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Note #68: The smoke clears (2012.4.27)

Life has been a bit more hectic than expected, and although I have come close to putting fingers to keyboard and pounding out another entry here, I have not yet managed it. I do want to write a follow-up to my previous post, although this follow-up will not be entirely about the plagiarism issue—I think it is only fair to look at the bigger picture, because in the end the plagiarism was just the fuse in a much larger powder keg. But I will save that for next time, as it will require some research and thought, so it isn’t really something I can whip up on a whim.

Today I just want to give a shout-out to my “regular” pub in Itaewon, the Wolfhound. I usually don’t shill, but I really think they deserve a mention for a change they made to the establishment recently. Last night my wife and I made a trip to Itaewon, ostensibly to pick up some ingredients for dishes we’re going to prepare for a friend’s birthday party on Sunday, but of course while we were there we got something to eat and decided to have a drink, too. After having a few meat pies at Jester’s, we walked around for a bit, trying to decide where to have that drink. We pretty much always end up at the Wolfhound, so we thought we would try something different, but after three or four places that were too full, had a less-than-stellar selection of beers, or for whatever reason didn’t tickle our fancy, we decided to just head to our old standby.

I’ve always liked the Wolfhound because they have a good selection of beers and excellent food, and it doesn’t seem to be as crowded as places like Three Alley, at least earlier in the evening. When we walked in last night at around half past seven, there were still a number of tables open on the first floor. As we sat down at a table at the far end, Hyunjin commented that the place was relatively smoke-free. “Yeah,” I said, “People will probably start smoking later. We’ll just leave before then.”

But even as I said that, I began to realize that something was different: it wasn’t just that people weren’t smoking, there was no smell of smoke at all. If you’ve ever been in a pub you know what I’m talking about—the smoke gets everywhere, and the place smells like smoke whether people are lighting up at that moment or not. But it was like no one had been smoking for a long time. Then Hyunjin (whose seat faced out toward the room, as etiquette demands) looked up and said, “They banned smoking here.” I just laughed and said, “That’s impossible.” But then I turned around and noticed that there were indeed “no smoking” signs on the walls. It was like Christmas morning.

One of the (many) things I have loved about going back to New York for a visit in recent years is being able to go out for a drink with friends and family and not come home smelling like an ash tray. In Korea, though, it was the price you had to pay if you wanted to drink in public. Smoking has definitely become less popular over the years—when I first came to Korea, guys who didn’t smoke were called “natural monuments” because they were so rare—but pubs have been a bastion of smoking culture. This is not to say that there aren’t places in Korea where you can get a drink without having to suck down smoke, but pubs (i.e., places that primarily sell beer) are not among these places. At least until now.

The Wolfhound does have an advantage over other pubs, something that I think might have made it easier for them to make the change: there are two floors in the establishment. The second floor still allows smoking, but the first floor (where we’ve always sat anyway) is now smoke-free. The bathrooms are still on the second floor, so there is that, but I’m fine with braving the smoke for a minute or so when necessary if I can go back down to a smoke-free environment to enjoy my beer and food. The smokers have their place, we have ours, and everyone lives in harmony.

I don’t know if other places in Itaewon are following suit, but it would be nice if this were a trend. When our waitress came over, she told us that the first floor has been smoke-free for about two months. We don’t get out to Itaewon very often (especially with life being as hectic as it has been lately), but when we are out in that neighborhood and looking for a pint, I know where we’ll be going. Not that the Wolfhound wasn’t already our regular place, but now we have even more reason to patronize them.

I don’t have great hopes for this becoming a nationwide trend, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it spread a little. If you live in Korea and happen to know of other bars (either in Itaewon or elsewhere) that are non-smoking or have viable non-smoking sections, let me know. I’d definitely be interested in hearing about them.

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