Jazz Story

Jazz Story — An Adult Dreamworld

It's always half-past eight at Jazz Story, and that's exactly the way you want it to be: You have the whole blessed evening ahead to enjoy the music, the conversation, and the eclectic decor.

Like pitchforks speared through wax-dripping candles, and upside-down bicycle suspended from the ceiling, and a clock whose hands never move, freezing the cafe in perpetual eight thirtyness.

Jazz Story, located in Samchong-dong, some 500 meters from Kyongbok Palace, opened a year ago and has quickly won a loyal following. Not because of its prices — a bottle of beer will set you back about $6 and a humble cup of coffee will cost you $5. But no one seems to mind. Ambience and good jazz don't have a price tag. This place has plenty of both.

My first trip into the intimate, log cabin-like atmosphere of the hangout was in the afternoon for coffee. I knew immediately I'd come back again — at night. I figured the babe grand piano, fireplace, and pools of dried wax were proof Jazz Story's best side ventures out after nightfall. I was right.

The disadvantage of going to the cafe during the day is that you can't linger. Your mind can't fully appreciate the random assortment of clutter that graces the walls if you have to go back to a fluorescent-lit office.

Your body can't relax in the deep chairs if it knows a desk chair is in its near future.

Most of all, you can't hear the music, which starts nightly at 8:00.

Jazz Story's music and decor go together like beer and the salted nuts they serve to munch on. Each makes the other seem more complete. Who can resist smiling when they hear "As Time Goes By" played on the baby grand and bass cello while sipping red wine in warm candlelight?

Though Korean coffeeshop culture has its advantages, Jazz Story is a welcome alternative: no overstuffed sofas, no telephones on the tables, and best of all, no Korean pop that makes you feel like you've drunk 14 cups of coffee and eaten 10 candybars. Jazz Story feels subdued, mature, and truly unique.

The fact that Buddhist monks may be sitting at a table across the room only reinforces the fact that the place offers something for everyone. Best of all, it doesn't take itself too seriously. How can it, with mannequin bodies and old television consoles stacked behind the galss wall next to the bathroom?

What is serious are the prices. A plate of buffalo wings runs $24 and sweet and sour beef is a cool $36. Other advice: head there with a full stomach and enjoy just the beer, wine, or coffee.

Though the clock doesn't let on, the evening does progress while listening to cool jazz from the late 1950s, a la John Coltrane and Chet Baker. When the piano player and bassist take a break, the cafe's DJ picks up the slack, playing tunes from the hundreds of albums that fill an entire wall of the place.

We weren't sure if the albums were just something the owners bought wholesale to fill space. Apparently not — within seconds of our request, the DJ was playing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," an album Rolling Stone magazine ranked as one of the ten best of all time.

Later in the evening, when we were really relaxed, a Korean woman took over at the piano. Her silken voice blew us all away. We had been ready to leave, but the performance held us captive. The songs — more cool jazz — seemed to slide out of her mouth. We didn't think it was possible for the night to get any better, but it did. Even though it was almost midnight.

Kate Wiltrout
Korea Times Weekender