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Café Onion, Seoul

Seoul is a city that has exploded in the last sixty years. It’s gone through so much change, even in the three years that I’ve been here, that it’s hard to keep track. And so it’s no wonder that, when swanky new high-rise after high-rise goes up, and as Korea’s exports turn more and more to to technological, the old buildings and factories constructed forty years ago get left behind. That was until recently, when people started moving into these dilapidated spaces and turning them into something beautiful. Onion, based in Seongsu-dong, Anguk, and Mia, is one of my favourite cafés, and also one of the most famous of these old-space transformations.

Turning old into new

Onion, a café specialising in amazing breads and pastries, has managed to turn run-down buildings into one of the trendiest places to hang out in Seoul. With their first location in an old, run-down warehouse and the third in an original hanok, Onion specialised in turning old into new, but with the least effort possible. Add a little glass here and some stainless steel there, and there you have the coolest new café in the city.

What I love most about Onion is that despite the three locations being in totally different styles of building, they both contain a lot of history as well as having the exact same whimsical-yet-industrial vibe. Both Onion cafés are simple, clean and beautiful despite not actually being particularly slick or modern, something else that strikes me as being really clever.

It’s the one café in Seoul that I always try to take my visitors to when they come to Korea because of its unique way of blending history and modernity, as well as turning what would usually be considered ugly (run-down concrete buildings) into something charming.

A bakery to match

Onion is a beautiful place to sit and spend time with family or friends, but it also has baked goods to match its interiors. Not only are they beautifully simple (simplistically beautiful?), they *show up* in terms of quality and taste. Onion has some of the best breads of the all the cafés I’ve been to that have more than one location and, despite everything being baked on their separate sites, the quality and flavour remains the same at all their branches.

Some of my favourites are their famous pan d’oro with an actual mountain of icing sugar, the strawberry tart, lemon cake, and the ham and butter baguette (mum and I thought it was cheese– it wasn’t, but I’m a sucker for butter and oh lordy it was good). Paired with their equally delicious drinks, you’re bound for a real treat every time.

Capitalising on the neglect of history?

One thing that I recently was made aware of thanks to this Korea Times article is the gentrification of older areas of Seoul and how it is affecting the buildings. Café Onion has come slighty under fire for this: their Anguk station location, an original hanok, has been modified to fit the café’s aesthetic, thus shortening the lifespan of the old building. While I’m of two minds on this topic (“it’s nice for the buildings to be used and appreciated” vs. “we should be maintaining historical buildings the way they were originally”) I thought it good to make you aware of the concerns surrounding the Anguk location.

The Seongsu-dong location, however, I think has done great things for the area. A place to which not many people used to be drawn has now become a bustling hotspot for cafés, restaurants and galleries. Turning deterioration into artistic architectural features has worked wonders in the eastern neighbourhood of Seoul, bringing business from inside and outside the country.

Onion café in Seoul has become a hotspot for both residents and tourists during the last few years. Its transformation of neglected spaces into dilapidated-modern cafés with delicious, high-quality breads and drinks has solidified its spot as one of the best places in Seoul to visit for a coffee and pastry and, despite the questions surrounding the wellbeing of their hanok location, remains ever-popular among Koreans and foreigners alike.

*All photos are from the Anguk station location.*

Onion Seongsu
Opening hours: Weekdays 8:00 – 22:00, weekends 10:00-22:00 (last orders 21:30).
How to get there: Line 2, Seongsu station, exit 2.
Address: 8, Achasan-ro, 9-gil, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Visit their Instagram: @cafe.onion

Onion Anguk
Opening hours: Weekdays 7:00 – 21:00, weekends 9:00-21:00 (last orders 20:30).
How to get there: Line 3, Anguk station, exit 3.
Address: 5, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Visit their Instagram: @cafe.onion

Onion Mia (not mentioned in this post)
Opening hours: Everyday 10:00 – 22:00 (last orders 21:30).
How to get there: Line 4, Mia station, exit 4.
Address: 55, Seolmae-ro, 50-gil, Gangbuk-gu, Seoul
Visit their Instagram: @cafe.onion

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