Review: The Oak & Barley

by Michael Hanrahan Photo by Michael Hanrahan
Groove Korea (

The Oak and Barley is nearly perfect. They’ve set out to have delicious beer, great whiskies, and interesting Indian-fusion bar food and they’ve come damn close to nailing it.

On the beer front you’re looking at paying 7,500 – 12,000 won for carefully selected, hard-to-find craft beers (and those beers are 2,000 won cheaper from 6-9p.m. every day).  They have all their bases covered: From light pilsners to dark porters, and hoppy IPAs to Chimay on tap (!).

Some of the notable standouts are: the Heretic’s Hazelnut Porter. It’s strong and full with chocolate and caramel flavors but doesn’t leave you feeling like you just finished Christmas dinner. The Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale is crisp, perfectly bitter and malty with just an undertone of fruit on the nose. Vunderbar! Pilsner, also from Smuttynose, is a truly outstanding pilsner.

Again, whoever chose the beers for Oak and Barley outdid themselves and somehow managed to get the beers in at a very reasonable price.

Also available is a long list of fantastic single-malt Scotch whiskies with selections from the Lowlands, Islay (although, disappointingly, there is no Lagavulin) and the Highlands. Scotch lovers of all biases can find a delicious choice here.

If neither craft beer nor whiskey appeal to you, there are the usual suspects of cocktails and also craft beer cocktails (10,000 won each).

Oak and Barley’s food (from 5,000 won for fries to 18,000 won for a full order of tandoori chicken, most orders are 10-12,000 won) calling for the “nearly” perfect qualifier on Oak and Barley overall.

Their Indian classics plus some South-Asian takes on traditional bar food are a welcomed addition to the kind of bar food that dominates in Seoul. The buffalo chicken burger is a menu highlight. The chicken was perfectly juicy with a crispy batter wonderfully spiced with curry. Sriracha mayo was the trendy sauce that perfectly completed the sandwich. Other options include a bland but acceptable curry and equally bland and mild tandoori chicken. The new approach to bar food is commendable, but it may take some time and tweaking for the food to measure up to the rest of the bar’s excellence.

Oak and Barley’s atmosphere nearly makes up for the lumps in the current quality of the food menu. It’s a cozy place, tucked up in the third floor on the south street behind the main road of Itaewon. There’s wood paneling behind the bar, chalkboard walls, and a good view out the large window, which is lined with stools suitable for wistful gazing. It comes together to make a warm, inviting space that is perfect for warming one’s cockles through the cold winter months.

There’s a real dartboard tucked back near the kitchen, high (very high, petite people may complain) stools and tables, and a long wooden bar making each section feel intimate and warm. The laconic but obliging barkeep is the perfect presence to bring it all together making the Oak and Barley the kind of place you want to haunt.

Getting there:

Subway: Itaewon Station Exit 4; walk south on Bogwang-ro and turn right Bogwang-ro 59-gil (The south-side backstreet) and the pub is up on the 3rd floor. There’s a ground-floor sign for it.)

Address: 66-2 Itaewon-Dong 3rd Floor, Seoul
Phone: 010-8689-5047

Ambiance: 4.5/5
Food: 3/5
Beer: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Value: 4.5/5
Score: 4.5/5

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