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Where do you pop by for a drink in South Korea’s largest city when you only have 36 hours?

South Korea is high on our list of destinations to book for holidays. K-drama and K-Pop aside, the country has plenty to offer when it comes to its nature, culture, as well as food and drinks. In Seoul alone, the World Cities Culture Forum stated that there are more than 15,000 bars and over 125,000 restaurants. And if you are planning to visit this city, two weeks is barely enough to fully explore its offerings. 

Let’s face it though—most of us don't have the luxury of time.

Champagne collector and Tatler Dining’s occasional drinks correspondent, Nicola Lee, visited the buzzy city for 36 hours for work and a bit of leisure. With so little time, cocktail planning was essential in order to check out the best watering holes. Thus, she focused on the affluent district of Gangnam-gu—which is famed for its buzzy F&B scene—and found herself drinking a cocktail (or two!) at these four highly recommended bars.

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1. Zest

Sustainability is at the heart of what founder Demie Kim and business partners Sean Woo, Jisu Park and Noah Kwon do at Zest Seoul. Their bar focuses on a zero-waste (or what they have coined, Zest) menu and they only work with locally sourced ingredients to craft their innovative tipples. Even their gin is produced in-house and is updated every season with available ingredients to give it a distinct flavour.

Zest opens early—3pm to be exact—making it the perfect spot for a cocktail or two before heading to dinner. But if you prefer some light bites, options like the charcuterie plate and hummus salad run the gamut.

I started my evening with the Caprese cocktail, made from distilled tomato, basil with bianco vermouth, fino sherry and bergamot. Imbibing it was akin to sitting by the Italian coast sipping—instead of eating—a fresh caprese salad. Wonderful. 

Zest Seoul, 26 Dosan-Daero 55-Gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 10-3177-8801

Read more: 16 Most Sustainable Restaurants and Bars in Singapore

2. Alice

Just a stone’s throw away from Zest is Alice, which is located on the same street. It’s hidden in the basement of a five-storey building and to be able to locate it, you need to find a signboard of playing cards and a rabbit, walk down a flight of stairs, and enter a flower shop. It leads to this whimsical speakeasy where Lewis Carroll’s classic novel is brought to life with Chesterfields and art deco armchairs.

Take the time to peruse the cocktail menu, which is very much a novel in itself. Highly recommended is the Martini. I thoroughly enjoyed mine—mixologist Eggsy (you will know why when you meet him) chills the glass with liquid nitrogen and makes a very delicious dry classic Martini that is crisp and clean. I won’t give away too much of the experience here. Just imagine yourself as Alice through the looking glass, and enjoy the show.

Alice, 47 Dosan-daero 55-Gil, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea, +82 2-511-8420

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3. Pine & Co

Pine & Co is named as such because the pine trees represent longevity in the bar scene while the pineapple that stems from the trees symbolises the bartenders who provide guests with amazing hospitality.

This is evident in my recent visit. Although the bar was packed, service was warm and attentive and the crew explained their concept and bar list in detail. I absolutely loved their cocktail list because it was extremely Korean-influenced in terms of ingredients, flavours and presentation. For easy browsing, the menu is broken down by taste profile—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami, refreshing and herbal. You can’t go wrong with any of the locally flavoured cocktails that this chic bar has to offer.

Pine & Co, Gangnam-gu, Apgujeong-dong, Seolleung-ro 157-gil, 33 지하 1층

4. 1914 Lounge & Bar

Housed in the luxurious Josun Palace hotel in Gangnam-gu, 1914 Lounge & Bar offers breathtaking views of Seoul. Ask to be seated at the bar to see the action, or at a window seat to take in the skyline. Here, art deco meets American Hollywood glamour with a 1940’s style stage taking pride of place. You almost expect Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner to walk in. Cocktails here are more classic, with the usuals such as Side Car and French 125. A dress code applies so put on that sharp suit out and head back to 1914.

If cocktails aren’t your thing, you may instead opt to enjoy their famed afternoon tea.

1914 Bar & Lounge, The Josun Palace hotel, Teheran-ro, 231 Gangnam-gu, Seoul, +82 2-727-7640

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