Passing Up Everybody Loves Raymond Reruns for a Little Korean Nightlife
Being the stodgy homebody that I am, I haven't the faintest idea of what goes on in this city after 10 p.m. Even on most weekends, anything after that time is reserved for bad television and snuggling with my dog. My friends, meanwhile, including the boyfriend, are creatures of the night, who live waiting for the next after-hour adventure. Curious as to exactly what the boyfriend is up to when he is out and about, and having been M.I.A. from my friends for an extended amount of time, I decided to retire the sweatpants for the evening and pay a little visit to the Koreatown nightlife.
We decided to congregate at the Royal Lane watering hole, Bar [a]. With a clamor of voices greeting us, walking in to Bar [a] was akin to entering a Korean Cheers. Well, it's a Cheers with all Korean female bartenders, K-Pop music videos on plasma televisions and hip-hop blasting out of the speakers. OK, aside from the greetings, maybe that comparison doesn't really work.
Tables at Bar [a] are semi-private and separated by dividers. After finding a table large enough to accommodate our group, we made ourselves comfortable in our corner cove. Fortunately for our multi-ethic group that evening, we had a Korean, Sam, amongst us to guide the festivities. Knowing that I would be writing about the evening, Sam worried about my choice of blog topic. He reminded me that, ultimately, Bar [a] serves Korean bar food, and if I was in search for a meal, I was better off trying the Korean fried chicken shop next door.
I wasn't deterred. Soon, our table began filling up with interesting nosh and even more curious looking bottles of alcohol. Each table in Bar [a] is served complimentary bowls of popcorn in place of bar nuts. Along with the popcorn, Sam ordered a duo of squid dishes. Out first was an unmistakable bar snack of dried squid paired with salted roasted peanuts. However perfect it was with beer, the squid was tough to rip apart and even more difficult to chew.
The second dish, squid stewed in the Korean spicy sauce, gochujang, then served on a sizzling plate, was robustly piquant and greasy, flavors which were quite appropriate for the occasion. Nevertheless, the food served only as a minor distraction from the selection of alcohol that was ordered for the table. Most notable of all the alcoholic beverages ordered was a Yakult and soju cocktail. Yakult is a sweetened fermented yogurt-like milk drink, which contains lactobacillus cultures. The yogurt drink is then mixed with Korean rice wine, soju, forming a deceptively sweet and tart cocktail.
Refreshing as the drink was, I sought to try something a bit more substantial. At 20 percent alcohol by volume, Chum Churum soju fit the bill. While soju traditionally is made with rice, Chum Churum is made with sweet potatoes. The taste is similar to that of vodka, yet not as harsh, and with a hint of sweetness. Since soju is drunk as shots, (I think) I was a bit confused when the waitress brought a stack of metal bowls to our table. Sam explained the metal bowls by saying he wanted me to try something, which does not always bode well, especially when alcohol is involved.
When the waitress returned to our table with a kettle, Sam poured its contents into the metal bowls and passed me the first serving. Because of the kettle, I expected the drink to be warm, but the cloudy liquid was chilled. Before I could take a sip, Sam described the drink, makoli, as the "poor man's soju," hence the metal bowls. Apparently, laborers would eat their meals and then drink from the same bowls afterward. Makoli is incredibly cloudy, almost milky in appearance. The murkiness is attributed to the unfiltered state of the fermented rice. The taste is exactly as it seems it would taste, like unfiltered sake. Equal parts sweet, sour and grainy, the drink was much more pleasant than I expected. Many must agree, seeing as how the drink is making a fashionable comeback in many Asian bars.
With all the libations going around, we never made it to a second destination that night, and I never got my chicken. (I'm looking at you, boyfriend.) Still, though I never expected to learn much from a night of drunken calamity, I have to admit that trying something new was both educational, and well, quite fun. Drinking with friends in the name of research? That's not too shabby, either.
2240 Royal Lane