The reputation of the Naeja Hotel in Seoul back in the 1960s and 1970s approached epic status. Stories abounded about the place, but before we get to that, there is a preface I want to relate.
When my wife came to visit me in Korea back in 1980, I had already lined up a reservation at a hotel in downtown Seoul where we would spend the night after her late arrival at Kimpo. Just as we were settling into the room, there was a knock on the door. I answered and saw an attractive young Korean woman who asked if I needed any “special service.” My wife heard her and snatched the door fully open to emphatically state that she would be the one to provide those special services.
The wife’s “visit” turned into a six month stay, and eventually we decided to spend a weekend in Seoul. This time we would be at the Naeja, the place where all GIs in Korea wanted to be, certainly not where we had stayed her first night in country. I requested a nice demi-suite (read: large L-shaped room) on an upper floor.
When we arrived, we checked out the room and it was indeed nice – but not really opulent. The bathroom was clean and tidy but a bit old-fashioned. We had been expecting more luxury but neither of us wanted to complain, so we unpacked and got ready for dinner.
Now the restaurant was something to write home about! The menu was filled with all sorts of exotic delights. Our food was well prepared, came in good-sized portions, and it was served with Old World flair. For dessert, we shared Crepes Suzette, my first taste of that confection – and I was amazed. This cow-town boy had never seen a dessert prepared tableside before, and certainly not one with a flaming liquor!
The entire dinner was fabulous, easily the best service either of us had ever experienced up to that time in any American-run establishment. You couldn’t even light your own cigarette. Other services were equally impressive, almost to the point of being fawning and intrusive.
The room, however, was another matter: it had some surprises in store. At about two in the morning, the heating system for the room seriously malfunctioned and it began to make quite a racket. After a couple of angry calls to the front desk, two doofus-looking maintenance guys showed up and eventually solved the problem with a lot of banging and clanking of their own. It took them the better part of an hour and it put a serious damper on the festivities that first night of our getaway into the big city.
Looking back, the best I can say now is that it was indeed an experience of a lifetime – but one that did not necessarily need repeating. I understand that the Naeja no longer exists, and that is certainly a good thing, for it was clearly in need of renovation or replacement by 1981.