You may think that people from South Korea are always hard-working, spending some of the longest hours working, but they also know how to play hard too! Seoul has one of the most dynamic nightlife scenes in Asia. Because of it, Seoul is an ideal destination for party animals and the night owls. Some might even find it hard to keep up with the locals!
Well, grab your party pants and top up your glass with soju to read everything about Seoul’s nightlife.
Unique Dynamics of the Korean nightlife
Clubs are most like nightclubs around the world. They are situated in party districts, mainly like Itaewon. Clubs have a dance floor where guests can dance along to loud music. DJs can show off their moves on stage and keep the crowd pumped.
Tables and rooms are available, and the guests can get access to them if you buy expensive liquor by the bottle. Socializing mainly happens on the dance floor, where patrons can drink and dance.
Most clubs do not have an age-limit beyond the minimum age of 19. Clubs in the Hongdae region attract younger crowds in their early 20s. People in their late 20s and early 30s prefer clubs in Gangnam and Itaewon.
Most clubs charge a higher entrance fee for men, and the peak party hours are from 1 am to 4 am.
‘Night’ establishments are similar to a club, but they are more geared towards the older crowd in their 30s and 40s. Socializing rules are different in these places. Guests can mingle naturally on the dance floor in a club, but waiters arrange introductions in a night establishment. The socializing then happens in separate rooms.
Hunting Pubs or Hunting Pocha
These are singles bars where people can pick up a date while drinking. Patrons can approach other tables in person and suggest drinking together without requiring assistance from waiters.
Some hunting pubs are more technologically advanced, and they are equipped with tablet PCs. Guests can use these devices to send messages to a ‘target’ table. If the patrons on the table consent, guests can join for a drink.
Hunting pubs are typical amongst people in their early and mid-20s. The streets of party districts like Gangnam and Hongdae are packed with people on prowl, especially on weekends.
Old-Fashioned Pub or Gamseong Jujeom
The literal translation of the Korean words gamseong jujeom is ‘emotional pub.’ They are equipped with a dance floor, and they play music from the past. You can listen to pop music from the late 1990s to the early 2000s in these pubs.
Guests can sit and enjoy a drink or dance to the beats of music, or even sing along to songs. Socializing is open everywhere, whether you are sitting or on the dance floor.
These old-fashioned pubs have a strict age limit. Some pubs restrict people over a certain age, while others raise the minimum age bar limit. It helps to attract a clientele that can enjoy the collective nostalgia of a specific era without other people grumbling about it.
It’s like discotheque but with soft drinks. The establishments are intended as a dance and socializing venue for the elderly. The senior crowd usually visits the colatheques to learn and practice dancing. They can also get together for a game of janggi, a Korean style of chess. Colatheques are mostly located in neighborhoods frequented by seniors such as Jongno in downtown Seoul.
Colatheques were initially established to target teenagers who wanted to dance and have fun but could not consume alcohol. However, they have evolved into establishments that cater to the elderly.
Cha, cha, cha
Most people around the world prefer to party on weekends with heavy drinking sessions, but Koreans can party just about every night of the week. They prefer to party in ‘cha’ or rounds. They eat and carouse at multiple locations well into the early hours of the morning.
Generally, a night out involves two or three cha, but on special occasions, it can make its merry way all into a fifth. Each round takes place at a specific type of establishment.
Goji jib – The partying starts with a meal together at goji jib or a barbeque restaurant. Korean food like samgyeopsal (pork belly) can prepare the body for binge-drinking. You can pair the pork belly with somaek, a widely-consumed cocktail of soju and maekju (beer).
Bars – The next round focusses on drinking. No matter what you like, you can find a place for your drinking round in the city of Seoul. You can expect impressive drinking techniques and some wild drinking games from Koreans.
Hofs – They are common hangout places that are perfect for round three. These establishments serve anju or drinking food like fried chicken and sausage platters.
Clubs – There any many different types of establishments like clubs, nights, or even hunting pubs. These places are ideal for dancing, and that’s the next round of the night out.
Noraebang – No night out session is complete without a round of noraebang or karaoke. It is quite popular among Koreans of all ages.
Nightlife in Seoul
There are many districts in Seoul that are widely popular for their nightlife amongst locals and tourists both. Each region has its own unique vibe of nightlife in Seoul.
It is popular amongst university students and younger 20-something looking to escape the pressures of life. The drinks are pretty cheap here to cater to the student crowds. Neighborhoods are loud, vibrant, and buzzing with a young crowd. It is particularly loved for its underground music scene, street performers, and hip-hop clubs.
Gangnam is home to the city’s high-end clubs like Arena and Octagon. Young and beautiful dance the night away on south of the Han River. There are a number of extravagant lounges and cocktail bars frequented by K-celebrities and socialites in the neighborhoods of Apgujeong and Cheongdam-dong have.
Itaewon caters to a broader demographic – people in 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is a cultural mecca for those who are looking for delightful international cuisine, rooftop bars, and foreigner-friendly clubs. The district also has Homo Hill with a strip of gay bars, drag shows, and gay saunas.
Gaining popularity amongst the global population after Itaewon Class K-drama, Itaewon area in South Korea is now coming into the light for coronavirus pandemic. It is becoming the focal point of the second wave of new coronavirus infections in Korea.
South Korea had relaxed its social distancing norms on May 6 and appeared to have gotten the outbreak under control. New daily cases were down to single digits, but the celebration became short-lived.
The Itaewon neighborhood came into focus after public health authorities announced that a 29-year-old man visited several clubs on May 2 and later tested positive for coronavirus. The new cases are a setback for South Korea, which was initially the worst-hit country outside China before a mix of widespread testing and contact tracing helped keep infections down. And being related to the nightlife in Seoul, it is impacting the tourism industry even more.
Mind Your Manners
As a tourist, you are not expected to know all of South Korea’s distinct customs involving alcohol. If you are doing business with Koreans, then you should make an effort to understand their customs.
South Korean customs emphasize relationships in both personal and business life, especially between people and their elders. When drinking together, the youngest at the table is expected to serve everyone else. There are also certain specific ways to serve and receive a drink.
You should also remember that South Korea has stringent laws against drug use. If you’re caught, you can be deported or even sentenced to up to five years in jail for possession. The best idea is to stay away from all drugs though you can indulge in all the caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco you want.