoul. The menu sounds nice, but when the food order arrives it is truly awful.

    I like the outdoor area, a nice little patio, space heaters, a useful awning and comfortable seats. I quite often hang out with pals there and we smoke cigars. The cigars really piss off the anti smoking nazi and hipster types, which is always fun!

    If you want to get a cheap drink on then go to Polly’s Kettle and drink crap, or stop by a convenience store and pick up some soju to drink in your one room.

  9. Mizaru Says:

    –Richard, Let’s get some of dat bits and pieces odds and bodkins and have some brown sauce on the breakfast see Liverpool on the tube soon…. OR one might just say more simply: Via La France.

    Wanda– All this and more, Werner… Merdna, Channel all this and more, NERDNA.

  10. Dannyboy Says:

    Your site would be so much better without the pretension. “Don’t worry kid you’ll do better when you retake your English classes…” dear god… you really believe yourself a superior writer, don’t you?
    It’s really a shame, because you have some interesting articles on 3WM.

  11. Teacher Says:

    Nice place but the FOOD IS DISGUSTING!?! The beer isn’t bad but can leave you with a headache after just a few.

  12. Napoleon Blownapart Says:

    The beer is excellent and I’ve never gotten a headache…and I usually drink five or six. If you’re drinking on a totally empty stomach that might be your problem.

    Last time I had breakfast there with two friends and all of us had sand in our taters. Maybe hiring the cheapest help possible isn’t as grand as it sounds. I was a cook from ages 16 to 32…they could get me for a reasonable price…I’d even wash the potatoes before I cook and serve them. I’m free for most of February.

    Also, the burgers there (by the manager’s admission) have two or more binders in them (egg and bread crumbs)…which just makes it easier for the cook but not tastier for the guest. Also, I cannot understand why they put tumeric on the fries…it doesn’t taste like much and makes your fingers yellow. The same rules that apply to most things also apply to cooking..Keep It Simple Son.

  13. Napoleon Blownapart Says:

    Wow. I’d just like to add that although the food is inconsistent (too many cooks or too many changes in staff)…it isn’t “disgusting” or whatnot. The person who designed the menu has a good palate…but the quality control in the kitchen isn’t what it should be. When I got a tour of the kitchen, their operating costs seemed quite high (using grapeseed or olive oil in their fryers) and their grill wasn’t calibrated such that it could be used as intended. A good cook isn’t some inexpensive schlub from cooking school (with no experience…slow/impractical ideas) or some aestetically appealing hipster from HBC…it’s someone who can get the same results often enough that your customers say they know what to expect when they place an order.

    Sorry. Really miss cooking.

  14. ZenKimchi Says:

    As it’s what I do for a living, I read a lot of food writing. Please stop and go back for that Masters degree you are obviously practicing for. Smug pretentious self-conscious prose that does not connect with the reader but positions the writer above everyone else. Has not watched the latest Woody Allen movie? How cliche! Pretension is armor to hide that the writer knows not what he’s talking about. You admitted you didn’t even try the fucking food! And then you go like a stereotype from L.A. Story and assign the beer “stars.” I personally am not a big fan of Craftworks, but I can go into detail why I am not and how it can improve. Napoleon Blownapart gave a much better idea about the place than this review. Food writing is about communicating to the reader what an experience is like, not standing on your stool and judging every little thing according to your narrow self-congratulatory definition of “taste.” That is the most boring food writing there is.

  15. Mizaru Says:

    I eat food I don’t write about it but I understand the world needs plow horses too… All you can do is wear it well. Cheers

  16. Mike Yates Says:

    Pretty much sums the place up for me… Great beer, but you’ll find a better atmosphere outside your local Family Mart, and get better food to boot. Or maybe I’m just the wrong side of 30.

    It’s always a chuckle to see Zenkimchi come out and defend his friends. Reminds me of the time he called me a psycho for suggesting that one of his mates was a kiddy-fucker.

    Then I was investigated by the prosecutor :(

    But it isn’t defamation if you’re telling the truth :)

    Apparently, kiddy fucking is ok if you’re Zenkimchi’s bud. And writing a review of a bar isn’t ok if you write it in any style that isn’t as bland as the infamous dissection of a Lotteria European Frico Cheese burger you can find on the “professional” blog.

  17. Bear Necessity Korea Says:

    Regarding the comment about the ‘Jirisan I.P.A’ being “pretentious”: it also does a charitable service. I actually hate beer, but this one was crafted in part to educate about an important issue. If there is going to be a review about it, I think that ought to be included. Dan and his investors deserve praise for bothering to consider that naming their beers after mountains and printing the information about the plight of moon bears on their table cards might inspire something good, even if it is limited to a question. No one expects business owners to bother with these matters during a critical year of a new business, and Dan did. I appreciate that, and I thank him for “bothering”. 5 years ago, no one knew what a moon bear was. Dan and partners certainly didn’t have to pay to print the literature, host events to contribute to our work, or do his research to learn about this “barely represented issue”. I am grateful. My partners at KARA are grateful for people like Dan.The Bear Truth and The Korea Mountain Preservation League are also grateful.

  18. Equiline Says:

    Maybe it was a beer and bar review not a food one.

  19. Glen Coochie Says:

    If the author or anyone else has found a better selection of whiskies in Seoul for the same or less please post it here. Otherwise, for a healthy contingent, any reviews and especially critiques of the reviews are simply irrelevant–as are any other merits or demerits of the place.
    Go with people who are interesting enough for you not to lapse into a reverie about what the people at the next table are wearing, eat the whisky, and then go somewhere else. Duh.

  20. Jake in Korea Says:

    @ # 8: Perhaps a review of cigar friendly places is in order. I don’t smoke, but I’d certainly smoke a cigar if it would make the hipsters turn their noses up and mince their ways out the door.

    As much as restaurant owners don’t want to acknowledge it; the crowd has as much to do with the overall ‘feeling’ of a restaurant as the menus, drinks, service or designs. Problem is, with the cost of operating a business being sky-high already, no restaurant owner can really afford to ‘choose’ their customers. They can only hope to create a place that draws the right type of crowd.

    When you create a craft beer type of establishment in Seoul, by and large it will probably attract people who want to be seen drinking craft beer, and want to later tell their friends about drinking craft beer, and maybe even log on to the internet and write about drinking craft beer. And in a conversation, they’ll be more than happy to tell you that they were drinking craft beer before you were drinking craft beer – ad who really cares?

    What I don’t get is whether this is a review of the place, the clientele, or the food/drinks being offered. Personally I’m more interested in reading about the clientele than the food.

  21. Mizaru Says:

    Easier said then drank Glen. When I go to spirits it’s only Jameson. It’s never brought me to unfounded moments of clarity yet.

  22. Bear Necessity Korea Says:

    #12 – I was told that turmeric aided digestion. I personally love the fries. I also like the French onion soup. There aren’t many places offering that in Korea.

  23. rotkimchi Says:

    One of the head clowns returns a year later after remaining mum after he was called out for supporting the pedophile hands-on “therapist” who helped sink ATEK (the Hell man). See here if you forgot, Zenman:

    Talk about putting yourself above the reader–start out with “I do this for a living.” Well, whoopdedoo. No, you write mediocre food reviews–where are the people–buttressed by Kpop videos (how long has the GG video been your lead?). Meanwhile, you burble away on FB along with the rest of the new-pen crowd, keeping the circle jerk going. Post another pic, feed thy ego and keep the rot alive–just beware the big stick or bigger truth around the corner.

  24. Mizaru Says:

    Yo number 23 you should write for 3WM– we don’t pay but we take down the bastards.

  25. I received a spam email Says:

    I’ve been to Craftworks a few times over the course of 3 years in Korea. Sitting outside on the patio on a Sunday with a fine brew has always been a pleasure. It’s a bar — with great beer and great food. The patio is especially refreshing in the summertime.

    Yes, Itaewon is a scum bucket, and no self respecting person would live there. No secret there. Given that,
    what would you expect from the local pubs? They are virtually guaranteed to be chalked full of a fun mix — “losers back home”, self-important, piggish American soldiers and what-the-hell-are-you-still-doing-in-Korea 5+ year ESL expats whose only redeeming feature is their whiteness.

    The author needs to get a grip and move out of Itaewon.
    He can thank me later.

  26. Norm Says:

    I’d say where else are you gonna go? Phillies– bright lights and shallow souls? The local? Horrible beer, cramped quarters? The tree? I guess you could wander to the Won but you need a buffer as most people do who think they’re HBC special or cooler because they’re on the fringes of the riffraff (they aren’t). Seems like Miz at least figured that out with the something-is-wrong-here rant. Could be time to move on to a new locale or maybe back to where it all began. At least Craftworks is a place where people can get together, freely gab and enjoy whatever food and drinks they want. I vote for the Namsan pilsner and ask again: so where you gonna go?

  27. Mizaru Says:

    I concur with 25-26 to a point… though Phillies downstairs is picking up. The sleeper is Mahoney’s. Good decor, OK Location- not pretentious people in the place the challenge is can they come up with a working man’s beer that is not the usual suspect ie: Redrock, Cass et al.

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