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James Bond  in Seoul

by Robert Reginald

In the James Bond movie “Die Another Day”, Bond escapes from a ship and swims to Hong Kong. In the official novelization of the movie based on the screenplay, Bond swims to South Korea first before making his way to Hong Kong. In South Korea, Bond heads for Itaewon, which is described in the novel as a “semiseedy neighborhood”. Bond’s decision to go to places in Itaewon was understandable considering the fact that he was on the run. However, after reading the novel I thought to myself that if James Bond had come to Seoul on one of his regular assignments, rather than head for the sleaziest places, he would make his way to the most sophisticated and elegant places in the city.

My opinion was confirmed when a friend of mine who works for the Italian secret service monitoring cocktail bars and lounges in Seoul for connections with terrorists who are scheming against Rome’s interests in Asia, was tipped off about James Bond entering the country a few weeks ago and followed his movements in Seoul closely. My friend told me that after landing at Incheon, South Korea’s largest international airport, Bond was picked up by a black sedan with tinted windows and whisked off to the Grand Intercontinental Hotel where he checked in.

The Grand Intercontinental hotel is a five star hotel located near the Sam Sung subway station which is famous for its stylish rooms and bars. Single rooms are around 220,000 won (US$234) a night.

After an hour, Bond emerged from the hotel accompanied by a formally dressed shapely woman of eastern European appearance. Bond and the woman got into a limousine that was parked outside the Hotel. The limo only went a short distance round the block to the “Seven Luck” casino. The couple got out of the limo and entered the casino.

After drinking numerous cups of coffee at a café across the street, my friend spotted Bond leave the casino alone and hail a deluxe taxi. Deluxe taxis (in Korean, “mobeom” taxi) start their fares at 4,000 won (US$4.26) and then progress at a higher rate than regular taxies.

Again on Bond’s tail, my friend followed the taxi which headed south over the Han river, which divides Seoul horizontally, and stopped at the famous  “Gong Eul Gi” restaurant in Apkujong. Apkujong has the reputation of being the playground for the rich and famous in South Korea. The restaurants, bars and clubs are some of the most expensive and elegant in Seoul. The Gong Eul Gi restaurant serves delicious Chinese food in a 1920’s Shanghai motif interior.  

Looking through one of the restaurant’s windows, my friend could see that Bond was shown to a reserved table. Shortly after, Bond was joined by a tall slim Asian woman dressed all in black with an enticingly short mini skirt and wearing leather high heel boots that came up to her knees. After eating, Bond and the woman left the restaurant and got into a silver Mercedes-Benz sports car that had been parked outside. With the wheels spinning in the gravel, the Benz launched onto the road. My friend raced back to his car and initially thought he had lost them. Fortunately, they had been halted at a red light. My friend followed the Benz south to Gangnam.

Gangnam means “south of the river” and can in general refer to the area of Seoul south of the Han river or specifically to the area surrounding the Gangnam subway station. Twenty five years ago, Gangnam was just flat farmland. Today, it is a trendy party district packed with restaurants, cocktail bars, pubs, coffee shops, night clubs and hostess bars.

At the intersection above the Gangnam subway station stands the Tongro building. My friend watched as Bond and his companion entered the building. After waiting a few moments, my friend stepped into the building’s lobby and saw the numbers on the display above the elevator’s door increase, signifying the elevator’s rise. The elevator stopped at the 14th floor. Checking the building’s directory on the wall beside the elevator, my friend saw that this floor was the “Sky Bar Lounge”. The Sky Bar Lounge is a luxurious bar with a great view of Gangnam. Heading up there himself once the elevator had come back down, my friend took a seat at a table at the opposite side of the room to Bond and the woman. He could see that the waiter was bringing two cocktails in conical glasses to Bond’s table. One cocktail a reddish color, perhaps a Cosmopolitan, and the other transparent, presumably a Martini. The waiter placed the transparent cocktail in front of Bond and the reddish one in front of the woman. Bond and his companion talked for a few minutes and then the woman passed a folded sheet of paper to Bond. After opening and glancing at it, he put it inside his jacket pocket. The woman got up from the table. Bond watched her fine form move as she left the bar and then he turned to face the window and gazed out of it as he smoked a cigarette. Bond Looked at his watch and then got up. He tried to pay for the drinks, but was told that they had already been paid for. He then got into the lift and descended.

My friend watched Bond catch a taxi and followed him to the Grand Hyatt hotel, which stands just north of the Han river on Nam mountain. The hotel commands a great view of southern Seoul that is spectacular at night. Bond met a short fat man in the lobby. Bond accompanied the man to the “Paris Grill”, a piano bar on the second floor. Sipping at a glass of cognac and later puffing on a cigar served by a waiter, Bond listened to the fat man talk. After some time had elapsed, Bond and the fat man moved down a floor to J.J. Mahoney’s.

J.J. Mahoney’s at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul is divided into two main rooms, one a stage with live performances, and the other a dance floor. Each of these rooms has its own bar with cocktails starting at around 15,000 won (US$16) and tables where food, as well as liquor, can be consumed. Adjacent to these rooms are smaller rooms with tabled booths that can provide more intimate environments.

Bond and the fat man were shown a table in the live performance room. After food and a bottle of whisky were brought, a blonde woman dressed in tight red clothing came in and sat down. After a few drinks, Bond and the woman headed for the other room where they stood for a while at the railing which surrounds the dance floor and watched the people move to the music. Bond lit a cigarette as his eyes feasted on the beauties moving their lithe forms in front of him.

A waiter offered my friend a drink on the house. Although this seemed a little strange at the time, my friend felt that a drink was just what he needed to take the edge off the nervousness that had developed from a day of concentration. After drinking half of the cocktail quickly, my friend was surprised to find the room begin to tilt as if he was standing on a ship, and then the floor suddenly came up and smacked him in the face.

My friend was later found in a flower bed lining the car park outside. He awoke with a headache, but nothing worse than the kind one can get from a night of heavy drinking. If you have the time, and money, I recommend you go out on a Friday or Saturday night and follow in the footsteps of James Bond, but watch out for the free cocktails.