Reviewed by Diane Kang
Upscale and opulent with spectacular artwork around every corner, the Josun Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is one of the most elegant luxury hotels to stay in when visiting Seoul.
Set the scene
Everything about this hotel screams grandeur. From the moment you step inside, you’re faced with a towering statue of Daniel Arsham’s Blue Calcite Eroded Moses while getting a whiff of the hotel’s signature perfumed scent, and you immediately know that you’re in a space of affluence. Apart from the interior and the art, the service team—including valets, doormen, concierge, and everyone in between—has such a high level of attention and service at all times, it can almost feel overwhelming.
The hotel is located between Yeoksam and Seolleung Station, in the wealthy neighborhood of Gangnam. While the hotel was meant to target business executives, it’s clear that this wasn’t the reality. There is such a range of customers at the hotel—everyone from trendy young TikTokers, families with children, and couples both old and young, presumably enjoying a staycation there. At the hotel pool, you’ll find influencers working to get their best swimsuit shots, lovebirds laying out on the loungers, and families enjoying a soak in the heated kids pool.
This hotel is part of a highly regarded hotel group in Korea called Josun Hotel & Resorts. They are the owners of the oldest Western-style hotel in Korea, originally called the Chosun Hotel, which opened in 1914. Now called the Westin Josun Hotel, it is the most historically significant hotel in Korea, with countless famous people, such as Marilyn Monroe and President Gerald Ford, staying there. In one of the rooms, the Democratic-Republican party was founded by President Park Chung-hee.
Since the early 2000s, the hotel group has added eight additional properties to their portfolio. The Josun Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is their most recent addition, opening in May 2021.
There’s a reason why the architectural team of Humbert & Poyet of Monaco are acclaimed in design circles. Walking through the spaces, you immediately notice strong design elements like bold lines and geometric shapes embedded throughout. Upon entering the Grand Reception, you’re struck by the harmony of the elements and shapes used: tall brass structures, sand colored stone-like walls, splashes of marble, and ceiling lights in concentric circles with brass light fixtures hanging down. The rooms themselves are minimalistic with decorative elements, including patterned sofa fabrics, beehive-esque ceiling lights, and, of course, artwork on the walls that gives a light Korean touch to the space. While the hotel touts their adoption of Korean design, I think the most Korean thing in my room was a photo print of a ceramic moon jar.
On all sides of the hotel, you will be able to experience unobstructed views of Gangnam. This is because the hotel rooms are on floors 27 to 35. For families, the Masters Room with two beds is probably the best bet, as you get a larger space for a similar price as the basic State Room. Of course, if you can afford the suites, that would be the most comfortable option.
Food and drink
My favorite experience was at the 1914 Lounge & Bar. The lounge is free to sit at, but there is a 10,000-won cover charge at the bar. I decided to sit at the bar despite the cover charge, and it was fully worth it. The charge not only allows a seat in the bar area, but you are given free sparkling water, olives, nuts, and tofu chips. I tasted a few of the bar’s signature cocktails and was blown away by a tequila-based cocktail called Roomboy. In the early 1900s at the original Westin Josun Hotel, there were hotel staff called “room boys” that were in charge of a person’s stay at the hotel. This person was different from bellboys or porters in that they were in charge of things like drawing baths, ironing clothing, and even occasionally playing the role of a stylist. The Roomboy cocktail uses a Korean berry called omija (or schisandra berry) to depict the multiple roles that a room boy had for guests. The lemon juice, Fernet-branca Menta, and Tabasco sauce add several more layers, but the ultimate taste was incredibly well-balanced. The presentation was also excellent, using a custom-made coaster that looks like a bellhop's cart.
Besides the bar, Eatanic Garden definitely has garnered the most buzz at the hotel. The menu was created by acclaimed Chef Son Jong-won, who also developed the menu at their sister hotel’s restaurant L’Amant Secret inside of L’Escape Hotel. Here, you will be able to experience modern Korean fine dining with an extensive French wine and Champagne list. They also have a select list of curated Korean liquor available.
The best part of the spa are the full body scrubs, a quintessential Korean spa experience you should definitely try. That said, you could probably get a similar, albeit a bit less posh, experience at any random bathhouse in Korea.
Gangnam is a bustling area full of corporations and high-end restaurants for informal business meetings with clients. Right across the street from the hotel, foodies could experience a French bistro originally from San Francisco called Monsieur Benjamin, by the famous Chef Corey Lee. For the shoppers, COEX Mall is your best bet; and while you’re there, you can visit the Starfield Library, famous for its floor-to-ceiling bookcases and grandiose Christmas trees. If you’re feeling like doing something a bit more relaxing, you can easily walk to Bongeunsa, a traditional Buddhist temple.
In true luxury Korean hospitality style, the service here is tight and top-notch. The porter spotted me walking across the parking garage with my suitcase, and he made it a point to run across the garage to grab my bag for me. The mannerisms and ways of speaking are professional yet warm, with smiling eyes above masked faces. Every single person I met in the service team looked like they were combed over with a fine brush. The female employees had every hair in place, neatly tied back in a low bun. The males were equally polished, with upright postures and pressed uniforms.
While it wasn’t necessarily built for families, there are certain things the hotel did to make sure families were accommodated. One instance I particularly noticed was at the hotel buffet called Constans, where child-friendly platters and utensils were available. There is also a separate kids pool at the Josun Wellness Club.\
Anything left to mention?
I was really surprised at the number of children that were running around this hotel—I did not expect there to be so many families. If you’re looking to stay here as a romantic staycation or getaway, be aware that you might have kids running around the pool or at the hotel buffet.
Also, a note about arriving there: The entrance is not on the street level; you need to pull into an underground parking garage to enter the property. The hotel is actually a part of another building called Centerfield Mall, so if that’s what you see, don’t worry! You’re in the right place. It was pretty confusing when I arrived there, and it took me a few minutes to figure out where I had to go.
Finally, in 100 words or less, what makes this hotel worthy of Hot List?
The artwork alone makes this hotel worthy of a call-out. With about 400 unique pieces of art scattered around the property, I felt like I was discovering new artists at every corner—and I was soaking it all in, stimulated at every turn of my head. I was even able to spot a Matisse print in the fitness area. The interior design was absolutely breathtaking as well, from the gold and marble in Eatanic Garden to the ceiling lights that looked like a swarm of triangular butterflies at the bar. Lovers of design and art will surely have a great experience here.
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