Totally Texan mixology

by Shelley DeWees
Groove Korea (

Robbie, Austin, Johnny and Philip are Texas men with a Texas bar, right in the heart of... not Texas. Where you’d expect to see cowboy boots, tumbleweeds and rough-n-tumble customers clomping around on wooden slat floors, there are instead smiling foreigners in sneaks and scarves, gazing out onto the busy Noksapyeong neighborhood, kickin’ it with their friends among leather and iron and a tin ceiling that belongs in a grain silo. Some of them are chomping on barbecue or dipping chips, but they’re all tucking into perfectly mixed concoctions from these four stud muffins, a Pink Dolphin, a Bruce Lee, a Keenan and Kel, or maybe a mint and elderflower Barton Springs (their most popular cocktail). But whether their patrons are eating or drinking or both, one thing’s for sure: they’re all fixin’ to sidle up and do nothin’ for at least two hours here in the swank spread of the Southside Parlor.

“Most of our first customers knew us from our old taco truck, Three Kings,” says Philip, a cheerful guy in a vest and not one shred of outward evidence pointing to his Texan heritage. “We used to park our truck in Hongdae and sell tacos and cocktails like crazy till 4 a.m. We loved it, they loved it, but we knew we couldn’t hold onto those hours for long.” So when people started asking them to come sell at parties and weddings, they saw an opportunity to kick off something entirely new.

This open attitude toward start-ups is Robbie’s favorite thing about Korea. He chimes in, a bespectacled and suspendered public relations graduate: “Seoul is the perfect place to be creative. People here are so receptive to new ideas. It’s easy to start something new when you see the space for it in the market. We were tired of paying nine dollars for crappy cocktails, so we thought others probably were too.” Three Kings got busy that year, but their cocktail catering offshoot venture, Southern Sons, really took off. “People were very receptive to our food, but our drinks especially. We were crazy busy.”

They laugh. They explain how fast it happened, how much has changed for them in the past year, how random occurrences led to others that led to others still, until they found themselves signing on a new business property and scheduling a soft opening. “We all left our jobs,” Philip says with a grin, “moved into new apartments, and I even got married. It’s been a hell of a year.” Yet here they sit, comfortable and composed, asking me if I’m ready for a drink.

Well, okay.

Having already confessed my affinity for gin and tonic, Philip leans forward and asks if I’ve ever had a real one. “Um...yes?” I answer, wondering what it is that makes a gin and tonic real. He laughs, stands up and leads me behind the counter to show me what’s what. “We’ve just recently started making our own tonic,” he explains, showing me the special quinine syrup, “so this’ll be a gin and tonic like you’ve never had.” He carefully measures some caramel-colored quinine, Tanqueray gin and soda water, then tops everything off with an artful curl of lime zest and a splash of juice. Done.

I sip. I sip again. I love. It really was the best gin and tonic I’d ever had, light and refreshing, perfect for a chilly evening among my fellow expatriates. As things got busier and more people filed in, I watched as the friendly bros I’d been visiting with turned to the business of business, choreographing their attentive mixology ways behind their big, broad, Texas bar, carrying towering plates of “piggy chips” and smoked brisket to their hungry customers and chatting incessantly with anyone who’ll listen. The cowboy boots are far away, but the Texas spirit is in. To stay.

Walk out Noksapyeong Station, exit 1. When you exit the station, look to your left for a pedestrian overpass. Take the stairs up and over, then turn left when you reach the other side and walk down the hill. Southside Parlor is located on the fourth floor of a building labeled “Happy Bldg,” just beyond the small English bookstore, on the right-hand side. You’ll see Thunder Burger on the first floor of the same building. The stairs to cocktail contentment are off to the left.

Groove Korea website

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