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‘Grand Budapest’ design pops up all over Seoul: Cafes, stores and hotels in the city are tickled pink and taking inspiration from the 2014 hit film

Mar 05,2019
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The first floor of Hotel Seine Cafe is designed to look like a hotel lobby. The cafe’s baristas dress up as bellboys. [JOONGANG ILBO]
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The Grand Budapest Hotel. [JOONGANG ILBO]
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Left: H Avenue’s Konkuk University branch is inspired by the Wes Anderson movie’s bright and playful color scheme. [H AVENUE, STYLENANDA]
A visit to the Grand Budapest Hotel is arguably every Instagrammer’s dream.

With its bubble gum-colored brick walls, shiny tiled floors and perfect symmetry throughout, the fictional hotel featured in the eponymous 2014 comedic murder mystery film attained cult status among viewers who fell in love with its magical color palette and 1950s ice cream parlor aesthetics.

A new cafe in the trendy Ikseon-dong in Jongno District, central Seoul, is attempting to recreate the iconic hotel in the middle of the capital.

Hotel Seine Cafe’s pink faded walls scream Grand Budapest Hotel as soon as you walk in. A red carpet entrance takes guests into what looks like a hotel lobby where purple vest-clad bellboys go about doing their business behind the front desk.

They are not a hotel concierge team, but baristas taking orders for coffee and sweets from the endless stream of customers who drop by to take a look around the chic cafe that’s been showing up on their social media feeds.

The Hotel Seine Cafe has been one of the hottest places in Ikseon-dong since opening last November, and its Grand Budapest vibe has everything to do with it.

The hotel-themed cafe boasts a luxurious and cozy interior with dark brown furniture and pretty antiques, while several props, including a luggage trolley, add the finishing touches. A huge framed picture of the Grand Budapest Hotel surrounded by velvety turquoise curtains hangs on the third floor wall, making the cafe’s inspiration quite clear to visitors.

Though first-timers might go to Hotel Seine Cafe for the sumptuous visuals, it’s the food that makes them return. At the open-view “cake factory” on the second floor, chefs work to serve up beautifully-designed cakes and the Seine’s signature French pastry, the canele. Afternoon tea sets are also available for those looking for an especially memorable experience.

A wine bar welcomes guests on the fourth floor and the cafe’s rooftop lounge. Drinks are affordable and range from 40,000 won ($35.50) to 50,000 won per bottle, making the bar a perfect spot for a date or a hang-out with friends after work.

Behind the hit cafe is Yu Jeong-su, who, as CEO of Glow Seoul Korea, runs several other lucrative ventures in Ikseon-dong, including Thai eatery Sala Daeng Bangkok and Japanese joint Simple Tokyo.

As an avid fan of the “Grand Budapest Hotel,” Yu got the idea to design a cafe inspired by the famous building when he saw the Seine Motel, a faded pink building constructed in 1979 that seemed out of place in an old, traditional neighborhood like Ikseon-dong.

It took him three months to complete the transformation, taking down the walls between the motel’s rooms and bringing the outdated facilities up to today’s standards.

“As soon as I saw this old building covered in pink tiles I thought of the Grand Budapest Hotel,” Yu said. “Places like this are not common. I wanted to revive its colors and stories. There is something quite similar about the quiet neighborhood of Ikseon-dong and the mysterious Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Hotel Seine Cafe is not the only business in Korea to be inspired by the much-beloved hotel.

Fashion and cosmetics brand Stylenanda’s Myeong-dong store, dubbed the “Pink Hotel,” is a mash-up between the Grand Budapest Hotel and Alice’s Wonderland, undoubtedly making it a huge attraction in the already busy tourist district.

The narrow pink building stands out among its older, less colorful neighbors, especially with its shiny black signboards and neatly-lined balconies.

Each of the building’s floors is designed to represent the different amenities offered in hotels. The front door opens to the Pink Hotel’s lobby, where creamy pink and white walls are lined with golden-framed shelves that display hundreds of makeup products, also packaged in pink.

There are fitting rooms disguised as hotel rooms on the third floor, while fake laundry machines decorate the fourth floor and a blue-and-white pool-themed cafe on the fifth floor serves up the store’s famous desserts, like cotton candy-topped ice cream and coffee. Guests are also free to take their snacks out to enjoy on the rooftop terrace, which is furnished with lacy cushions - again, white and pink - and a feathery sun umbrella.

An actual hotel in eastern Seoul is also inspired by the Grand Budapest.

Last February, hotel-booking platform Yanolja opened a new hotel under its H Avenue franchise near Konkuk University.

While the building is not pink, its creamy white exterior, bright pink door and purple light fixtures are obviously inspired by the Wes Anderson film.

The H Avenue Konkuk branch’s lobby is a brilliant splash of color, with pink and navy walls lined with cushioned furniture that comes in mustard yellow and peacock blue.

Designs vary slightly across the guest rooms, but the hotel’s thematic colors of dark navy, turquoise and pink are skillfully matched to offer the most stylish combinations. Vintage accessories - think rotary dial phones - and uniquely designed sinks and lamps give guests even more reasons to take pictures to share on social media.

In the basement, hotel guests and visitors can drop by the fashionably furnished underground restaurant to grab a cocktail or a bite, or, if they’re lucky, even a live show. On the rooftop is a heated swimming pool surrounded by pink tiles that looks out onto the city below.

Like the Hotel Seine Cafe, Yanolja gives the Grand Budapest Hotel full credit for inspiring the aesthetics of its Konkuk establishment. The design is intended to appeal to young consumers in their 20s and 30s, especially women, explained Kim Ki-heung, manager of accommodation services at Yanolja.

“We took into account the regional characteristic of Konkuk University, where there’s a lot of young people, in creating this space. We hope that our hotel can develop into the region’s leading hub of culture.”

BY YOON KYUNG-HEE AND KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]