Story by Neil Kirby / Photos by Anuj Madan
A place that pleases the particular while welcoming the regular
Long before he ever thought of being a bartender, much less a co-owner, of one of Seoul’s newest, hottest establishments, Christopher Shin Packard strolled into a bar for a beer and a burger after a three month road trip across the U.S. He would be having his first cold beer in over a year and hoped for a relaxing, rewarding, welcoming experience after planting his roots in Bowling Green, Ohio.
He didn’t have one. “The bar had no soul,” he said.
So he tried another joint. The second one was also no good—the place was a dive.
But the third “scratched every itch,” he said. “Warm, clean wood on the bannisters, friendly people, local hillbillies arguing politics and sports—a mixture of Cheers and Moe’s Tavern.”
Shin Packard became a regular, and was eventually offered a gig as a bouncer, later working his way up to bartender.
And it was the features of that watering hole that helped foster a “love of Americana” that Shin Packard brought to Blacklist, the newly opened bar in the heart of Itaewon.
Except “bar” hardly describes the venue, which features a mix of classic cocktails and Shin Packard’s own inventions, along with cold craft beer, high-quality but reasonably priced wine, and above all, an atmosphere that first strikes you as clean and cozy without being pretentious, a curious amalgam of the present and past that’s hard to pinpoint, much like bar stories from years prior, told and retold to new friends as if they happened yesterday, giving new life to an old theme.
But make no mistake—it’s the people that make the place. The diverse clientele has included those from a variety of careers, and even an ambassador has mingled there. The crowd generally consists of “awesome people doing awesome things,” Shin Packard said, just as a half-dozen gorgeous women entered, Shin Packard greeting them like an old friend.
Some of the other perks of the place include top-tier brand house spirits and wine, a cut above what’s often available elsewhere. In addition to that, they boast a spotlessly clean bathroom—a rare find in the wee hours in Itaewon. And while Shin Packard can be creative with his own concoctions, don’t expect him to screw up a classic. “It’s amazing—wherever you go in the world, how often they destroy it,” he said of the classic martini.
With his creativity co-existing with a reverence for the classics, it’s clear the place wouldn’t be much without a skilled craftsman like him behind the bar. “Using the proper methodology and doing the small things right, you can deliver better value and better quality for the customer,” he said, slicing the flesh of a cucumber with the meticulousness and care more common in a sushi chef than in a bartender.
“Chris is the face of the bar for a reason,” said Sean Walker, one of the four co-owners. “Without him, there is no Blacklist.”
The name of the place refers to the blacklisting of thousands of Korean artists and writers denied the chance of government support because Park Geun-hye found them unfriendly to her administration. For poorer artists, inclusion on the list could have been devastating. For anti-establishment thinkers such as Ko Un, a famous South Korean poet, being included on the list was an honor, as Ko Un told the New York Times, “This shows how disgusting the government is.” The owners of Blacklist all agreed on the name as a nod to the scandal, intending to flip the negative connotation into a positive, as artists like Ko Un have done.
But let’s get back to booze. It’s Korea after all, and if you’re having a cold one or a cocktail you will also no doubt be having anju. In the case of Blacklist, you won’t be disappointed by the house homemade beef jerky—a recipe that requires two days of patience and effort. “I have so much fun when Koreans try my jerky,” Shin Packard said. Likely they may have been expecting the store-bought variety, which is often soaked in sugar and may lack the proper texture. (He doesn’t stop there—you know those cherries they plop into cocktails? He soaks them in his own special brew himself. No maraschinos in sight.)
In addition to serving jerky and spiced nuts, the venue has been doubling as a pop-up restaurant on occasion. The latest event featured beef tartare, garlic scented gambas, curried pork ribs, and a number of desserts for about the same money you’d pay for samgyeopsal. Checkout their Facebook page, Facebook.com/blacklist.seoul to see when the next event will happen. They’ve also just switched over to their summer menu, including drinks with lighter flavor profiles and humidity-killing beverages.
Go there, and Shin Packard—you can call him Chris—might regale you with tales from the seemingly countless places he has lived and which he ticks off like a grocery list—or he might simply serve you a cocktail to his own specifications, which are mighty hard to beat.
It’s a blacklist. But unlike many of the artists mentioned, it may be a boon to you. You’re not shut out. You’re welcomed in.
Add: Itaewon-dong 66-2 3rd floor, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. For Seoul citizens, think Wolfhound street, 3rd floor above the CU.
Hours: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. (minimum). Closed Mondays.