I’m in the most stunning coffeeshop I’ve ever seen. Drinks are 8,500 won, which is about twice the price of a typical coffee shop (e.g. Starbucks or Cafe Bene) in Seoul. For a little extra context, you can get a legitimate meal in most areas of Seoul for 7,000 won. Yet 8,500 for a coffee s is normal for Gangnam’s other boutique spots, and in some ways this coffeeshop is just on par with others in the area. There’s something different here though, and I think it’s the sheer size of the place.
Cafe Alver is its own four-floor building just off of one of the main streets in Gangnam. The place is Ikea in size but Eames in style. Four floors of unadulterated style. Entering the coffeeshop is a little like walking into someone’s gated estate. A ridiculously long “driveway” of finely manicured plants, a heavy double door, and floor to ceiling windows that all come together to say, “I’m going to look at you long and hard before I decide whether you’re elite enough to walk into this place.”
The four levels feature things like reclaimed wood conference tables that seat 12, Scandinavian style wood tables surrounded by fine leather chairs and couches, high ceilings, and wide stairwells that link each of the four floors in grand entrances.
People in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties surround me and even though it’s the middle of the workday, no one here is working except me. They’re dressed casually, but in that way where you’re sure their no logo t-shirts cost more than a small downpayment on a house in some areas of the world. (It’s all about the stitching, right?)
The coffee culture in Seoul is different than it is in the U.S. Cafes are meant for long chats, and in Gangnam they are also meant for taking pictures.
There’s a model catwalking across the wood floor and outdoor promenade. She’s 5’10 and only 90 pounds or so, but her heels are clicking with every step like she’s the next big thing. Her boyfriend is taking pictures as if she doesn’t already get paid to look good. First standing, then sitting, then sitting in another pose. First the silver chair, now the red one, oh wait, how about one in front of this expensive piece of art that’s leaning on the brick wall? Everything here is about getting it exactly right.
The rest of the coffeeshop is filled with groups of girlfriends and couples. There are maybe 40 people in here but the space is so big it feels half empty. Everyone, save for one woman wearing a maroon shirt, is dressed entirely in black and white. Cell phones are either attached to everyone’s hands or sitting just inches away. No one’s ringers are on, but they all have the snapping sound of their camera on loud. The electronic shutter sound of phone selfies is like a snare drum on repeat, a regular part of the coffeeshop’s regular soundtrack.
As I check off client tasks I can’t help but notice the couple in front of me. They’re in their late 20’s and have been here lounging through the workday. The girl is barefoot, lying across the brown leather Eames couch and reading a hardcover book. Her boyfriend picks up his phone to take pictures of them about once every ten minutes. In the in betweens he plays on his phone, but mostly he plays with her hair and watches her read. After awhile he interrupts her sweetly. She sits up and leans into the nook of his shoulder, and he holds up his phone for her.
The screen lights up with pictures of them in the coffeeshop. Him admiring her, her reading, the occasional kiss or loving look. A picture with one of the chandeliers in the background. Another with them upside down on the couch. The entire slideshow is timed to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
The woman in the couple next to me motions to her boyfriend. She’s wrapped in one of the flannel-patterned alpaca blankets that the coffeeshop provides for anyone who is chilled by the air conditioning. He doesn’t seem concerned about the competition. In this chandelier clad coffeeshop. “no wind, no rain, no storm can stop [anyone] now.”
Welcome to Gangnam-gu Seoul (강남구 테헤란로 (역삼동)). This is the picturesque life.
If you ever make it to Seoul, I highly recommend you check this place out. The wifi is fast (a special connection for each level) and the treats are amazing.
Address: Seoul Gangnam Yeoksam-Dong 618-11
서울특별시 강남구 역삼동 618-11