Daehangno

While glitzy Gangnam south of the river has been adding more theaters recently, Seoul’s theater district remains north of the river at Daehangno. Literally “Daehangno” means university street, and takes its name from its proximity to the former site of SeoulNationalUniversity. But actually Daehangno has come to be synonymous with “Theater District” of Seoul.

Located there is the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation, but make no mistake, Daehangno is not a center of all things arty because a foundation built an edifice to culture there. Rather, artiness in Daehangno is a grassroots effort of the many individual creative souls who flock there and populate the district’s theaters, cafes, restaurants and parks. Let’s take a look at some highlights of what makes Daehangno tick.

Marronnier Park is an inseparable part of the Daehangno experience. In the crucible of Daehangno’s cultural experimentation with theater and art,MarronnierParkis where you go to just relax in the calm eye of the cultural fury. Marronnier has it all – an oasis of trees and park benches, painters and other artist types just hanging out, amateur performers from good to work-in-progress taking the park’s stage, and a few fortune tellers around too. Grab a bench or some grass, and just watch. It’s quite common to see college students filming or taking photographs in the rather picturesque setting. The park is named from the 80-year-old horse chestnut (marronnier) tree growing at its center.

As Seoul’s theater district, Daehangno has theaters of all sizes. The kingpin would be the 600-seater at the Arko Arts Theater, which itself houses a smaller 150-seat space. There are more than 30 small indie theaters performing everything from popular musicals to the wackiest of avant garde.

For popular, you couldn’t get anymore well received than “Line 1,” Korea’s longest running musical, in continuous run for 15 years now. This rock musical adapts the German original to tell a story of an ethnic Korean woman from China, and the unusual, wonderful and sometimes deceitful characters she meets along Seoul’s Subway Line 1. The show is updated every year to include topical issues of the day. Tickets are W30,000 for adults; W12,000 for teenagers.

Another fun show in open run in Daehangno is “The Drawing Show,” which is a performance art piece about the process of creating art, wherein famous works of art are frenetically recreated on stage, showing the artistic process as something careening dangerously off its rails – with comic relief of course. Fun for kids and adults. Tickets are W30,000 for adults; W20,000 for children under 12.

For the more extreme avant garde – well, just take a stroll through Daehangno and you won’t be disappointed

After a show or concert, check out some of Daehangno’s restaurants and bars. For starters, there`s a place called Platters near Marronnier Park, an American-style diner complete with a 1950s interior that serves up everything from soup in bread bowls (W3,900 won) to pepper steak sandwiches (W7,500 won). Telephone there is (02) 744-7651.

Another place to grab some tasty after-show eats is a fusion-style restaurant called Drunken Memory, featuring fusion versions of tofu steak (W8,500) and steamed mussels (W9,500 won). Call (02) 742-1925 for more information.

These are just a couple of quick suggestions to give the an idea of what’s out there. Take a walk around the area and even if you can’t find the places just mentioned, you’ll be sure to find other quaint eating spots to try.

After a meal, try a pint or cocktail at a bar. There are many pubs and soju bars in the area, but when you head to Daehangno, it`s always nice to visit one of the live jazz bars. Listening to Coltrane or Morgan on your iPod is fine, but there’s nothing like hearing it live. One of the more popular of Daehangno’s jazz spots is called Chunnyundongando. They serve hot meals and drinks, along with live performances on a nightly basis. Their website is mostly Korean language, but there’s a top menu in English, and by looking at the English names on the concert calendar you’ll get the picture. See:www.chunnyun.com. To find it in Daehangno, look for the large “Live Jazz Club” neon blue sign. Phone: (02) 743-5555.

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