Coffee is a big deal in South Korea. Statistics have shown that 120,000 tons of coffee were imported into Korea in 2013, making it the 7th biggest importing nation in the world. Other than the coffee franchises and themed cafes, there are also Dabangs (다방) that withstand the test of time and emerged as the few retro cafes that remind us of the 60s in South Korea.
During the days when the country is struggling for democracy, these Dabangs served as hideouts for the young students to hang out, listen to music, look for a lifetime partner, or discuss philosophy, literature and art. Some of these popular dabangs include the Dok-dabang (독수리 다방) in Sinchon, as well as Hakrim Dabang (학림 다방), the oldest cafe in South Korea.
Tucked away in the theatre district of Hyehwa, Hakrim Dabang has opened its door since 1956. Nothing much has been changed in the past 65 years. The dark coloured wooden staircase leading all the way to the 2nd floor, the solid wood countertop, the huge collection of vinyl records behind the counter and the old-school cafe seating layout, everything screams retro in this space.
The cafe is also located a stone’s throw away from many prestigious universities such as Sungkyunkwan University, Korea University, and my alma mater, Seoul National University before they moved to its current campus in Gwanak-gu. It is not hard to imagine why this space is being regarded as the cradle of culture and perhaps democracy of South Korea during the olden days.
If you are a K-drama fan, this place may seem familiar to you as it was the filming location for many popular K-dramas such as My Love From Another Star <별에서 온 그대>, The Hiers <상속자들>, Because This Is My First Life <이번 생은 처음이라>, Unstoppable High Kick <거침 없이 하이킥> etc.
Vienna Coffee – an espresso-based coffee with rich and creamy foam is one of the popular drinks to order here. The drink is served in a vintage-looking cup that fits in the nostalgic atmosphere of the cafe.
Hakrim Blend Regular Coffee – a black coffee that has a balanced taste and lingering sweetness is a great choice for black coffee lovers. You may also purchase this particular bean blend off the shelf too!
Writer’s Note: It surprises me that these nostalgic places are still very much well preserved within the modern city of Seoul. I love the fact that we are still able to experience how a Dabang experience was like back in the olden days here in Hakrim Dabang. The nostalgic yet romantic sentiment embodying a bygone era is strong here. It feels that you have time travelled to the past, and it does remind me of my college life! Be sure to order their famed Vienna coffee and homemade cheesecake!
Hakrim Dabang 학림다방
119, Daehak-ro, 2F, Jongno-gu, Seoul. 110-524.
서울특별시 종로구 대학로119 2층 (명륜4가)
Telephone : +82 02 747 0020
Operating Hours: Weekday 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM | Weekend 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
1. Exit from Hyehwa Station 혜화역 (Seoul Subway Line 4) Exit 3, turn 180 degrees and walk straight for a few minutes. Hakrim Dabang will be on the left.