Daejeon is one of those cities that few people outside of Korea have ever heard of. Because of its central location between two major metropolitan areas and the fact that it is a less visibly prominent city, the city of 1.5 million people might not seem to have fun activities or amazing things to do. Rooftop on the Hanok asked veteran English teacher and Daejeon resident Andrew Robinow to explain the places expats and locals can go to have fun, especially on a night out. He shares the essential and quirky parts of the Daejeon nightlife scene and the city’s other attractions.
Goondong’s Holy Trinity: Santa Claus, Ranch Pub, El Mariachi
Robinow, like many other expats, focuses on nightlife as being a big aspect of having fun on the Korean peninsula. He suggests starting a night on the town in Goondong, a neighborhood in east Daejeon. “The bars I’m most familiar with, the Holy Trinity as it were, are found in Goondong,” he says. The following text comes directly from Robinow, as he gives the rundown on Goondong’s bars, prices, and extra options.
“Santa Claus, founded in ‘93, has a cantina-like look and a friendliness comparable to Cheers. Many of the people there are regulars and accepting of newcomers. Frequented by foreigners – Ph.D students in particular, its known as a “foreigner” bar, though Koreans are always welcome. The owner is himself Korean and a kind, helpful man who communicates well with foreigner and Korean alike. His menu has, amongst other things, fajitas, an “All Day Brunch,” huge salads, hotdogs, and some of the best burgers in town. The interior has a dart board, a pool table, 2 foosball tables, board games, large tables well-suited to groups, private booths well-suited to friends or couples preferring more conversational privacy, a TV to watch sports or other programming, and the owner’s impressive collection of CDs and LPs of a mostly “rock” persuasion. Then there’s the computer, a computer customers have free reign to select music from. Though the bar-concept is that of a rock bar, anyone can play any song they want to. They may select songs on YouTube or choose from the owner’s playlist. I know of no other bar in the city that allows customers to choose their own music. If I’ve had a hard day, where but Santa’s can I go to listen to Pantera, to take the edge off? Another advantage to Santa’s is the recent addition of soju. And dancing sometimes happens there, since there is space between the pool table and other tables.
Ranch Pub, a smaller bar seconds away from Santa’s, is famous in Korea for brewing their own, high-quality beer. Every now and then, new beers are introduced, giving the customers a sense that Ranch is a great thing consistently trying to make itself greater still. What I especially like about Ranch is its quiet, coffee-shop ambience. It’s fairly brightly lit and has a low music volume, fostering a calmer feel than louder bars out there. The clientele is predominantly Korean. The Koreans working there speak excellent English and provide excellent customer service, as does the owner of Santa’s. I often go to both bars, back and forth, on the same night or weekend because I respect both establishments.
El Mariachi is seconds away on foot from Santa’s and Ranch. It is a cocktail bar that has a wide array of signature cocktails, best I’ve had the pleasure of having. Beer and coffee are sold there too. The Korean owner, a kind man, dresses very stylishly—tie, suit coat, et al. He created the artwork that adorns the walls. The bar as a whole is an artistic, movie-themed place. There is a big movie projector playing old movies (sound off, so as not to disturb the customers). The music playing is very low volume and is almost always jazz. There is little lighting, and that adds to the magic of the place. It’s a special, shadowy place, kinda like an old-fashioned jazz club, but also different because of the movie figurines and his own brand of unique art.”
Goondong: Additional Options
Robinow has spent a lot of time hanging out in Goondong bars, and has tried to mix it up from time to time. “My friends and I often go to all three places in the same night, since all three are valuable in different ways. A fourth option is the nearby park, which is more like a courtyard, and populated by local residents. A fifth option I recently rediscovered is Melting Pub. That is a few minutes away from Santa’s. That place has excellent beer, mostly imported.
“As far as prices go, Santa’s is cheapest since the beer there is mostly regular, name brand beer. Ranch and Melting are pricier because they sell Abbey Ales and locally-made-beer of their own.
El Mariachi is higher end for cocktails, but the cocktails are unbelievably good. They go for about fifteen to twenty or so dollars a pop. And most of those drinks are served in glasses of containers unique to that signature drink. The “Dark Knight” is served in a giant Batman-themed cup, for instance, while one of the ‘tropical’ drinks is served in a tropical-themed display. It’s all very impressive and shows the owner’s great artistic ability and attention to appearance and aesthetics.”
Dining in Daejeon
Beyond nightlife, Robinow has recommendations for eating out. “As for restaurants, House Grill in Jung-Gu has the best and most versatile burger selection I’m aware of in Daejeon. I have yet to try Burger Bear and Two-Hands Hamburger in Goondong. What I do know is that House Grill, which you can find on Facebook, may go out of business in two months. So please support it. They have everything from jalapeño burgers to mozzarella burgers. They have many kinds of burgers on their menu. You can pay more money for extra toppings of eggs, bacon, or jalapeños, and so on. The burgers themselves are big and wholly satisfying. The Korean owner, “Brian”, speaks excellent English and spent time in America studying the burger culture there before finely honing his own recipes. His burgers are amazing. End of story.”
Hiking in Daejeon
Finally, Robinow has some healthier options for those who like to exercise or see nature. “I recommend the mountains of Hanbat for hiking. One can spend between one and five hours hiking here, depending on which direction they take. There are many wild animals up here, so that’s good for picture-taking if you’re an animal lover. I’ve had dozens on dozens of encounters with deer in those mountains. The Hanbat river also is rich with wildlife: snakes sometimes show themselves, and the nearly hand-sized toads come out at night.”
Anyone visiting Daejeon, currently living there, or moving there soon that is unfamiliar with the eclectic Goondong bar scene, the city’s burger restaurants, or the Hanbat mountains and Hanbat river can check out these spots, to get a better sense of what Daejeon has to offer.
Andrew Robinow is a longtime resident of Daejeon.
Addresses and Contact Information
25 Nongdae-ro, Oncheon 2(i)-dong, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon
404-9, Gungdong, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon
Gungdong-ro 18beon-gil, 88 Gungdong, The Ranch Pub, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon
100-6 Eoeun-dong, Yuseong-gu, Daejeon
423-3 Goejeong-dong, Seo-gu, Daejeon
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.