“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
For a short time when I was in middle school, I liked displaying all kinds of little items that held some sort of importance to me, placing letters and gifts on any available space; the tops of drawers, my windowsills, the bedside table, etc. I collected hand-written notes from my classmates that were funny, or smooth stones I picked up while walking home from school. I carefully taped photos on the back of my bedroom door. This sentimental, tacky decor never lasted, however; Every so often, my mother would come in like a vengeful hurricane and wipe everything away while I was at school, and upon returning home I would find everything jumbled in a box or the trashcan. It was a very brief period of my unfortunate interior design inspiration, thankfully, and I learned to appreciate the minimal lifestyle instead. Little, material trinkets that hold any value to me, and there are but few, I keep tucked away in a small treasure box.
I value minimalism and a clean, neat interior. Perhaps Baekdugangsan takes that to the extreme. In fact, the stark, blankness of Baekdugangsan took me aback. It’s so far from the traditional idea of cozy and snug, I had to wonder for a moment what is so great about this place. Take some time to settle in one of the booths with a friend, you’ll see the charms.
The menu is jotted down in pen on a small piece of paper, placed on the table top beside the salt-shaker which is mysteriously placed there. There is little to decorate the walls; simply some peculiar paintings of people-like figures, and an old-fashioned photograph of Baekdu Mountain; the place for which the cafe is named. Though I came in midday, the cafe was dark inside, the only illumination coming from the few, naked lightbulbs offering rather harsh lighting against the concrete walls or any natural lighting that manages to make it through the dusty windows. This is not a cafe suited for study or reading. In fact, I would say it’s not suited for anything except for two people, sitting opposite each other, a good cup of coffee between their hands, and deep conversation. This is the true draw of Baekdugangsan. All other distractions are eliminated.
Baekdugangsan is located in Euljiro, one cafe lost in the alleys of factories and machinery. Though I was standing directly in front of the entrance, it actually took me a while to find the place. The only indication of its existence is a piece of brown paper taped to the door with the name. If you’re not looking explicitly for this cafe, I doubt you’ll ever run across it. After entering the narrow door, go up the shady stairs that, as my friend expressed so well, ‘look like a place where you might be killed for your organs,’ and push open the door on the right. It’s unmarked and has no windows.
But fear not. Open the door and you’ll be in Baekdugangsan. Take a seat, order from the tiny, handwritten menu, and pause the outside world for a an hour, just you and your conversation partner, here inside this secret cafe.
Location: Chungmuro 3 ga 24-3, 3F
Hours: Mon through Sat 13:00-21:00 Sunday 13:00-20:00 (Rest on Tuesdays)
If you do manage to find this secretive cafe, be sure to take a photo and tag me @sincerelybeckyw
All Photos by Amy Benson