Makgeolli, Korea’s unique sweet-sour rice wine, is enjoyed by young and old alike. Plastic bottles of Busan’s most popular brand, Saengtak, can be found on mountain peaks throughout the city, but makgeolli is more than just a hiking drink. Busan has a wide selection of establishments which specialize in the popular milky-looking liquor, from up-market eateries to rowdy basement bars.
Here are some of the city’s best places to get your makgeolli fix.
Located in the heart of Seomyeon, Jangseunggol can be easy to miss within the neon labyrinth. This atmospheric basement bar offers the usual makgeolli side selection of seafood pancakes, stews, and soups, but it also specializes in various kinds of dongdongju.
Dongdongju (literally ‘floating alcohol’) is a version of makgeolli which tastes slightly sweeter and contains floating grains of rice. Jangseunggol, with its wooden beams and lantern-lit tables, retains the feel of a traditional makgeolli bar, but its varied clientele and cozy atmosphere make it a great stop on the rice wine tour of Busan.
For the more discerning makgeolli drinker, Sulgotgan treats its rice wines with the respect of fine vintages. Expect to pay more for your makgeolli here, but for your money you get excellent service and detailed guides about the history and flavors of each prized bottle. If you’re tired of the local Saengtak and want a quality dining experience while sampling the best rice wines in Korea, Sulgotgan is the place for you.
Joseon Kalguksu (조선칼국수)
A popular haunt for expats, many of whom know it simply as the ‘Penis Bar’ for the phallic statue at the door, Joseon Kalguksu is one of the liveliest bars in the backstreets of Seomyeon.
The food is varied and excellent value, but the makgeolli is the real draw here. The standard rice wine comes by the bottle or even in large vats, but why settle for standard when you can sample makgeolli cocktails? Apricot, strawberry, and kiwi are just some of the fruity mixes on offer. Sweeter than the common variety, these colorful cocktails serve as a perfect introduction for makgeoli first-timers.
Dragon Dream (용꿈)
One of Busan’s best-kept secrets, this bar-within-a-cave is notoriously hard to find despite being close to the city center. Arguably the most unique bar in Busan, this cave was originally used as a bomb shelter during World War II. Now specializing in haemul jjim (seafood stir-fry) as well as makgeolli and dongdongju, the prices are higher than in the past, but where else can you swig rice liquor while listening to the gentle weeping of damp stone walls?
Forget chairs, head to Nampo and enjoy some fresh makgeolli from the comfort of a cushion on the floor. Deokbeon-eh’s homemade makgeolli is reasonably priced, and the icy cocktail pitchers (available in flavors such as forest berries and banana) are thicker and fruitier than the bargain cocktails of Joseon Kalguksu. The side dishes are varied, with bulgogi (marinated beef) and fried chicken alongside the more traditional pancakes and stews, while the polished, oaky décor makes for a relaxing drinking experience.
Boksoondoga F1963 (복순도가)
A spacious and elegantly decorated restaurant, Boksoondoga is famous for its homemade makgeolli and high-quality fusion food. With halibut salads and raw beef platters on offer, leave your wooden chopsticks at the door; this is silverware territory, and the prices reflect it. The traditional home-style rice wine and unique décor have made Boksoondoga one of the go-to places for up-market makgeolli dining experiences.