Seongsudong (성수동), crammed in between Seoul Forest and an elevated part of the line 2 subway, is a rough neighborhood bustling with activity. Car repair shops, metal workshops, and several other light industries make this part of Seoul quite noisy and busy indeed. It is not an area where you'll stroll comfortably while taking in the sights. Walking here means being constantly on the lookout if a car or motorbike is not about to run you over.
Seongsudong is described by several websites as "the Brooklyn of Seoul." Since I have never been to the US, let alone Brooklyn, I can't judge that comparison. I can compare it to my own hometown though (Zaanstad, a small industrial town just above Amsterdam), and there are some similarities. Both have very ugly and boring areas, but between those there are some very interesting repurposed industrial buildings. The neighborhood lends itself perfectly for street photography, due to the contrast of daily working life and colorful art.
One of those repurposed buildings is the former factory/warehouse where the cafe/art gallery Daelim Changgo (대림창고) is located in. The building itself is made of red bricks, which is quite unique in Seoul, where the majority of the buildings are made of concrete. From the outside it looks like there isn't a cafe at all. If I didn't know better I would have walked straight past, thinking its just another industrial building. It's when you peek through the big wooden doors that you realize that there is a huge cafe inside. That alone gives this cafe a very different vibe than most other cafes.
Inside there are two big halls with seats and a top floor with some seats as well. Although quite big, due to the popularity of the place there isn't enough seating to accommodate everyone. I was there on a morning during the week and it was filling up quickly. It is much worse in the weekend, when a long line will form outside. There are exhibitions in the weekends as well, which attract even more crowds and may come with an entrance fee to enter the building. One of my friends that went there on a weekend, told me that the cafe was asking for an entrance fee, even though every seat was occupied. So plan accordingly if you want to visit.
The interior of Daelim Changgo has a hipster/artsy vibe, which somehow really fits the building. The owners tried to keep the warehouse look by fixing it just enough to be useable as a cafe. There are trees growing inside the building, which give the place an abandoned building look.
Although Daelim Changgo is the main attraction of the area, there are other interesting sights that you could go see if you have some more time. Another repurposed building is the former metal working shop where Veranda Industrial is housed. Veranda Industrial is an interior design firm, which uses the building as a exhibition space and shop.
If Daelim Changgo is too crowded or not to your taste, there are also several other cafes in the neighborhood where you can have a drink. There are a few in the same street as Daelim Changgo, and one is on the opposite site of Veranda Industrial.
Besides sitting in a cafe getting buzzed on caffeine, exploring the neighborhood can be quite fun if you are into street photography. Seongsudong is like a sea of mundane buildings with little islands of art. The neighborhood harbors some very interesting murals, but everything is scattered so you have to explore a bit to find them.
Seongsudong used to be a shoemaker district before globalization killed it. Luckily, there are still shoemakers that managed to survive and they are concentrated around Seongsu Station. There is a street with a few independent shoe shops where you can buy hand made shoes for reasonable prices. It also has some street art to liven the place up a little.
How to get there
Take subway line 2 and get out at Seongsu Station (성수역). To get straight at Daelim Changgo, get out at Exit 3 and turn right just before the zebra. Follow the road until you get at an intersection. Croos the zebra right in front of you and then the one on your left. You are now in front of Daelim Changgo. Walk to the right to get to the entrance. Click here to see a video with directions.
Address: 322-32, Seongsudong 2 ga, Seongdonggu, Seoul (서울특별시 성동구 성수동2가 322-32)