Hongdae Cafe Madness

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
Trip End Dec 02, 2012

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Seoul,
Saturday, July 7, 2012

You may have heard of cat cafes, but did you know there are Hello Kitty cafes? What about cake decorating cafes or dog cafes? I didn't know about most of these until I came to Korea, but today two of my friends and I decided take a trip to Hongdae to visit them all.

Hongdae (홍대) was nickname of the area around the Seoul campus of Hongik University. The name of the subway station for the area was "Hongdae Entrance" (홍대입구) in Korean, but it was labeled as Hongik Unversity station on the English maps I'd seen. At any rate, it's where we stayed back in February the night before our DMZ tour. It's filled with Korean college students and the cafes, boutiques and pubs that cater to them.

One of the more popular cafes in the area was the Hello Kitty Cafe. It was what it sounded like. A cafe decorated with a Hello Kitty theme. We made the Hello Kitty Cafe our first stop in part because we'd read it can get fairly crowded. Arriving around it's opening time of 11am, we saw quite a few people, but no big lines. Most of the patrons appeared to be tourists, many of them from Asia.

The cafe food was adorable, delicious, and not even over-priced. I paid around 8000 won for my hot chocolate and sweet bread, which was what I would expect to pay for a similar snack in a run-of-the-mill Seoul cafe. Our food came out relatively quickly, and it wasn't long before we had eaten and were ready to move on to our next stop: a cat cafe.

One of my friends noted early on that the day was kind of like a scavenger hunt. We had assembled vague directions and partial maps from the internet, but it was up to us to use them to successfully navigate the streets and alleys of Hongdae. It didn't help that some of the cafes were closed or that there was major construction going on around the metro exits, but we managed to find everything we wanted, and I think we know Hongdae fairly well now. I've included some maps in this blog post with the places we went marked. They may or may not still be open when you read this, but it's a start.

There were several cat cafes in Hongdae. In fact, there was a building that looked like it had a cat cafe just a few steps up the hill from the Hello Kitty Cafe, but that would have been too easy. Plus, we had read internet recommendations for a cafe called Gio Cat and wanted to try there.

We went to the address a blog post had listed for Gio Cat and found a new cat cafe had opened in it's place. I was afraid that might turn-out to be the case since a Naver maps search for Gio Cat showed Gio Cat as being in an entirely different part of Seoul. One of my friends, however, had written directions allegedly to Gio Cat indicating the cafe was a in a different part of Hongdae entirely from the address I had found, near exit 6 of the metro station. So again instead of going into the cat cafe right in front of us, we decided to search some more. While it was nice to walk off some Hello Kitty calories, we eventually gave up on trying to find metro exit 6 since easy access to it was blocked by construction and came back to where we started (at the former Gio Cat location) to settle for visiting Cheongchun Cat Cafe.

Today was my first real visit to a cat cafe, and I found it a bit unsettling. I like cats, where by cats I mean two cats, tops. Being surrounded by 20 cats was about 19 more cats than I would have liked. It didn't help that the place smelled heavily of cat urine, or that they seated us at table 2--right next to the pool of cat vomit at table 1. I couldn't help but thinking the whole time I was there that the cafe must be my mother's vision of hell.

The staff kindly cleaned the vomit, but I found myself wondering what substance was formerly on my seat. If you wanted to, you could borrow a long grey skirt to wear to protect your clothes from cat hair and other unpleasantness. We found this out when a cat peed on one of my friends. We also found out the cafe staff will wash and dry your shorts for you when this occurs.

So I guess that's a pretty negative review of cat cafes, but on the plus side the cat peeing on my friend was an as-of-yet endless source of giggling. That may make me and my pee-less friend bad people, but our other friend took it exceptionally well so I don't feel too guilty.

So with the cat cafe finished, I figured why not give the dog cafe a try. My dog-loving friend had suggested it, but I hadn't been very excited about the idea since I'd read a negative review of a dog cafe on the internet. I wanted to try the cat cafe first and see how that went. At this point I didn't see how the dog cafe could possibly be any worse than the cat cafe, so I was up for giving it a try.

I should point out that when I say a "dog cafe" I don't mean cafe that allows people to bring their dogs or a "cafe" serving treats for dogs (both of which exist as well). I mean a cat cafe, but with dogs. While I understand you are allowed to bring your own dog to some of them, the majority of customers don't have their own pets. They're just there to hang-out with the cafe's dogs.

Before we started our search for the dog cafe, we stopped at Auntie Anne's for some pretzels and lemonade since we hadn't had any food at the cat cafe, and because pretzels are delicious. I wasn't too impressed with the Hongdae Auntie Anne's, the pretzels were over-cooked to the point of almost being burned, but I did get two extra stamps on my pretzel loyalty card since both of my friends bought pretzels too. Only one more till a free pretzel!

My friend's directions to the dog cafe said start from exit 9 of the station, but apart from that were completely unhelpful. "Go to the parking lot street" and something about a "Buy the Way" or "By the Way" intersection, which we didn't see and no one we asked in the area had heard of. So it was another case of good exercise but ultimately failure to find what we were looking for. After a few concentric circles, we gave up and decided to head to the next stop on our list: a decorate your own cake cafe.

To decorate our cake, we went to Dan Hana. This place was easy to find because they actually had a good map on their website. The cafe had pre-made cakes to decorate. The price of the cake included a tube of frosting, then we could choose additional decorations to add a la carte. It was actually quite fun decorating the cake. None of us had done it before, but we were weren't too bad at it although we didn't try anything tricky. The cake was about the price of a normal bakery cake, too. I'd love to go again or maybe it will inspire me to actually decorate the cakes I bake at home. Not that I have an oven or do any baking in Korea...

So now we had a freshly decorated cake and some time to fill before dinner, but no real plan for what to do next. We meandered back towards the station with the vague idea of stopping somewhere for a drink or possibly going shopping, but we weren't too enthusiastic about that. By chance we happened to turn down a street and see Sunnyne Dog Cafe. It wasn't the dog cafe we'd been looking for, but it was perfect.

I'm more of a cat person than a dog person, but the dog cafe was sooo much better than the cat cafe. For starters, it didn't smell unsanitary. Most of the dogs were well house trained, and the ones that weren't had diapers. There were still a few incidents of peeing, but no people were targeted and the staff promptly cleaned the area.

The dogs were also not as desperate for attention as I'd feared they might be. While they tended to swarm towards the door whenever anyone new arrived. They were mostly content to sit around letting people scratch their ears, with one or two dogs per table. The dogs seemed to have established who sat at what table so they didn't fight for attention. It probably helped that the cafe was full of patrons, so there was plenty of attention to go around.

I'd say I actually found the dog cafe relaxing. We ended-up hanging out there for quite a while, and I wouldn't be surprised if we went back for another visit the next time we're in Hongdae. Although mostly they just sat there or jogged in circles, when it was time to leave, one of the dogs was trained to take your ticket to the register for check-out.

We finished the day with a dinner at On the Border, several blocks away near Shinchon station, that was about three times as expensive as back home. I wouldn't eat there on a regular basis, but the food was still decent and the meal was a nice culinary change of pace.
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