Review: Charles H at the Four Seasons Seoul

New and upcoming bars in Seoul have been receiving accolades and distinctions in recent years reflecting the city's rise in the global spirits scene.

One such place making steady buzz is Charles H, the speakeasy-themed bar at the Four Seasons Seoul.



I was lucky enough to get a peek of Charles H even before the hotel even opened as part of a visit for work.

The strength of the Four Seasons dining options is that their 7 restaurants and bars are all unique in theme, design, and personality. They all retain the luxury without making it feel and seem as though you're in a standard hotel eatery.

This applies to their secret bar, the Charles H which is already delightful in description as a speakeasy bar. Unfortunately, the concept of a speakeasy goes over the head for many Koreans here but to provide a context- from 1920-1933 there was an actual constitutional ban on the production, import, selling and even transporting of alcohol in the United States- a small and temporary victory for deeply conservative American Christians at the time. But of course, where there's a will there's a way, and secretive establishments tucked away in restaurants, hotels, even homes sprang up just about everywhere.

Of course, Korea itself is ironically the exact opposite of anything in teetolism territory but it's a cool concept nonetheless.

Playing along with the secretive theme in full, you won't find any official signage for the place inside the hotel. Though employees will be happy to assist if you're totally lost.

Here's a hint to the entrance though:


Before you enter the bar itself, there's a separate front desk for the bar. Quite often on weekends it's packed so you may find yourself having to wait for seats- especially for larger groups.

Inside, you'll find a vintage/retro New York subway station theme with its lights, tiles, and decor.

Psst. This is before they officially opened!

Besides the bar, there's a couple of round tables that can each seat about 6 or 7 with some deep, black leather seats but be forewarned- these tables fill up fast.







And in the evenings, when the speakeasy is in full bloom, it does have such a nice classy ambiance to it.



The menu reflects the bar's name, which is named after Charles H. Baker. The famed American writer was also a cocktail enthusiast who traveled through the world looking for great drinks and the stories behind them. The menu is almost a storybook in itself and reflects his whimsical adventures with some interesting, fascinating, and exotic cocktails truly unique to this bar alone. Locations like New York, Cairo, Shanghai, and other places unfold in a menu that reads like a engrossing novel than a standard drinks list. 





Standard straights and other drinks also available.




The mixologist master behind the creative cocktails is multiple award-winning and renown Chris Lowder who has concocted some serious intriguing drinks with regular and exotic ingredients to make for this enjoyable time.

I can't remember all the drinks that were ordered. I probably went with something in the veins of a mojito because y'all know Stew loves him a strong ass mojito. Yezzzzzzir.



They also have some bar food which are tasty and, as you can expect from a luxury hotel, oh so chic. Otherwise, the complimentary kettle chips and spiced mixed nuts are just fine on their own.


I should also mention that the Charles H. has a final trick up its sleeve. There's actually a hidden room within the bar complete with a hidden wall/door. The private room is only available by reservation only but can comfortably seat a large group of 15-20 or so and is equipped with its own private bathroom AND karaoke machine.

It will only set you back about 1,000,000 KRW or so if I recall...

See if you can find the hidden private room entrance! Hint- perhaps an opportune time is when you have to excuse yourself to the washroom....




The Charles H. narrative comes to life through the magic of Mr. Lowder and it's this story in full- from beginning to end- that is what makes the experience of this speakeasy bar come alive. Unfortunately, I think for most locals, the story and concept of Charles H. goes over the heads of locals who balk at the prices.

I guess a comparison I'd make is with amusement parks. If you believe amusement parks are all more or less the same or are happily satisfied with a few thrill rides at your local fair, something like Disneyland and its prices would probably mean less to you. But if you're a Disneyland lover who values the magic and story behind it all, the admission price is a small price to pay.

Much goes the same with Charles H. It extends beyond being your neighborhood bar to become a narrative of its own (with some strong, high quality drinks) but it all boils down to what floats your boat. I, for one, say bravo!

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Fun, creative and classy at the same time, Charles H. is designed to be an experience of its own which, so long as you hitch onto the flow, can prove a meaningful time. The drinks are nice and strong, servers are attentive, and it makes for a nice location for a date you want to impress or a night out with friends.

Address: 
서울특별시 종로구 새문안로 97
97, Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea




Come out exit 7 of Gwanghwamun Station and turn around to walk towards the major intersection in front of you. Turn right on Saemunan-ro and walk just 15 or 20 meters for the Four Seasons Seoul.

Telephone: 
02-6388-5000

Website:
http://www.fourseasons.com/seoul/dining/lounges/charles_h/

Parking: 
Available

Alcohol: 
Of course. 

Tip: 

I don't think I need to mention it but just in case there was any confusion about basic etiquette- the attire for a classy place like this is casual attire.

There's no reservations for non-staying guests so try and come early to avoid lines! If you're a staying guest of the Four Seasons Seoul, you can actually call the bar for seat availability and wait in the comfort of your room if there's a wait. They'll call you when a seat opens up. :)