Triple Threat: The Spot Bar in Seomyeon
With over 25 years of family history running pubs and restaurants in the Seomyeon, Go Sung-oon and his younger brother Go Ji-oon, know how to keep their customers happy. To get the food right, they even brought in an Western chef. With a passionate, cross-cultural team at the wheel, The Spot’s superb food, properly made cocktails, and capacity for live music, make it a triple-threat that’s sure to hold its own on Busan’s ever-growing panorama of restaurants and nightlife .
BUSAN, South Korea -- In late June, I was invited to play a gig at what was referred to me as “this awesome new place” in Seomyeon. The amount of times I’ve heard that phrase misused has taught me not to get my hopes up until I’ve seen it myself.
When I first walked into The Spot, I barely noticed the sleek design, the expansive space, the beautiful, well-equipped stage, the full-sized pool table, or even the group of my friends planted on the comfy couches along the wall. I was instead preoccupied by a distinctive aroma, one that I wouldn’t normally associate with my time in Korea. My friends later told me that as I set my guitar down and threw a half-hearted wave in their general direction, I resembled a hound dog, tracking the scent of caramelized onions to their source – an incredible looking Philly Cheese Steak.
I marched up to the bar – not to order a drink, but to ask, “Who cooked that food right there?” I was directed into the small kitchen to discover an acquaintance, Scott Newman (who, of course, I had assumed was an English teacher) plating a tantalizing trio of beef empanadas with a chili lime sauce. Scott told me that after visiting some friends in Busan in 2008, he fell in love with the city, returned to Canada to attend culinary school, and then came back to Busan on a tourist visa, hoping to find work as a chef.
Go Sung-Oon, known to his friends as Gossi, and his younger brother, Go Ji-Oon (‘Little Gossi’), were no strangers to the service industry when they set out to open The Spot. Their parents have had restaurants and pubs in Seomyeon for twenty-five years, and currently own a successful Ssamgyupsal restaurant just across the street from The Spot. Since the neighborhood underwent its transformation from industrial center to restaurant hub about ten years ago, it has become a go-to for Korean food, particularly barbecue.
Jordan Lewis, Gino Brann and Kurtis Blo jam it up on The Spot stage
Yet. Sung-Oon and Ji-Oon had no interest in opening a Korean restaurant, partly because the market was too saturated, and partly because they wanted to challenge themselves to open an establishment that was genuinely unique to Busan. Though neither brother has spent time abroad, they were determined to open a proper ‘western style’ lounge, a place where Koreans and foreigners could intermingle.
Gossi turned to his many waygookin friends for advice, and came up with a list of priorities: atmosphere, comfort, live music, good service and, above all, outstanding food. It was getting the last part right that Gossi thought might be tricky. As fortune would have it, Gossi and Scott (who were already acquaintances) were hanging out one night when a mutual friend, Seth Tarter, made that fateful connection.
Despite that Scott and Gossi, both 28, were raised in extremely different cultures on opposite sides of the planet, it became increasingly clear during our chat that these two young men have more in common than their age. As I alternated between bites of the delectable chicken and roasted pepper pizza with garlic Parmesan sauce and divine homemade shrimp and crab stuffed tortellini in a white wine crème sauce with a touch of mint, I learned that Scott had been training Gossi in the kitchen to prepare for his month long trip home to Canada. When asked if he was nervous about replicating Scott’s recipes during his absence, Gossi shook his head and smiled.
“Not at all. Scott has taught me well. Also, we don’t use any frozen food, and we don’t have a microwave in the kitchen. We use only fresh ingredients from Bujeon Market and from Costco. It’s not cheap – but it’s the best quality. That’s all that matters.”
As I shoved the last bite of a scrumptious pork and beef slider into my mouth, I listened as the young men talked excitedly about future plans for The Spot, finishing each other’s sentences, obviously pumped that their mutual vision is coming to fruition. Gossi would eventually like to have nightly events, with live music playing a central role in The Spot’s allure. Scott is planning to slightly revamp the menu in the fall, with rotating pasta specials. Of his hopes for his culinary endeavors, Newman said, “I hope that people don’t only think of The Spot as a place to go out and drink and order some bar food as an afterthought. I’d rather them think of it as a place to have a solid, sit-down dinner and then stay for drinks.”
With the help of Joshua Kim, a Busan native who was raised in Chicago and Guhn Yeon Kim, who has been a friendly fixture on the Busan bar scene, the team is working hard to ensure chill ambiance, quality offerings and affable service – not to mention KILLER mojitos! If The Spot stays on its current trajectory, there’s no doubt that it will amass a loyal customer base. And count me in! I’m already cursing them for the pounds I’m going to gain there.
For more info on The Spot, including an English map, check out their Haps page.
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