According to the Huffington Post, Choi Il-soon’s rice wine bar, Story of the Blue Star, is “one of the coolest little bars in the whole wide world.” That’s because it is owned by one of the coolest guys in the whole world.
Soon is a modest, optimistic man who looks like—and has the vibe of—Bob Marley. He was a stage actor for most of his career and also featured in classic Korean movies such as “Tae Baek San Maek.”
A passion for travel
Soon loves acting, but his true passion is traveling. He has traveled to over 90 countries and lived in Tibet, Nepal, and India, to name a few. He has written several travel books about his journeys, and he is currently organizing a group trip to Africa. Soon is also friends with many of Korea’s most famous actors, such as Oh Kwang-rok (“Oldboy”), who stops by his pub from time to time.
Story of the Blue Star is located in a converted hanok (Korean traditional building) that is down the whips and turns of Insa-dong, but there is a secret entrance if you go out of Exit 6 of Anguk Station and make a left down the very narrow alley between the police station and the parking lot. It doesn’t look like much. You enter through antique doors and find antique clay pots and Buddhas next to bizarre-looking totem men. Colorful Nepalese prayer flags hang from the ceiling, and the shelves are covered with glass jars full of herbs and roots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. It doesn’t look like much, and that is why it is so enticing.
Health and flavor
The makgeolli is from Sangju, a city in the southeastern province of Gyeongsangbuk-do. When I asked Soon why he picked this brand, he told me, “I traveled all around Korea trying to find the best makgeolli for my pub, and at first sip I knew this one was the best.” To lend yet more flavor and health to his makgeolli, he adds green tea, taro, doraji (balloon flower), bongip (mulberry leaf), or mugwort powder. The powders and herbs add zip to the flavor of the makgeolli. The food is also top notch. From the crisp mung bean pancake to the marinated pork barbecue, everything is organic, expertly cooked, and full of flavor. Even vegetarians will be happy (Soon is Buddhist, so he doesn’t eat meat). You can get my favorite dish: tofu with kimchi or grilled deodeok root. The tofu’s texture is like feta cheese, and its pyramid shape is impressive as it arrives at the table.
I asked Soon why his tofu and his food are so delicious.
“The tofu is made with a medicinal root that helps with coagulation,” he said. “It comes fresh daily. I always try to source the best ingredients in Korea. If I find something I like, I have it sent here.”
Soon never studied how to run a restaurant, but he knows people and he knows quality. I think it is this cosmopolitan outlook that enables his little pub to be considered one of the hippest bars in the whole world. Just don’t tell him that—he won’t believe you.
3rd fl. Jeongsa-Daewon B / D 358-17 Huam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
T. (02) 777-9007
Opening hours: noon—3pm, 6pm—10pm
Reservations should be made 24 hours in advance. Check the website for the menu. Lunches cost 50—70,000 won per person. Dinners range from 100,000 to 250,000 won per person (15% tax and tip not included).
Down the alleyway described above; turn right as soon as the alley widens out and the entrance will be to your right.