The heart and Seoul of South Korea is its capital city, pulsating with energy that sends rushes to the rest of the world one k-pop beat at a time. Known as the Korean wave, the global phenomenon is South Korea’s big export of pop culture, entertainment, music, and film. To dance in Gangnam, dress in traditional costume for a day walking around old palaces, or spend late nights grilling meat for supper, is to immerse yourself in the Korean experience. It’s the sense of the people and a way of life that captures you.
On a recent trip to Korea, we checked into Ryse Hotel, a hotel that’s won accolades in just its first year standing. And the reality of business travel is that you don’t spend as much time as you’d please outside your hotel – to be in the actual destination. Ryse, as it fortunately turned out, is Seoul within four walls.
Ryse doesn’t have a pool, nor a spa. Heck, it doesn’t even have a check-in counter on the ground floor. But while every other hotel does, Ryse has everything they don’t — like a sneaker concierge.
The hotel sits in the young, trendy area of Hongdae, one populated with college students as well as young artists and designers. With its dark facade and constant flow of foot traffic in and out the glass doors, the building seems to alert you that something cool awaits inside. And there is. It’s as if you’re stepping into a community centre; everyone is invited to the little bakery and coffee house, Tartine, and the energy of the streets are adopted through art like concrete wall hangings, a contrast to the bright, shiny pink floors.
“People have no idea it’s a hotel sometimes,” agrees Jaisun Ihm, General Manager of Ryse hotel. The two “Jasons” of the hotel are made up of Jaisun and Jason Schlabach, Brand Director. Operations Jaisun and brand Jason, as they call themselves while taking us on a tour of the hotel.
Art imitating life
We have to talk more about the art — it’s everywhere. While we were there, we met local artist Taeyoon Kim, who creates media visual art for the hotel. Cameras are placed around the hotel to capture the vibrancy of the city; footage merged with those pulled from social media hashtags relevant to Hongdae. In that sense, everyone is contributing to the art in real time — different day, different zest. Taeyoon turns these into unpredictable, distorted loops displayed on screens. You’ll never know you’re in it.
Ryse is a brand that knows Seoul and its people on a deeper level. Jaisun and his team are, well, cool — well-weaved in the circles of art and design which gives them an edge in showcasing the authenticity of Seoul. Jaisun shares, “Our partnerships need to feel natural. When we work with someone, we try to think of it this way: would we sit down and have a drink with this person?”
Making the cut are three top bartenders who cultivate Side Note, the hotel’s rooftop bars that’s become a staple hangout. Or Cody Hudson, a big time Chicago-based artist who stayed at the hotel for weeks painting pieces of organic shapes seen hanging as an installation at the lobby.
Right now it’s Kohei Nawa, an artist from Japan. Arario Gallery is the hotel’s own art space for exhibitions. Taking place at current is Vessel, which runs till 21 July 2019, and will leave an impact on you. Imagine walking through complete darkness illuminated only by glittering human sculptures in a sort of dance of the underworld. There’s music too — a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by sound artist Marihiko Hara.
The community essence of Ryse makes this hotel different to any other Marriott hotel anywhere in the world. Literally, it has to be just that, or it wouldn’t be classified as an Autograph Collection hotel. The category of specific hotel is Marriott International’s niche of hotels with each a distinct character. You wouldn’t find Ryse’s branding anywhere else, just as your wouldn’t find the two others in Kuala Lumpur that are The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Hotel Stripes anywhere else.
Get a room (or a suite)
Ryse was born of a parent company in the concrete business. Keeping it in the family, the hotel retains that subtle industrial feel. But to group it as such, is a low ball for Ryse. The 14 suites have their own markings and personality thanks to the input of various designers and their visions.
The most requested room is the Presidential Suite designed by Yeojoo Park. Interestingly, it’s a room similar to others, but with one tiny change that’s made all the difference: tinted windows with coloured glass.
But, if you’re after the most prestigious accommodation, it’s got to be the Executive Producer Suite. “No one books a presidential suite so we tore down the walls and made it an event space,” Jason explains. What they have now, is a 217-square meter gallery-styled space that takes up half of the 20th floor. Amenities include a DJ table, vinyl collection anda soaking tub for six people. It’s booked out for Seoul Fashion Week and musicians have even held impromptu performances here. And it’s good enough for Sam Smith and his people.
On a side note (unrelated to the actual rooftop bar, Side Note), there’s a shop right next to Worksout, called Playground Brewery. You’ll find craft beer, spicy sausages, kimchi, and such. Think of it as a drunk 7-11; home to local craft beer bearing cool names like “Last Night” and “Hug Me”. At night, Playground has a New York deli vibe and youngsters from around the neighbourhood come in for drinks and fun.
But there’s no place like Long Chim, the hotel’s only other restaurant. A dinner here and you’ll see why they don’t need another — led by chef David Thompson of Michelin-starred Nahm. Chef David brings a high-end Thai street food concept to the hotel, paired perfectly with Playground’s craft beer. You just can’t beat the combo of street food and beer, but there’s still a fix of Korean cuisine on the menu. Long Chim has also been selected for Michelin Guide Seoul 2019.
It all worksout
“Worksout was our first official partnership, before the hotel itself was even completed,” revealed Jason as he takes us to a boutique outside of Ryse. This streetwear store carries brands like Carhartt Work in Progress, Vans, Reigning Champ, Obey, and Brixton. Of course, there’ the art. Designed by an Italian architect named Andrea Caputo who has worked with brands like Nike and Slam Jam, Worksout’s decor features Italian antiques cut in half. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs, and in this hotel, you can even purchase a bathrobe for dogs.
You’ll find the said robe on the 3rd floor where the actual check-in counter is located. Within this space is also a library, thought out to reflect the publishing district in Korea, Mapo. But instead of novels, they’ve stocked magazines and artist-made books. As Jason explains, these hard copies are more approachable than heavy books, and so they display curious, even strange-looking reads enticing enough to make you want to pick them up. Jason himself is the art director of an indie magazine titled ‘Bite Me’, created by him and his wife and available in some suites.
So now you know
- Seoul on your radar? Here are a few final travel tips:
– The best time to go is during spring from mid-March to June, or between September and November for autumn.
- – Don’t leave your manners at home but in Korea, tipping the wait staff at restaurants is not commonly practiced.
– Get a T-money card which you can use reload and use to pay at convenience stores, trains, and even for cabs.
– Visas are not required for Malaysian passport holders travelling to South Korea for less than 90 days.