I always wanted to visit the little sister of Tokyo and a few months ago I managed to fly to Seoul. The culinary world of Korea is rich and one would think the cocktail world follows this very closely. The choice of excellent cocktail bars is not as vast as in other Asian cities but the ones that have made a name for themselves internationally are worth the trip. One of these bars is Alice, run by Terry Kim in the world-renowned Gangnam area.
Terry is a textbook entrepreneur. Born in 1984 in South Korea, he studied hotel and tourism management at the University of Suwon in Hwaseong, South Korea, and after his military service started working in a bar in Seoul. Hotel bars seemed to be a good starting point for him, as already ten years ago the hotel guest would order and enjoy cocktails. Stand-alone high-end cocktail bars did not exist back then in Seoul. Terry was very curious and eager to learn; he wanted to offer his guests new experiences, and cocktails seemed the right tool to do so. Unfortunately, hotel bureaucracy was standing in his way, as new methods, spirits, and unusual ingredients were not easy to source. And thus, his motivation slowly diminished. If you want to set trends and realize new ideas, you have to experiment, and for this you need management to have your back. Terry decided to take his expertise and, after a few years in the hotel industry, open his own bar and create cocktails for his guests with passion.
The name already gives it away: this bar is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. One steps through the door and disappears downstairs through a flower shop and down the “rabbit hole.” In this scenario, the guests represent Alice and the bartenders the white rabbits. Every time a guest comes to the bar, he or she will experience something unique and new, just like Alice. For this reason, the cocktail menu is very diverse, ranging from simple to very complex. The drinks require a variety of techniques, some leaning towards molecular cuisine; they are strong, visual, and stylish, with a lot of interesting compositions—in short, a cocktail wonderland. Terry places great importance on the friendliness of his staff towards the guests, but also on their satisfaction with their workplace. This mirrors the experience of the guests, and therefore fun is guaranteed. Bartenders are free to drink with the guests as long as they can still perform their tasks.
Terry is inspired by his guests as well as by his travels. Often an idea starts with a conversation he has. He might talk to someone about certain tastes, life in general, an experience, or even just a thought. Then, all of a sudden, an idea evolves from that, forming a concrete base which can be developed further. Despite the hard work he puts in and the fact that his time is further taken up by having a young child, he tries to travel as much as he can. He has to experience new cultures and meet new people, constantly broaden his horizon, and have new ideas come to mind.
Terry is crazy about gin and he loves simple cocktails, therefore his cocktail of choice is a classic Negroni—the perfect balance between bitter and sweet with a hint of fruitiness.
Check out Terry’s recipe: Don Spectre
His choice is Tippling Club in Singapore. I can understand why this was Terry’s number one. The creations are masterpieces from the drinks to the food – everything is just perfect. Not for nothing the restaurant is part of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants. Really worth the trip and hospitality is held in high standing as well. For Terry, the perfect guest experience.
The future of the bar world
In Terry’s opinion the boundaries of the bar industry will slowly disappear. In the future, bars and bartenders will intersect their cocktails and their localities with media, culture, science, as well as other industries altogether.
Advice for opening a bar
The most important is, what you want to offer your guests in terms of experience. Everything depends on that. Be clear what your concept will be and what you want to focus on. You need to understand what your guests’ needs are and how you best want to fulfill these needs.
Craziest customer experience
When he was still working in the hotel bar, one of his guests was so drunk that he started a fight with his friend. In the end they were both bleeding heavily as broken glass was involved during the fight. They only stopped when the police arrived and arrested both of them.
It is Terry’s home and the place that allowed him to grow up in this industry and fulfill his dreams. It is seeing enormous development at the moment when it comes to the cocktail industry as a result of an increased interest in cocktail and bar culture in recent years—a very exciting time. There are many opportunities and a lot of potential for new bars and talents. He loves it.
Target in life
He wants to make people happy and bring them closer to the rich cultural heritage of Korea. His bar should be a melting pot of people he loves. It should be a fun and comfortable place where guests come and forget the hard day and clear their heads and fill them with good memories. It is about making people happy and finally for him to be happy himself.
Best decision in life
To become a bartender and he does not regret it for one moment. It was the best decision he ever made. He meets new people every day and is well connected. In the end, business is people in any industry but especially the hospitality industry.
Images: © Alice Cheongdam