Story of the Blue Star: “One of the Coolest Little Bars in the Whole Wide World”

Reprinted with permission from the January 2011 Issue of Seoul Magazine. Pick up a copy around Seoul or at their bookstore. 

Soon-il from: Story of the Blue Star in Seoul
According to the Huffington Post, Choi Il-soon's rice wine bar: Story of the Blue Star, is "one of the coolest little bars in the whole wide world." That's because it is owned by one of the coolest guys in the whole world.

Soon is a modest, optimistic man that looks like- and has the vibe- of Bob Marley. He was a stage actor for most of his career and he has also played in classic Korean movies such as “Tae Baek San Maek.”

Mugwort Makgeolli at Story of the Blue Star in Seoul
He loves acting, but his true passion is traveling. He has traveled to over 90 countries and has lived in Tibet, Nepal, and India to name a few. He has written several travel books about his journeys and he is currently organizing a group trip to Africa. Soon is also friends with many of Korea's most famous actors such as Kwang-rok Oh (Oldboy) whom stops by his pub from time to time.

Story of the Blue Star is in a converted hanok that is down the whips and turns of Insadong, but there is a secret entrance if you go out Anguk station exit 6 and make a left down the very narrow alley between the police station and the parking lot. It doesn't look like much. You enter through antique doors and there are antique clay pots and Buddhas next to bizarre looking totem men. Colorful Nepalese prayer flags hang from the ceiling and the shelves are filled with glass jars filled with herbs and roots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. It doesn’t look like much and that is why it is so enticing.

The makgeolli is from Sangju, a city in the South Eastern province of Seoul. When I asked Soon, why he picked this brand, he told me, “I traveled all around Korea trying to find the best makgeolli for my pub and at first sip, I knew this one was the best.” To add flavor and health to his makgeolli, he adds green tea, taro, Doraji, bongip, or mugwort powder. The powders and herbs add zip to the flavor of makgeolli. The food is also top notch. From the crisp mungbean pancake to the marinated pork barbecue, everything is organic, expertly cooked, and full of flavor. Even vegetarians will be happy (Soon is Buddhist, so he doesn’t eat meat). You can get my favorite dish: Tofu with kimchi or Grilled Dodeok root. The tofu’s texture like feta cheese and its pyramid shape is impressive as it arrives at the table.

Tofu and Kimchi from Story of the Blue Star in Seoul
I asked Soon why his tofu and his food are so delicious.
“The tofu is made with a medicinal root that helps with the coagulation. The tofu comes fresh daily. I always try to source the best ingredients in Korea. If I find something I like, I have it sent here,” he said.
Soon never studied how to run a restaurant, but he knows people and he knows quality. I think it is this cosmopolitan outlook that enables his little bar to be considered one of the hippest bars in the whole world. Just don’t tell him that- he won’t believe you.

Story of the Blue Star
Directions: Go out Anguk station exit 6 and make a left down the very narrow alley between the police station and the parking lot.

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