Book cafes entice readers
By Do Je-hae
The most striking feature of the Hongdae district in Seoul is the prevalence of bars, making it a typical young university student neighborhood. But the area is not just about clubs and indie music. Home to a top art university, the area is also known for its flea markets, restaurants and quirky cafes.
The latest trend in the Hongdae cafe scene is the emergence of book cafes, a place where you can go to read while enjoying drinks, desserts and light snacks.
The unique aspect about some of these book cafes in Hongdae is that they are run by major publishers as a new way to reach out to readers and boost sales.
One of the easiest to locate is Cafe Comma, established along “Parking Street” a few minutes’ walk from Sangsu Station on subway line No. 6.
Munhakdongne Publishing opened the cafe in March 2011 and even though it’s relatively new compared to other such establishments, it is one of the most famous, thanks to its huge volume of books.
The cafe occupies two floors and has more than 3,000 books stacked to the ceiling.
Because of its unique library look, the cafe has been used as a backdrop for movies, TV dramas and commercial advertisements. A coffee commercial starring the 2010 Olympic champion figure skater Kim Yu-na is prominent.
Book selections are not confined to those published by Munhakdongne Publishing. Along with the many titles, the place offers fresh coffee, teas and desserts.
The cafe opens at 11 a.m. and starts getting crowded around 2 p.m. The second floor is quieter for those who are looking to have some “alone time” with books or a laptop. During the week, around 300 visitors come to the cafe daily. On the weekend, the number shoots up to 700 or 800.
“I came here to finish reading some of my own books for school, but then I ended up checking out new books here and they were very helpful,” said Alice Y. Shim, a graduate student in Seoul.
The place was jam-packed after 2 p.m., and it got quite noisy, but Shim didn’t seem to have any problem immersing herself in a book on the Korean War (1950-1953), while eating a strawberry tart and a soothing cup of tea to accompany it.
“The dessert is good. But the drinks could be less expensive,” Shim added.
The drinks tend to be pricier than regular cafes, with a cup of tea costing 6,000 won. But customers can stay as long as they like and relax with a stack of books. Cafe Comma also sells some old books at half price.
Because it is nestled amid a club scene, the cafe may not be for those who are looking for a quieter, more sedated neighborhood. Such people may consider visiting “Humanities Cafe Changbi.”
In the same vein Changbi Publishers opened a book cafe in February near one of the oldest churches in Korea, the Seokyodong Presbyterian Church, dating back to 1895. This area is more serene than the bar district where Cafe Comma is located.
The white, three-story building is simple in appearance. Inside, “Humanities Cafe Changbi” looks like a regular coffee shop, except it is filled with bookshelves stacked with new and old books by the publisher.
The place has also been used as a venue for talks by famous writers, including novelist Gong Ji-young and historian Yoo Hong-jun, a longtime star writer published by Changbi whose travelogue series has sold over 3 million copies.
The cafe holds “book concerts,” recitals, and talks twice every week. It has around 1,500 books. By registering as an online member of the Changbi website at www.changbi.com, one can receive a 10 percent discount on drinks and a 20 percent discount on book purchases at the cafe.
Another famous book cafe in Hongdae is Humanitas, run by the publisher of the same name. Because the publisher specializes in socio-economic publications, most of the books belong in this category. The cafe has seminar rooms, free Internet connection and also offers a 30 percent discount on book purchases for visitors who buy a drink.
More information is available at www.humanitasbook.co.kr.
“Jaeum and Moeum,” run by Jaeum and Moeum Publishing, is also gaining popularity for a wide variety of books and a relaxing atmosphere. More information is available at www.jamo21.net.
One of the oldest book cafes in the Hongdae district is “Wisdom of Rabbit.” A branch in Gangnam has opened as well. Call 02-332-1457 for more information.
Some book cafes carry books specific to a certain topic, like “Cook and Book.” It’s hidden in one of the residential alleys. The cafehas a big bookcase filled with baking and recipe books, some of them in English, as well as food magazines. For location and details, contact 02-332-1457.