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Having lived in Seoul for two years, one of my favorite things was enjoying the never-ending list of themed cafes that dot the South Korean capital. Everything from anime pop-ups to flower cafes to cafes devoted to poo, Seoul had it. And so it should come as no surprise that a Harry Potter cafe would apparate into the trendy Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul eventually. After all, there are a plethora of Harry Potter cafes around the world.
Koreans love Harry Potter; a dedicated new Harry Potter line at the popular clothing store SPAO and their own Quidditch teams are just the tip of the iceberg. Potterheads are rampant there, so a cafe all about the wizarding world was bound to be a big hit. Opening at the end of last year, 943 Kings Cross became the new "it" cafe for locals and tourists alike, all looking to get a snap with a bit of Harry Potter in Korea.
943 King's Cross is not the first Potter cafe in Korea. It's preceded by Po Tid in Busan and Hogsmeade in Daegu, the latter of which has only recently re-opened after a bout with some copyright issues. However, 943 King's Cross is by far the largest of the Korean Harry Potter cafes. There are five floors of magical goodness within these fake brick walls, ripe with Instagram hot spots, cozy British aesthetics, and just enough flirtation with trademarks to make it convincing without breaking any international copyright laws.
I arrived early afternoon on a Monday with my Korean friend, Jenny, in tow; we were joined by Ren, an American attending university in Busan in the south of the country. Despite it being midday on a weekday, there's a line snaking out the door. This is commonplace in Korea, especially when a new cafe or restaurant opens. Everyone wants to check it out and they're not deterred by any wait. So we get in line, checking out the facade and trolley photo spots outside as we wait.
The main appeal here is the various photo zones scattered throughout the cafe. They're so Instagram-worthy that there's a large sign as well as employees at the door making sure people actually purchase something before they take any photographs.
Once we get inside, we're quickly pointed to the counter. The food and drink offerings here are relatively run-of-the-mill Seoul cafe classics: Americanos, various flavored lattes and milk teas, and fruity adeS. On the menu, they promise chocolate wands are coming soon, and on select days there's Butterbeer. Dessert-wise there's a selection of cakes, none of which are themed, save for one: the wizard cake, a mini replica of the birthday cake Hagrid brings to Harry. We ordered the wizard cake for a cool 17,000 Won (around $15), grabbed our pager, and began to explore.
And trust me, there's a lot to explore. Everywhere you turn there's a poster or a reference to something Harry Potter-esque. Quotes in English and Korean line the staircases along with posters and portraits. Even the elevator is fully decked out.
943 Kings Cross is five floors, making it by far the largest Harry Potter cafe in the country. The basement floor is actually a bar, open from 6 PM on. Decorated and named after The Hog's Head, it's dark and moody, scattered with wanted posters of rogue magical creatures and wizards. There's also the telltale hog's actual head.
We head back upstairs to the main room where orders are taken to check out the beginning of the designated photo zones. A full wall of wands grabs one's immediate attention. A group poses on the stairs with a conductor's hat, wand, and various old-looking tomes. Just beyond is a giant mirror, perfect for selfies in your House robes.
The second floor is home to large chandeliers and owl cages overlooking the wand wall and stairs below. On each of the floors, there's seating and a small bar where you can put your dirty dishes, as well as get water, sweeteners, napkins, and the like. Despite having waited outside for so long, there are tons of empty tables and chairs. Quite a number of people have come to camp out for the day with their laptops and books. It's a cozy place.
The third floor comes across as a cross between The Great Hall and a pub. Long, old wooden tables are dotted with ornate candelabras dripping with wax. It's here that we park ourselves, the excited murmuring of a group of Chinese tourists mixing with an enthusiastic couple trying to get the best photos by the fireplace set up.
Cozy chairs flank the fake but relatively charming fireplace topped with bottles meant to be potions and elixirs. It's the little details, once you notice them, that bring the Harry Potter to this place. The doe's head above the mantle did give me a moment's pause, however. Grim.
The Sorcerer's Stone soundtrack does play overhead, but it's the only official Harry Potter element of the entire place. I don't find myself minding that much, as a great deal of care and interest has gone into this place and it's delighting fans in Korea. In the end, that's what matters.
It's not overt; they're clearly trying to skirt the trademark line here. After all, it's called 943 King's Cross, not 9 ¾ King's Cross. Nothing inside is directly taken from Harry Potter. Even many of the books aren't even remotely related; the bookcase on our floor has The Babysitter's Club, for instance.
But that doesn't stop anyone from enjoying the magic or picking up an old looking English language book and posing with it in a big ol' chair. I find myself playing with the wax on the table, surprised they're using real candles, when our pager goes off.
Both Hogsmeade in Daegu and Po Tid in Busan are small, cozy one-room cafes with their own Harry Potter nods and trappings. They're cute, and I'd happily fly to Busan to get the cookies at Po Tid any day, but there's no escaping the grandeur that King's Cross presents. Even in a cafe-obsessed city as Seoul, you don't usually find massive places like this.
Jenny returns with our goodies, and we all coo over the "wizard cake." It's a darn good likeness, and I had always wondered what the cake Hagrid made actually tasted like. According to King's Cross, it's a spongy chocolate cake with a cloyingly sweet strawberry frosting. Is it the best? No. It's is adorable and suitably Potter-esque? You bet.
The drinks are nothing to write home about, but that's not why anyone is here. Ren, Jenny, and I dig into the cake and finish our coffees before setting out to the fourth floor: the dormitories.
I'm always up for a unique seating arrangement. So how about some beds? Because that's what you'll be sitting on when you come up to this floor. And it's packed. Four poster beds act as elevated tables up here, surrounding a decorated carpeted area. It's still set up from Christmas, but it adds to the magical atmosphere.
This is the main photo zone. There are all four House robes to choose from, as well as scarves, wands, and a broom. That is if people are actually following the rules. The prop items are supposed to stay on the fourth floor and you have three minutes, but, again, these rules aren't exactly enforced.
This is how you get into a slightly awkward altercation with two high school Korean girls who have taken half of the props to take photos around the cafe and are now back in line while everyone else in front of them has to pretend they all wanted to be Hufflepuff from the get-go.
Given that it's still relatively new, they're working some kinks out in terms of crowd control, what they're offering, and how to run things. I suspect in a month or two they'll have more to offer in terms of their menu as well as props and areas to take themed photos. All that said, it's still a great cafe to check out and hang out in, especially if you're a Harry Potter fan. I highly suggest the Hog's Head in the basement for an evening drink.
So if you're looking for a unique cafe and like Harry Potter, head to 943 King's Cross for coffee, cake, and photos galore.
Who knows what magic is in store.
943 Kings Cross Harry Potter cafe opening hours are Tuesday to Friday from 11:30AM to 9:30PM and 9:30AM to 10:00PM on the weekend. The cafe is closed on Mondays.
서울특별시 마포구 서교동 417
417 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul