Savoring Seoul: Curb Appeal at Cafe Mo’Better Blues

Meagan Mastriani recently returned to Daehangno, Seoul’s quirky theater district, on a cold winter afternoon perfect for a hot drink.
By Meagan Mastriani

I recently returned to Daehangno, Seoul’s quirky theater district, on a cold winter afternoon perfect for a hot drink. This time I visited a remodeled coffee stop that is so popular there was actually a short waiting time for tables. I had never heard of Cafe Mo’Better Blues before stumbling upon it in a quiet alley, and I was immediately struck by its gorgeous architecture and popularity. I mean, how often do coffee shops have a waiting list?

Photo by Yum Seung Hoon

Cafe Mo’Better Blues is about 15 years old, though it began as a humble one-story cafe and bar. It wasn’t until 2009 that the new, three-story building was constructed by Modo Architect Office. It’s a stunning structure that’s impossible to miss. It beckons wanderers like myself to come in and have a look around.

Inside, the decor is equally artful, with vintage touches, comfy couches, and large portraits of blues legends in bold colors. Despite being filled to capacity, the cafe was surprisingly mellow. Each table was filled with studious university students, friends chatting quietly, or couples gazing into each other’s eyes. Given that there’s no shortage of cafes in the area, I wondered: Why the crowd? What’s so special about Cafe Mo’Better Blues?

The menu fare was pretty standard — the usual espresso drinks, waffles, cake, etc. My vanilla latte and tiramisu were good, though not very different from the lattes and cakes I’ve had at any other place. The food and drink were definitely the comfort I needed on a cold day, but they didn’t seem like the main attraction. Hungry travelers could find the same options a few doors down at a less-crowded coffee shop.

Although the theme is music, there have never been any live jazz shows, as far as I could tell. No erudite DJ spinning his ultra-rare blues records. Not even a photo of some famous musician sipping espresso on one of their couches.

I kept waiting to discover the big secret behind this cafe’s astounding success. But after spending the afternoon there, I realized there wasn’t one. Cafe Mo’Better Blues is just an average, though decent, cafe with a lot of curb appeal.

At first, I was a bit disappointed to conclude that Mo’Better Blues’ popularity was based primarily on its good looks. I felt a pang of shame in admitting that I, too, had come because of the facade. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t such a shameful thing. After all, I had gotten the coffee I wanted. I hadn’t sacrificed anything by choosing Mo’Better Blues. If any coffee shop on the street can offer you the steaming cup of joe you need, then why shouldn’t you go to the prettiest one? What’s so bad about being beautiful?

One foodie tendency is to seek out the undiscovered “hole in the wall” — you know, the place that doesn’t look like much but has amazing food. But have we fetishized ugly restaurants? Is it shallow to want eateries to be visually appealing? Honest Cooks, what do you think? When making dining decisions, how important are aesthetics to you?

Meagan Mastriani

Meagan Mastriani is a culinary photoblogger living in Seoul, South Korea. As a lover of the city's flourishing independent cafe scene, she spends much of her time exploring backstreets to find hidden treasures. With an eye for art and design, she is usually attracted to places that are both visually and gustatorily pleasing. She invites friends and fellow food enthusiasts to join in her adventures as she discovers the best that local eateries have to offer and hopes to entice you to visit her beloved city.

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