If you walk about seventy meters from exit 11 at Yangjae Station, you may catch sight of a small café featuring a wide, inviting glass door that is painted in bright red paint. In the heart of Gangnam, “Grace and Christine” offers a hidden world that combines something of Paris and Berlin with the Korean spirit.
The café opens up to the street via tall folding glass doors that welcome you. On a blackboard sign is written, in perky cursive, the drink of the day and a comment about the weather. Above the door is written in white, “Coffee, Bakery, Wine, Flower... and Love.”
The café was designed with a remarkable sense of light and atmosphere, each texture of the walls and floors, each object placed in a nook or on a shelf was clearly chosen with extreme care.
The café takes its name from the two sisters who founded it and run it together. So pleasant is the interior, so enticing the coffee, and so delightful the conversation with Grace and Christine, that it has developed a loyal following.
The sisters founded the restaurant back in 2008 as an experiment. Christine had studied at the Cordon Blue in Paris and developed a refined sense for taste and texture in food and drink. Her sister Grace studied business administration in Korea and had planned to start her own business. The two sisters were drawn together by a passion for excellent coffee.
Grace recalls their initial motivation, “We were struck by the unevenness in quality of coffee found in Korea. We wanted to set a new, high standard for Seoul in our café.” She speaks with visible pride, “Making good coffee, and properly enjoying it in a comfortable environment, is a mystical act. Somehow the combination of the taste of the roasted beans, the furniture and artwork around one and the people with whom one is talking changes everything. Christine and I became practitioners of this magic.”
The sisters spent many hours glancing at photographs of cafés around the world, trying to come up with some new concepts that would be original. Grace took over the process of planning the café; she was obsessed with creating a great variety of unexpected surfaces within the space.
There are blackboards, brick walls, tiles, stucco, wood, plastic, and metal. The floors are also varied in terms of materials and colors. “Most people never notice the complexity of the space we created,” Grace explains, “but if they do, they will keep coming back.”
The inside of the café features a multi-textured brick wall trimmed with white mortar that looks like something from the Lower East Side of somewhere like Manhattan. The ceiling downstairs consists of wood broken into squares that suggest a studio or loft. There is even a little alcove built into the brick wall that holds carefully chosen treasures.
There are special bricks that have been modified to lighten up in the café and strategically placed lights under the stairs leading to the second floor.
On second floor, one enters a narrow room that resembles the screen set for “Yellow Submarine.” The room is encircled by a wrap-around sofa that hugs the wall. Semi-circular tables jut out of the wall periodically and are flanked by pink, blue, and green pillows for those who meet here for a quiet tête-a-tête.
“This is not just another franchise,” Grace declares, “This café was designed by the owners and is run by us, using their own imagination. We love this place and we love the people who come to visit us.”
Love for customers means loving care about the coffee. The sisters have a close friend in Los Angeles who carefully selects the coffee, largely from Brazil, roasts it by hand and then sends it by express mail to Seoul. Christine devotes much attention into designing pastries and writing notes on the blackboards to customers and friends about her productions.
The creation of the space, of the foods and of the conversations has become a creative act for the two of them.
Grace sums up the mood here succinctly, “We have built a peaceful environment that offers people caught up in the getting and spending of Gangnam a chance to get away for a moment and enter a different world. Here they find a world of trust and of human contact. The people who come to see us are part of our human network.”
Grace and Christine is a wonderful place to read a book or engage in a conversation. The café slowly grows on one, and in time, before you know it, you will be a regular here too.