Dear Inquisitive Stranger,
You are at a dinner party. You’ve put on a clean shirt, arrived at an orderly time, brought with you an appropriately expensive bottle of red as a gift then been horrified when the host pulls out a barber’s razor and starts to shave guest’s facial hair.
This was the fate of Russian diplomats and aides who attended a reception in honour of the return of Peter the Great, Tsar and amateur dentist.
Returning from a ship building tour of Europe, Peter I brought back many holiday memories including the smooth chins of dashing European gents. Keen to modernise his country and compete with the world superpowers of the 1690’s, Peter enforced a policy that beards were shaven off henceforth or a policeman would do it for you. Predictably, this proved to be an unpopular decision with his countrymen, in particular the Russian Orthodox church who prized immense beards as a symbol of manhood and virtue.
After a while, the Tsar realised that disgruntled subjects kicking about one’s court were not so desirable so dissolved the boisterous beard protocol. Instead, gentlemen had the option to style their whiskers however they chose, just as long as they paid a tax for the privilege. Seeing more avant-garde faces on the block, plus an extra income for the state to boot, the beard tax had Pete rubbing his royal hands together.
Although it remained as unpopular as ever, the tax continued as a legacy of Peter the Great almost 50 years after his death. Today, modern Russian men have choices when it comes to styling their faces. Elsewhere, beard aficionados, congregating in the hippest part of their towns, favour oomf in the volume of their chin hair. Meanwhile the general inclination in South Korea is to be clean shaven. This doesn’t mean the hipster beard vibe isn’t part of the Seoul city scene. The beatniks are alive and thriving and I am in their lair.
Ando is the chilled hang out where you can i-spy turtlenecks, poetry on shelves and jazzy beat nights or lectures on gender equality in the music industry. The only things missing are bongo drums and cigarette smoke (smoking cats and kits can take their exhaust pipes and conversation onto the vast terrace).
I totally dig the eats in Ando. The roasted vegetable and fungi salad is hosting a totally swinging taste party until the spinach and artichoke pizza emerges. My nostrils, filled with the tantalising aroma of truffle oil, recognise something good this way comes. When there was an accidental pizza switcheroo, the benevolent chef swept from the kitchen with a blue-cheese-and-fig-drizzled-in-honey apology. It’s the cat’s pyjamas.
With Christmas approaching, it would be rude not to order the mulled wine. It’s masquerade on the menu as ‘vin chaud’ would be easy to miss were it not for my cunning in GCSE french vocabulary. The ingredients are unmistakable though, all the players are present – cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange slices. The pungent flavours intoxicate me with the Noel spirit and I turn several shades more Christmassy. As the warm feeling from these few simple flavours put me on a festive cloud 9, I appeal to you, Stranger dearest, to do something today that puts some pep in your step. Grow your man bun, cultivate your beard, do whatever feels craaaazy, man.
Okay dokey, I have a Christmas tree to decorate so I’m going to split. Catch you later, Daddyo.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Ando (안도 카페) – beatsville
4F, 216, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Itaewon Station, line 6, exit 3
Tuesday – Sunday 11:00 – 02:00