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The Picture of a Young Businessman

With December on the horizon, the end of the year is quickly approaching. The biting wind freezes our hearts, but an inviting glass of cocktail served might thaw Kingos’ hearts. How about embarking on a midnight journey to the world of eternal youth with the Sungkyun Times (SKT) at Dorian Gray, a cocktail bar in Hyehwa? Although the years may pass, causing us to age, our youthful days will remain in our hearts forever.

From a Kingo to a Bar Owner

The View of Dorian Gray

Q1. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Kim Ui-koo, and I majored in Business Administration at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU). I am now the owner of a cocktail and shisha bar called Dorian Gray.

Q2. Are there any experiences at SKKU that influenced you to become a bartender?

When I was an undergraduate, I worked as the leader of an intercollegiate cocktail club where I met many other bar owners and learned about various cocktail recipes and bar management strategies. Moreover, I ran a pop-up bar named “2958 bar” during the University Festival. The pop-up bar was a huge success, and I gained confidence through this event. This led me to set my mind on opening a business. I prepared to do so by working at a cocktail bar part-time and obtaining a craftsman bartender certificate. All these experiences led me to open Dorian Gray.

Dorian Gray: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Q3. Many customers would be reminded of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray when they see the name of the bar. Are there any reasons why you named the bar “Dorian Gray”?

The Novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (amazon.in)

The bar’s name was indeed inspired by the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel, the protagonist, Dorian Gray, maintains his youthful beauty by making his portrait age instead of himself, which caught my attention. I also pursued eternal youth as a student; I would hang out with my friends and meet new people every day. So, I decorated the bar with portraits to convey a similar mood and express my admiration for the novel.

Q4. What specific business values do you pursue as the owner of Dorian Gray?

When I first opened Dorian Gray, I loved to drink and hang out with my friends more than anybody else in the world. Therefore, I hoped for my bar to be a place where people could gather, chill with drinks, and make new friends. Nowadays, I also wish to create a space where people can wrap their day up with cozy vibes. How about rewarding yourself in Dorian Gray with a cocktail and the sweet scent of shisha?

Q5. Please tell us about any difficulties you have encountered while running the bar.

Shishas Displayed in Dorian Gray

Managing the shisha pipes tends to be tricky. For example, the machine used to burn the charcoal needed for the pipe often overheats and frequently breaks down. Buying a new device is too expensive, so I have taught myself how to repair it. Likewise, unexpected problems often become enormous difficulties for me. When I first opened the bar, successfully managing the business was all I had in mind. However, other practical issues hit me hard.

Q6. Is there a specific reason why you opened a shisha bar with such a unique concept?

Shisha bars are already abundant in Seoul. In the past, I liked shisha bars so much that I would visit them three to four days a week. After learning to smoke shisha, I decided to open Dorian Gray. Regarding Dorian Gray’s concept, I believe the dark space located underground is what defines Dorian Gray. I intended to make Dorian Gray a place that makes customers feel like they are in a hideout or nest. I am sure that this concept is what helped make the bar successful.

Drinks and Shishas that Can Be Enjoyed in Dorian Gray (Dorian Gray Official Instagram)

Q7. It seems that another one of Dorian Gray’s charms comes from the menu items. What inspires you when coordinating these menus?

I make sure to “Dorian Gray-ify” every menu by adjusting the ingredients of the cocktails. I do the same with snacks, too. For instance, when choosing french fries, I would purchase every kind of french fries available in a local supermarket, taste every one of them, and then decide what to sell. Also, as our main customers are college students, I tend to focus on sweet and refreshing drinks rather than those with a strong liquor taste. Although I myself prefer hard liquors, Dorian Gray’s beverages are mostly soft and sweet.

Q7-1. Please recommend a drink and shisha for Kingos to try during these cold winter days.

I tend to reorganize the menu lineup about two to three times a year, but as of now, I would recommend “Wildflower,” which has just been added recently. Although the drink contains quite a lot of strong whiskey, a sweet warmth is hidden in such stiffness. I am sure this would give you an experience similar to eating a warm bungeo-ppang (fish-shaped bun) in midwinter. As for the shisha, I recommend the grapefruit-mint flavor. The mint flavor is the best-selling item in Dorian Gray, and the bitter taste of grapefruit, along with the mint scent, goes well with the cold weather.

Q8. Are there any reasons you decided to open a bar in Hyehwa, close to SKKU? Also, please tell us about any incidents you have experienced with Kingos while running Dorian Gray.

Poster of Dorian Gray’s 2022 Halloween Party (Dorian Gray Official Instagram)

I opened Dorian Gray when I was a junior at SKKU. As I drank nearly every day back then, it suddenly struck me that it would be a better idea to open my own bar. That is how I started Dorian Gray. Luckily, as many acquaintances came to the bar and the bar became popular, more and more people visited. Regarding some memorable stories with Kingos, I have given a lecture at an event for the School of Business Administration called “The Night of a Businessman.” Later, the freshmen who participated in my lecture came to the bar, and we became friends. Also, my friends who graduated from SKKU served as disc jockeys (DJs) for the Halloween party held on October 27th this year. Likewise, Dorian Gray is not just a typical bar but a place where people can interact with new people.

Q9. What does Dorian Gray mean to you?

My baby child, or my other self. Dorian Gray signifies the outcome of my everyday efforts, which is why this bar is so special to me. I have a Dorian Gray-shaped tattoo on my arm, too. As you can see, Dorian Gray is my proud boy.

To Define Is to Limit

Q10. As regulations related to the pandemic have been alleviated, Hyehwa seems to be recovering its energy these days. Are there any new mindsets that you have developed?

Connections between students have weakened due to the long-lasting pandemic. But, with a lift in such curbs, I wish for Kingos to flow into Dorian Gray. I hope that not only my acquaintances but also new students will visit our bar frequently.

Q11. What do you imagine the future of Dorian Gray to be?

I hope Dorian Gray will become a space that arouses unique and unexpected emotions every time customers visit. Although Dorian Gray will always remain in the same place Hyehwa, I wish for each visit to be a different experience. This is also one of the reasons why I frequently hold exhibitions and parties as well as change menus periodically.

Q12. Any last words for Kingos interested in starting a business?

First and foremost, never be afraid of challenging yourself. I also remember starting my business from scratch. Nobody can be perfect from the beginning. I have changed and adjusted many menus and also rearranged the interior as I ran the bar. We now live in an era in which too much data and information are provided to us without our consent. Thus, people often wish to make the perfect start after preparing and coordinating every detail. But just do it first! You can make changes as you go.

박성결  kyl1989@skku.edu

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