Midtown Manhattan is an underrated neighborhood. The cacophony of the flash and pop of Times Square, tourists magnets like Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, and the bustle of Grand Central Terminal may get the lion’s share of attention, but if you know where to look — and we do! — Midtown offers some surprisingly fun and refreshing diversions for an afternoon or an evening.
Case in point: Koreatown, which sits in the center of the busy island of Manhattan. Located between Fifth and Sixth avenues in the low-30s streets, “K-Town,” as most locals refer to it, is a movable (Korean-accented) feast with 24-hour restaurants, karaoke bars hidden a few floors above street level, and all manner of pampering spas.
There’s something here for everyone, and after a short time you’ll forget that Times Square shares a neighborhood with this exciting swath of Midtown where you can live it up Gangnam style.
Start off any K-Town foray with a quick bite to eat at Han Bat, a 24-hour traditional Korean restaurant. Inside the fast-paced eatery, plop down at a table and get ready for a feast: Start with blood sausage, a typical Korean night-market snack, before moving on to bibimbap, a potpouri of palate pleasing delights — think marinated pork, kimchi, assorted veggies and an egg — all in one bowl.
If that doesn’t catch your eye (or taste buds), head a few blocks down to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, a new-ish spot that specializes in Korean barbecue. Order some raw meat and then cook it right at your table. Wash it down with some delicious makgeolli, an affordable unfiltered rice wine that is always served from a tin pot.
Speaking of music, no visit to K-Town would be complete without a karaoke session. Ascend to third-floor Gagopa, which keeps the music spinning until 4 a.m, to sing and dance your way to some Koreatown magic.
There are 20,000 songs (in English, Korean, Spanish and other languages) to choose from. Whether your music of choice is soul or Seoul tunes, you’re guaranteed to have some fun (and perhaps a slightly sore throat) from this temple of karaoke.
As your food digests, settle into Aura Wellness Spa, located on West 33rd Street, for some pampering and beauty time that only a Korean spa can conjure up. This high-tech, three-level spa is 12,000 square feet of igloo saunas, steam rooms and relaxation areas. Services include everything from massage to teeth whitening.
Afterward, stop into Koryo Books, your headquarters for all things K-pop culture. Browse through the cards and books, and you can even pick up a CD or record of your favorite (or a Koryo Books employee’s favorite) K-pop artist.
The Late-Night Munchies
And perhaps you’ve built up an appetite from all that spa-relaxation and singing. One of the best spots for late-night dining in this small slice of a neighborhood is Pocha 32. Not many non-locals bother with this place because they walk right by the stairwell leading up to its second floor domain. But head upstairs and you’ll find there’s a perpetual party happening here.
The specialty at Pocha is large-format stews, filled with spicy kimchi and tender pork. Make sure to order a soju, the Korean version of sake, which arrives wading in a half-cut-out watermelon. It’s the perfect party accompaniment to the hearty fare here and a great way to celebrate a fine day in Midtown, feeling like you’ve ensconced yourself in Asia, far, far away from the bright lights of Times Square and the bustle of yellow cabs racing down Fifth Avenue.