This place was different. Ordinarily, I would have passed by a two-story concrete building in Sinsa-dong without a second thought, but the plastic dog gate entrance and a sign reading “Grr” caught my eye. The moment I made my way up the steps, I was greeted by a Siberian Husky with a massive tongue panting for dear life. Bending down to show that I came in peace, I lowered my hand beneath its snout. Within seconds we made nice and I continued on after a couple of strokes around its ear.
Grr breaks Seoul’s social norm of minding one’s own business in public spaces. Integrating dogs diffuses the reluctance of being acquainted with those around you.
Just inside the glass door, chic leather leashes hung in lieu of coats on metal hooks. My eyes fell to the floor, where I spotted water bowls. What is this place? To my surprise, I soon learned that this cafe full name is “Grr, Coffee and the Dog,” and it’s a space to enjoy exactly those two things. Not only is there an assortment of treats for both patrons and their pets, there’s a carefully curated selection of espresso-based drinks. When ordering an Americano, it’s standard for the server to ask if you would like it light, medium or strong.
Although the cafe is dominated by heavy concrete and raw, exposed brick, the décor of wood and wicker furniture, plush upholstered couches and strategically placed plants soften the industrial blow. There’s a generous amount of patio seating on both floors exhibiting a fusion of homey wood tables and simplistic modern chairs. They even have an area for dogs to escape the heat under the shade of leaf umbrellas. Did I mention a shower for dogs? This place has it all.
I sat myself outside, settling into what seemed more like a person’s backyard than a city cafe. As I waited for my medium Americano, a petite brown poodle suddenly scampered through my bare legs. The owner picked it up and apologetically told me its name was Cinnamon. I asked if I could hold him and she was more than obliging, handing him to me, beaming.
Unlike the other cafes that line Garosugil, Grr is one-of-a-kind in that it breaks Seoul’s social norm of minding one’s own business in public spaces. Anywhere else, dare you engage in conversation with the neighboring table as a complete stranger, expect shock or a brief, impersonal response. Grr on the other hand, feels like home. The cafe’s concept of integrating dogs brilliantly diffuses the reluctance of being acquainted with those around you. The dogs serve as a liaison between strangers. Whether it’s paying a compliment to the dog’s owner or asking the dog’s name, it’s a start. Grr is an open invitation of sheer warmth and friendliness. Meeting for coffee is already a social activity, and throwing dogs into the mix enhances the experience even further.
Spend 10 minutes in Grr and you’ll forget you’re in a cafe in one of the busiest districts in Seoul. The cafe’s décor and concept feel more like the privacy of home. It’s as if you were invited over to a friend’s house for a cup of coffee and greeted by their beloved Cinnamon. The evening ambiance is even more intimate, with each table lit by the warm glow of a candle.
As I headed toward the door, I heard another owner calling out to her dogs in the distance from the balcony. Up the steps came a mother with two children. One was crying, but her mother reassured her there was going to be something fun. Little did the child know what awaited her through the door.