La Vie bar, Jeju, South Korea
Whether you come for the music, the home-cooked meals, or to meet new and interesting people over a beer or two, most agree that La Vie is a comfortable place to hang out and feel at home. Look around the place and first you may notice the comfortable stance of the patrons and hear laughter in response to an animated story, along with the full bookshelf (La Vie’s open library), houseplants and artwork on the walls. One patron Eric Karrandjas says of La Vie, “They are really friendly people and I always feel welcome when I’m there.” Another regular, Joey Rositano says he comes to La Vie “for the stories and the good company.”
Youngsook Go opened La Vie in 2002 because she liked talking to new people and making new friends. “And finally I met Sam,” she laughs warmly. In 2006 Sam Brown started hanging out at La Vie because he liked the bar’s welcoming and relaxing atmosphere, and he liked chatting with Go. He described La Vie as a clubhouse where you don’t feel like you’re in a bar, you feel more like you’re in someone’s living room. The two were married last November.
La Vie’s menu is simple and features western favourites including what could well be the best hamburger on Jeju (at 6000 won). Go modestly explains that she learned her cooking through experimentation: “The first time I use a recipe… after that I change to my taste.” When I explain how my friends and I have La Vie hamburger cravings she responds, “It makes me glad when [customers] like it.” Meanwhile, La Vie’s customers keep coming back for more.
Their menu also includes sandwiches like Roast Beef, Spicy Chicken, and Avocado and Cheddar (all at 6000 won or less) and a reasonably priced nacho plate, chips and salsa, or crackers and tuna to go with that beer or bottle of wine. Vegetarian items include Sambal Tofu and a Vegetarian sandwich and La Vie will be expanding their menu soon to have even more choices for non-meat eaters like a Tofu Burger. They also offer milkshakes and coffee, and if you’re lucky you may find yourself munching on some of Go’s delicious homemade cookies. Their new menu will include more hard-to-find home-cooked western dishes and baked goods.
As for drinks, La Vie serves regular Korean beer like Cass and Cafri at 4000 won, but carries imports like Leffe, San Miguel, Beck’s Dark, and Heineken as well. The bar includes import liquors like Baileys, Jagermeister, and Jose Cuervo Especial Tequila. La Vie’s new Cocktail Menu includes drinks like Black Orchid, Cosmopolitan, and a mean Tequila Stinger.
La Vie houses bands like Hallelujah for the Helpless Idiots who played out to a full house last February 16th. In the future Brown assures me that they will have bands 2-3 times a month. They used to have an open-mike jamming night and there have been requests to get it started again. It will be mid-week. La Vie’s instruments include 4 guitars, a harmonica, djembe drum, and two ukuleles- so people will be free to just drop in and play. When there isn’t a band playing, Go plays an eclectic mix of easy-listening music from rock to jazz, depending on her mood and that of the customers.
Drop by on a Thursday evening after 9:30, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by excited people huddled around full tables whispering answers to trivia questions. It’s Quiz Night, inspired by an event of the same name in Brown’s home town Homer, Alaska- and it’s popularity is growing along with the pot of prize money contributed by players each week. Arrive on time to join a team and have a chance to win prizes, or trickle in late to watch the fun and listen to the witty quips of host Amy Van Den Hoogen.
As I’m talking to Go her eyes light up when two strangers enter La Vie. She asks me to excuse her for a moment explaining that she hasn’t met them yet. Within moments I find out that the two smiley-faced foreigners are a young couple- he is visiting from the mainland of Korea and she from Alaska. La Vie was recommended to them by the first foreigner they met on Jeju and they decided to come in for a drink and for advice on what to see and do on the island. Brown sits with them and soon they’re laughing and chatting like old friends.
Apart from the great food, drinks and music, it’s this genuine interest in the customers that makes people feel most at home at La Vie. Perhaps customer Jihyun Oh sums it up the best: “I love being there […] At first, one of my coworkers introduced me to [it] and […] I liked the cozy and warm air of La Vie. Actually, I didn’t know many places for drinks because it’d been only a few months to come back to my hometown, and I hadn’t lived in Jeju City before […] I met great people there, and the best one is of course, Young Sook. These days I go to La Vie, because I feel like it’s my second home. I feel comfort and, hey, drinks are reasonable, aren’t they?”
Directions: From Sin-Jeju, walk or take a cab to Milano Crown Hotel. Walk around the back of the hotel turning left at Cat Boy clothing store. Walk straight and take the first left at Plastic. You’ll see it on your left.
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