Pop the Cork
Luxury accessories for the serious wine lover in your life.
At Bar Cham, a beloved neighborhood bar, the menu tells the story of each South Korean province.
YEARS AGO, THERE was a bartender who lured me into the world of whisky. I remember Byungjin Lim wearing a crisp purple shirt with black leather-trimmed suspenders, his eyes hidden behind his long, sleek hair as he told stories about whisky while theatrically pouring drinks for captivated guests.
At that time, he was serving at the Speakeasy Mortar, a pioneering malt bar that shifted the spirits market in Korea. Previously, Koreans sought mostly soju, the inexpensive vodka-like spirit. But as patrons began to prefer savoring to speed, bars like Speakeasy Mortar gained popularity by offering high-end whisky. Lim was also personally on the rise, making it to the finals of the 2011 World Class, an international bartending competition, followed by second place in 2013 and 2014, and then first place in 2015.
After that, he started Miners Bar, a cocktail bar for the after-work crowd, which was followed by Bar Cham in 2018, his most ambitious venture yet. Located in Seoul’s Seochon neighborhood, Bar Cham specializes in Korean liquors. Lim says of the bar’s early days, “All the [Korean] bars back then were heavily influenced by the western style, where suited bartenders showed their flairs behind marble tables. I wanted to make something unique by presenting a bar Koreans feel comfortable in but with a surprise for finding delightful twists in drinks.” The space is styled after a hanok or traditional Korean house with rustic furniture, and much of the interior is made of oak, or cham in Korean. The ambiance is buzzy; there’s often Korean pop playing in the background.
Instead of international whiskies, Korean liquors distilled by national masters fill the shelves. Each drink is meant to evoke a different Korean province. For the Hamyang, a Solsongju drink, Lim toasts a pine cone next to the glass to conjure the smell of pine that the area is known for. Songpyeon, a cocktail co-created by his team, is meant to capture the taste of the traditional Korean rice cake enjoyed during Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving. The drink blends rice cake paste flavors in a transparent milk-washed martini with subtle hints of sesame oil that spike a craving for something savory.
Lim says his menu has undergone five evolutionary phases. He likens the concept to an album, with each iteration building on the previous until it culminates in a unique narrative. The menu is inspired by conversations with locals and artisans and by the bar’s neighborhood, which was the stomping grounds of prominent Korean artists and intellectuals, such as the 19th century calligrapher Chusa Kim Jeong-hui and poet Yi Sang, who wrote in the 1930s. “My first goal for this place was to make the locals proud,” Lim says. He may have been too successful on this front, though. He reports that on many nights, the bar is too full for them to get in.
Lim recently opened another bar, Pomme, around the corner, focusing on fruit-forward drinks with farm-to-table sourcing. He brings in the finest apples from Chungju, Korean melon from Goseong, and kiwi from Gyeongbuk. “Korea is only the beginning,” Lim says. “I want to explore other countries to keep experimenting with all kinds of liquids and excavate their potential in style and quality.”
Find other delicious recipes, tips from the experts and more with NYT Cooking. Get up to $20 back each month on NYT Cooking with your Personal Platinum Card®. You can also get this credit with other participating partners. Enrollment required and terms apply. Learn more here.
Jae Eun “Jane” Lee is an art director based in Seoul, Korea. Having practiced in America, Europe, and Asia, Jane creates synergies across various industries by curating artistic spaces where people can interact, inspire, and collaborate as individuals, artists, businesses, and communities.
Kim S. Gon is a photographer based in South Korea. His work has appeared in Allure, Elle, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue. Gon is represented by VOTT Agency.
A deep dive into the world of Macallan Scotch whisky.
The chef behind Brooklyn’s Dept of Culture talks jollof rice drama, Junior’s cheesecake, and a...
Armed with one of the world’s most recognizable voices, the Broadway superstar turns up the...
Plus, not-to-miss wine in the Azores, department store omakase, and how to bring Italy home.