Flushing: Drinks and Anju at 153 Fusion Pocha
Let's say that you're in Flushing for the evening; perhaps you've finished a meal of samgyeopsal or galbi. And say you're feeling a mite thirsty, but are thoroughly confused by local watering holes around the Murray Hill neighborhood of Flushing. There are sketchy venues that proclaim to be "lounges," although the front windows have been blacked out with a spookily opaque layer of film. Or there's 153 Fusion Pocha (Flushing residents simply call it "Il-Oh-Sam" or "1-5-3" in case you're asking for directions), with its cheerful neon Mets signs, large comfortable booths, and boisterous atmosphere. Although 153 is unapologetically authentically Korean—the waiters are fluent in English, the menus however, are not—it's a fun and a fine place for drinks and a late night snack.
When trying to describe an indoor Korean pojang macha, or pocha for short, to a Western audience, you could draw likeness to that of a German beer hall. The atmosphere is festive and there's simple yet hearty food available that is meant to cushion the blow of alcohol rather than for heightened gustatory pleasure. And to sit and have a single quiet beer in solitude is out of the question; you're out to get hammered with your friends.
However, unlike the long communal benches of a beer hall, 153's seating is mainly semi-enclosed booths with deep wooden benches which allow your party to be uproarious without disturbing your neighbor. And naturally K-Pop music replaces the German trinklieder.
It's time for a drink, and I suspect that the majority of Americans who have had a Korean meal or two would be familiar with soju ($12.99), a clear distilled spirit consumed by the shot-glass. 153 carries seven different brands, including Chum-Churum, Kumbokju, and Jinro's Chamisul and Chamisul Fresh. There's beer, of course, both domestic and Korean, but for a more interesting beverage try a bottle of the guh moon kong makgeolli ($12.99), a lightly alcoholic drink derived from rice. It's a good choice for the sensible drinker: subtle, lightly sweet, ever so effervescent (some people prefer to mix in a non-Cola for extra zing), and faintly nutty from the addition of guh moon kong (sweet black bean) flavoring.
Oship seju is a favorite of mine—it's assembled at the table by your waiter, who mixes a bottle of baekseju ($14.99) and soju at the table. Baekseju, a sweet rice-based alcohol which is brewed with ginseng and other herbs, is rounded out by the neutrality of the soju, creating oship seju, a drink with the delicate sweetness like a Riesling, complemented by pleasant herbaceous notes.
Although most customers are here with the singular goal of pickling their livers, it's customary in Korean drinking culture to order anju, or drinking food, which comes in generous share-able portions. Buddaejigae ($17.99), a spicy mish-mash of ramen noodles, spam, hotdogs, baked beans, enoki mushrooms, and tofu, gets appreciably finer in the presence of alcohol.
153 also serves an adept version of galbi ddeokbokki ($18.99), slices of tender marinated beef with chewy rice cake batons in a lightly sweet glaze. And if you order enough booze, they'll be happy to continuously replenish your complimentary bowl of gyeran jjim (steamed egg).
Braver souls should try the bul dak ($18.99), which translates to "fire chicken"—an appropriate moniker for this dish, which features plump nuggets of dark meat chicken and rice cakes slathered in an outrageously spicy sauce. There's a layer of gooey melted cheese to take the edge off, but a gulp of cold beer or a swig of makgeolli is the perfect foil for the vicious heat.
As it should be, drinking begets sustenance, and sustenance begets drinking. So let's say that you're in Flushing for the evening—let's make a night of it, shall we?
153 Fusion Pocha
40-11 149th Pl, Flushing NY 11354 (map)