O.K. guys, this is it.
Lorraine, Gem, Ben, Coman, Heather, Jodie, Trish, Mandy and Leslie: this post goes out to you. I told you a few months ago that I would make it my mission to find out if Polly’s Kettle was still up and running and that day has come.
I went out with a friend to Itaewon (a popular foreigner destination) during Lunar New Year to see what was open and grab some lunch. I mentioned my mission and she was down to help find the lost ark of midnight madness in the Seoul of days gone by. Like me, my friend had lived in Korea 8 years ago and was now back again. She appreciates the value of nostalgia and accepted the challenge, regardless of how many hills we would have to climb. We knew it was up a hill on the left side of the main Itaewon strip but the noted landmark of KFC was no longer there. With no guidance from Colonel Sanders we ended up wandering, climbing random hills on wisps of memory and hopes of signage. It didn’t help that the map I had made was at home and the voyage was, for the most part, spontaneous.
Eventually we came across a steep alley leading up that struck a chord with both of us. We followed our gut and took the trail but the top held nothing but a restaurant and a fancy convenience store.
Dejected and out of breath, we decided to stroll across the crest of the hill to see what else was up there. We had already cut our losses and were discussing lunch when the path curved downward and there it was: Still standing, still open for business and exactly the same.
The cracked, crooked tiles at the foot of the patio and checkered insides were all unchanged, complete with the partial chain-link fence that still ran along the back of the room. It was like a moment in time, frozen in that sober January afternoon.
The bar adopted the name after its signature drink: the soju kettle. The “kettle” is actually a 2 litre pop bottle with the top sawed off to create a big jug. Into the jug goes an entire bottle of soju, Korea’s national alcohol (360ml), then topped off with a flavoured drink of choice. The flavours were always very kool-aidesque with options like lemon, lime, blueberry, cherry, orange and so on. One kettle was good to share (or not) and only cost 2,000 won (around $2). For those who have never tried soju, it is a flavourless, mild drink that seems light but sneaks up on you, as any alcohol tends to do.
With cheap drinks, good company and awesome music (Usher’s “yeah,” anyone?) it was our memories that made that place a legend. We had so many stories that linked back to Polly’s from back in the day. Whether our nights began or ended there, it was always a riot and Polly’s will always have a place in my heart. Since the bar wasn’t open yet at the time of my visit, I’m not sure if they still serve kettles and to be honest, I’m not sure if I want to tarnish my memories by going back to find out.
Polly’s Kettle is perfect the way I remember it with my old crew of expat chingus and I’m not quite ready to modify that just yet. Maybe one day, but I think I’m getting too old for kettles now ;) For those in Korea who would like to check it out, see the photo below.