BUSAN – Korea is a country of many, many cafes. There are so many that it’s hard to recommend just one. But if you’re an ARMY over on the east side, you can stop by an especially comfortable candidate: Magnate.
Magnate is on many ARMYs’ radar because it is owned by Jimin’s father, Mr. Park, and has been open for a little over a year now, since 2019. It’s about 15 minutes’ walk from Motgol Station, so it’s a little out of the way, but it’s a cool and comfortable space.
As you approach from the outside, you’ll find an imposing industrial building, complete with rusted signs and heavy metal doors. Once you enter, you can find a huge, quiet room with a series of square, comfortable couches, perfect for groups of three or four, and a number of smaller tables for couples.
There are no visible signs, inside or outside, that connect it with the owner’s famous son. But if the looks we exchanged with other customers are anything to go by, they knew, and we knew. It’s a perfect fan experience for people who want to fly a little under the radar, or for people travelling with non-ARMY companions who might get a little grumpy at getting dragged to one more fan-related location. Or even just people who want to side-eye the workers and see who might share a very specific jawline while eating some nice cake.
The space is striking, especially for a country of compact hole-in-the-wall cafes and restaurants. (Not an insult – those places always have the best food and the best coffee.) It is huge, certainly the largest one-story café I’ve seen in South Korea, and visually stunning in a way that film cannot quite capture.
On the far left and the far right are large outdoor spaces – not great for August, but tempting for a second visit in the spring or fall. Regardless of the season, the floor-to ceiling windows and the huge, spaceship-like doors make the already large room feel even larger. The huge windows mean that even the bathrooms feel open, which made peeing a uniquely anxious process, but don’t worry – some well-placed walls and locks mean that no one will be walking past the giant window.
The walls of the café are rough exposed brick, but the furniture is softer, painted welcoming colors and adorned with plants. Many, many plants. The space is huge, and manages to balance the feeling of being inside and out, in a factory and in a greenhouse.
As you enter, a large glass case displays cakes and pastries.
On your right is the counter. You can see them making your drinks and preparing any special items on a series of large islands, piled with fresh fruit and other ingredients. The menu is very comparably priced to other cafes in Korea, and we were delighted to find that there was bing-su (shaved ice) on the menu as well.
August is very hot.
We opted for the green tea bingsu over the mango, since mango bingsu can be found just about anywhere, and green tea bingsu is a little more rare. We also chose the tiramisu and the blueberry mousse cakes.
Our drinks were very standard fare: caramel macchiatos, café lattes, and vanilla lattes. Coffee is always good, and these drinks were on par with any other coffees I’ve had in South Korea, but the real star of the show was the green tea bingsu.
In a very large metal bowl, green tea ice cream topped green ddeok (rice cake) ice cream, all piled on a thin layer of pat (sweet red bean) and cool shavings of green ice. Around the edges were pieces of mochi and slivers of almonds.
It was visually stunning, and delicious. None of us could recall having eaten ddeok ice cream before, so it was an extra treat. As for the cakes, the blueberry mousse was the winner by virtue of having the cleanest plate. We agreed that the tiramisu was good, but didn’t quite hit the spot on such a hot day.
While we waited for our drinks and bingsu, we took a look around the café. We had chosen a seat by the wall of hats so that the biggest Jimin stan among us would be happy, but we enjoyed the Andy Warhols.
There are three sets of Marilyn Monroe prints (two in the main café, and the third and largest around a slight corner to your right as you enter). This means that the icon herself is always visible, but our favorite piece was this painting of a woman in hanbok (Korean traditional dress).
The artist was unlisted, but the painting was beautiful and lively. The bright colors against the rough brick were a strong statement, and the same balance continued: the fresh and the industrial. If I couldn’t get a seat by a window, I would be happy to sit near such an engaging painting.
Elsewhere in the café were other impressive pieces, like a huge table for six made out of antique suitcases, or cactuses taller than me. As the day progressed and the café filled, the huge room didn’t get any louder, which made for a comfortable morning. Fans were in abundance as well, gingerly approaching the wall of hats for a photo of a certain hat.
After we spent a pleasant morning in the café, we went down to the station for a late lunch, and then took the train a short way to Haeundae, which is easily accessed without transfers or long walks. Also accessible would have been the (usually less crowded) Songjeong Beach on the same line. By virtue of its location, Magnate is a perfect place to coordinate with a trip to the beach, or with a day of eating in Seomyeon’s restaurant and drinking district.
If you are looking for fan cafes in Korea, they are in abundance. You can get your favorites on your coffee sleeve in Seomyeon, Nampo, or PNU if you like, but if you want the treat of an open, comfortable space, some refreshing bingsu, and the quiet satisfaction of sitting in the same space with other fans who have come, discreetly, to support one of Busan’s favorite sons, then Magnate is the place for you.