Midtown Happy Hour: Pan, a Hidden K-Town Gem, is Perfect for a Large Group
If you like to eat, chances are you like to drink (read: a lot of you are freakin’ lushes), so I thought maybe it was time to introduce a happy hour column to the site. Every week, our Happy Hour Correspondent posts about a different bar in Midtown that fits the Midtown Lunch mentality: unhealthy food, not lame (unless it’s lame in a cool way), and most importantly… cheap.
Have you ever found yourself in a quandary about where to go to happy hour when you’re choosing a place for a large group? You want to find a cool place, but you know if it’s too crowded, things can get awkward. There’s nowhere to sit. It’s not great for claustrophobic coworkers. You can’t squeeze into the bar to get a drink. And how do you split up the tab with 8 people? Buy rounds? Surely someone is gonna get the shaft. What about conversation? Can you hear the person a few feet away? Can you even hear the person right next to you? How do lightweight drinkers get food in their bellies so they don’t get too inebriated and embarrassing? There are so many questions begging answers before one can confidently suggest a good spot for a group.
Last week, myself and a few other folks (I won’t mention any names but many of them can be found on this page) found ourselves in this situation. Luckily, I had a great recommendation from Chris. He suggested Pan, a truly hidden gem in Koreatown that opens at 5:00 pm (entrance on 32nd btw. 5th and Madison, 2nd floor) and is so obscure I couldn’t find it listed on Google Maps. Even when I arrived it was a challenge to find the entrance which is not on 5th Avenue as its address on Yelp suggests. Then, even when I was standing at the front door, I didn’t spot it right away because the outside looks like an underground cinema.
Pan is a pojangmacha, or a Korean-style pub. But unlike an Irish Pub, It’s a type of place that emphasizes both drinking and eating… it would be weird if you went there and just drank… but it would also be weird if you showed up just to eat. Whoever came up with this concept gets an A+ in my book. Can we just go ahead and make all restaurants everywhere like this? That said, I should warn readers that there is not a typical bar with barstools where you can just plop in like the stork brought you, but rather long tables and benches for groups. The pub serves giant bottles of beer and one of the most lovely adult beverages I’ve ever consumed, called soju. All of this naturally comes side-by-side with anju, aka Korean drinking food, and is best when shared.
The pojangmacha I frequent is Sik Gaek, a restaurant eloquently reviewed on Serious Eats, where you can get the squiggling octopus made nationally famous by Anthony Bordain. This is where I always bring my guests from out of town since they have a burner at the table that makes for a memorable experience. But according to sources in-the-know, even though Pan doesn’t have fire on the table for dramatics, the food there is very good.
One of my favorite aspects of going to a pojangmacha or any Korean restaurant that serves alcohol is the soju. If you’ve never tried soju before, it’s somewhat like vodka, but much sweeter. You would normally drink it neat (and it’s far kinder to the palate than vodka), but I do know some people who use it in mixed drinks because they prefer the flavor and lower alcohol content.
An alternative to soju is makggeolli — it’s about 4.5% ABV (whereas soju starts at about 15%), so its much milder and more drinkable. Slightly sweet and slightly effervescent.
I hear it’s bad luck in Korea to pour your own drink, and I like to keep my friends on their toes. So I always double up on my beverages by ordering both a soju and a beer. You get a shot glass for the soju and a small, cylindrical glass for the beer. The soju we ordered was 375 ml at $13.95 and the big bottles of beer (Sapporo or OB Korean beer) were 750 ml for $8.50). These drinks were enough to go around a table of 6 for a round. (Right now, there is a 2 for 1 discount on bottles of soju from Monday through Wednesday if you like drinking soju early in the week.)
We ordered a jeon platter ($24.75) for the whole table, which turned out to be flour-battered oil-fried food. I immediately gobbled up a pepper, thinking it was a shishito pepper. It wasn’t! It was much spicier than a shishito and had some sort of ground meat inside that the heat had rendered unrecognizable. Although some of my buddies complained about the heat, it was my favorite dish on the platter. I also tried some tofu, white fish, and a pretty awesome fried kkaennip leaf (also known as a sesame leaf or perilla leaf which you’ll sometimes see instead of lettuce to wrap your bbq).
If you’re wondering what to order, Chris gave high praise to the gamja jeon (potato pancakes which are super greasy and crispy, great for drinking food), bul dak (spicy sir fried chicken), odeng guk (fish cake soup), and kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) which is pictured above.
What I loved the most about Pan was the perfect environment for a big group of people. As long as you and your coworkers are up for trying something outside the typical midtown bar, this is an absolutely wonderful place for a happy hour of 4-12 people. Long tables are great for chatting. The music isn’t too loud. Service is friendly. And the eating + drinking atmosphere provides a sense of community and a centerpiece for conversation. However, if you’re looking to go to a typical American bar with barstools, this is probably not gonna be your bag.
Before I go and leave you all to a thrilling and intoxicating Labor Day Weekend, I have to thank Chris for all of his sage advice with this ML Happy Hour post. I know WAY more shit today than I did yesterday, and I love learning about food!
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I’m a connoisseur of anju (drinking food), and Pan has higher quality anju than most pojangmachas such as Arang, Pocha 32, Take 31, etc in K-town
- My coworkers and I can never find a place where we can actually talk, and this atmosphere is perfect for chatting across the table.
- I love impressing my coworkers with super cool happy hour locations that reveal how un-boring I am.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I only go to places with happy hour specials, and Pan has no ongoing special.
- I am only going by myself, and this really isn’t a place where you can feel comfortable going alone.
- I like only a certain type of alcohol and food, and this place doesn’t have either of those things on the menu.
Pan, 319 5th Ave (between 32nd St & 31st St), 2nd Floor, (212) 679-0770