Korea has its fair share of things to do. One of the things the country is most known for is its drinking culture.
Drinking in Korea is strictly a social activity. While Koreans drink their fair share of alcohol, it's because they're having a great time with friends, family, and or coworkers.
In most cases, Koreans live in apartments, and they're usually not large. Because of this, Koreans go out to eat and drink with their families, friends, coworkers and loved ones. Rarely do Koreans sit around at home doing nothing.
They're very social. It's well engrained in Korean culture. Because of this they go out and feast and drink. Memories and good stories are abundant.
In Korea, the beer is usually flowing, but you'll noticed green glass bottles with clear liquor. That's a national drink called Soju. Koreans drink it in either shots or mixing it with a cheap beer like Cass or Hite. It's a lot like vodka, but doesn't possess much of a taste and more importantly doesn't burn going down the hatch.
While I enjoy Soju to get the night started and because it's not a terrible tasting alcohol (and because I want to do Korean things), be very cognizant of how much you consume. It's a strong liquor and consuming too much will put you down for the night.
Public intoxication is not a crime in Korea. Even drinking in public is not a crime. It's totally legal.
No one does it though.
While you won't end up in a jail cell for public intoxication, if you're highly intoxicated and causing a scene, Koreans will not take kindly to you. Even though they have a strong drinking culture and things like consuming alcohol in public and public intoxication are not crimes, Koreans don't appreciate making scenes and being rude. It's a respect based society. It's a free society with a lot of freedoms, but it's not yours, so respect it.
Some of the most well known areas of Korea to, "let loose," if you will, are:
Haeundae Beach (Busan)
Korea's party scene starts in Seoul. There are three specific areas in which you'll find the most party centric atmosphere.
Make sure to read my blog post about how to successfully manage a big city like Seoul, here.
If you're an English speaker, these areas of Seoul are the places where you'll find the most foreigners, most foreigner friendly establishments, and the best English speaking bar and club employees.
*As of initial publication (January 6th, 2019), I have personally experienced the below mentioned places. I will update this article when I experience more of Korea's party scene.*
*UPDATED: April 17th, 2019 to include Seomyeon - Busan.*
*UPDATED: July 9th, 2019 to include Gangnam - Seoul.*
Hongdae plays host to several of Korea's largest and most well known universities. Since the drinking age in Korea is 19 and the universities are just a few blocks away, this means Hongdae is where you'll find some of the most frequented clubs and bars in Korea.
Club Aura (club): Club Aura is one of Koreas most well known clubs. It features two separate areas to drink and dance. Paying the entrance fee gets you access to both the Hip Hop and Electronic dance areas.
Being one of the most popular clubs in Korea, don't be surprised to have to wait in line to get in.
The main stage (pictured below) features a stage with a DJ playing electronic music. In this area you won't find many foreigners. This area is mostly Koreans standing around watching some (likely paid) women dance on the stage or enjoying beverages and subtle dancing with their significant others or friends.
Not pictured is another area of the club (you'll have to go outside and around the corner to access it) where the music is all Hip Hop. This area is significantly smaller, but still packed. You'll find more foreigners in this part of
Please note that Club Aura has an age limit. As of this posts release, no one born before 1989 is allowed to enter. That being said, if you look young, the security might let you through.
Mikes Cabin (bar): Drinking at Mikes Cabin felt a lot like being in college again. Getting in the front door affords you a free drink voucher that you can use. Upon walking inside you'll notice a very low key bar on the right. A few people hangout there to enjoy a beverage to get away from the rowdy atmosphere in the basement.
Head downstairs and you'll see men and women dancing on tables and consuming alcoholic beverages. The music is loud and the party shows no signs of slowing down.
An interesting thing about Mikes Cabin is that the bartenders didn't seem to be Korean. Most of them appeared to be native English speakers. The ones I interacted with spoke perfect English.
Itaewon is an enclave of Seoul most know for its bars. It is very popular among foreigners. Especially U.S. service members.
Fountain (bar): If you're going to spend a night out in Itaewon, Fountain, is where you should start your night. Honestly, it would make for a fantastic night out with a significant other. The vibe here to start the night is very mellow, but after a certain time (I wasn't there to see the transformation) they transform the bar into more of a club where patrons start dancing and the vibe turns much more into a party.
Fountain has multiple levels where you can find a vibe that suits your mood.
Prost (bar & grill): Prost is the best place to go after you start your night at Fountain. This bar has a very classy look to it, but the patrons there are likely having a great time. The drinks are pricey (It's Itaewon after all). It felt like half the bar was foreigners which can be good and bad.
Like Fountain, Prost has a second floor. It's more of a lounge and the people hanging out there likely have a lot of money. That's where the bottle service seemed to be. Regardless, they're friendly. The drinks on the second floor are even more expensive than downstairs.
Gangnam is most known for its shopping. Gangnam is where the wealthiest Koreans often reside.
A stroll down the main (packed) avenue, you'll see every imaginable shop and restaurant. Everyone here is in a hurry to complete the tasks they're there to complete. It reminds me a lot of Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Here is where you'll have zero trouble finding Korean couples wearing matching outfits which is totes adorable.
Octagon: Octagon is in a peculiar spot in the Gangnam district in Seoul. It's located below the New Hilltop Hotel and upon your arrival for the first time you'll likely doubt you're in the right spot. There's really not much about this area of Gangnam that says it hosts one of the best party atmospheres in the entire world.
In 2018, Octagon was rated the 7th best club in the world by DJMag.com.
This world famous club features EDM on the main stage with a lineup of skilled DJ's that play from 11pm to 8am. The large LED screen behind the DJ's will feature insane graphics that add to the experience. Upstairs you can find a smaller dance floor that is strictly Hip-Hop.
By the wee hours of the morning both dance floors will be packed to the brim so don't expect to move around the club with ease.
To enter Octagon, you'll have to reach ₩30,000 into your pockets ($25). However, that comes with two free tequila drinks which you can redeem at any of the several bars throughout this rowdy establishment. Upon entering at 11pm you'll get a wrist band and you can come in and out of the club all night.
There are several 24-hour convenience stores around Octagon where you can go in-between dance sessions to grab a far less expensive drink and recharge your partying battery. Drinks inside Octagon will cost you ₩10,000 to ₩15,000.
My advice: enter Octagon at 11pm, pay your entrance fee, and frequent the surrounding convenience stores for your drinking needs.
Please be aware that Octagon is closed Monday-Wednesday.
*As of the latest update to this blog post, I haven't yet experienced Gangnam's party scene.*
*The information about Club Octagon was updated on July 19th, 2019.*
Gwangju is a substantially smaller city than Seoul. Around two million people call Gwangju home but for a city in the, mostly rural, southern parts of South Korea, it packs a pretty solid party scene punch. Gwangju has A LOT to offer besides drinking. Most notably, it's the birthplace of Korean Democracy.
Libertine (club): Libertine is a really fun club to go to. It's not overly large like some of the clubs in Seoul but it's a popular spot. It often features talented Korean DJ's that keep the party raging into the wee hours of the morning.
Since Gwangju is a much smaller city than Seoul and Busan, you'll likely find you're the only foreigner there. The Koreans in the club will notice too. Don't be surprised if a group enjoying the night from the VIP section comes down and grabs you and brings you up into the VIP area and offers you free drinks. It's the friendly and curious nature of Koreans not living in metropolis'. That being said, the Libertine staff won't appreciate you getting free entrance into the VIP section.
Coyote Ugly (bar): Coyote Ugly is another bar that nears being labeled a club. It has a large bar area where you can enjoy the music and atmosphere while being just a few steps from your next adult beverage. Coyote Ugly, like a club, has a good sound system and utilizes fog machines with laser lights in assorted colors.
At Coyote Ugly, you're likely to find a few foreigners (we ran into some Russians who I mistook for Americans) and Koreans who speak pretty good English. In my limited interactions with the staff, the bartenders seemed to speak English.
Drinks are pricey.
I can't say for sure about all the time but when I arrived it wasn't that crowded.
Busan is my favorite city in Korea. What's not to love about a big and beautiful city on the beach? Busan has so much more to offer than partying.
Output: Searching around where to party in Busan on Google, you'll see this basement club pop up on numerous blog posts and websites of people that have enjoyed their time in Busan. Having been twice, I understand why people like it.
₩10,000 gets you into the club with one free drink. Drinks are ₩5,000-12,000 depending on what you order.
Output always has a DJ (most nights offer a lineup of different DJ's) mixing Deep House.
My first time experiencing this establishment, they even had a DJ play an EDM set to which a drummer appeared out of the fog and started drumming along to the DJ's mix.
The vibe at Output is very relaxed and easy to enjoy. The lighting system in the club really amplifies the relaxed atmosphere.
Haeundae Beach Area
Billie Jean (Bar with large dance floor): I'm not going to sugar coat it folks, Billie Jean is a dump. By the time you near closing time, the bathrooms become a pretty nightmarish experience. The drinks are also quite expensive.
That being said, it's very easy to have a great time at Billie Jean. The Dance floor takes up most of the establishment and the people that come to Billie Jean don't hold back when it comes to having a fun night.. Nothing will get in their way to stop them from doing just that. The DJ's play a great mix of music and the crowd that's dancing is guaranteed to be really into the atmosphere.
Cocky Pub (bar): This three story bar is a great hangout spot if you're with a group of friends. The bartenders are amazing. They're very quick to fulfill your orders (granted it was never too crowded) and their English is very good.
On the third floor Cocky Pub has darts and beer pong if you want to get competitive with your friends. When the weather is nice they open the doors on the third floor and railings at the front of the establishment provide for a great spot to enjoy a beverage and watch people stroll up and down Gunam-ro (one of the most frequented avenues in all of Busan) while reveling in the modest temperatures.
Wolfhound (bar): Wolfhound is located close to Cocky Pub on Gunam-ro. This is the best bar in Busan in the Haeundae area to get your night started.
This is not a bar where your night is going to get overly rowdy. This is a great low-key drinking spot. Even more so, this Irish Pub which is owned and run by a native English speaking man (I think he's from Canada), is a marquee place to go for a good western breakfast. Craving bacon? Wolfhound will hook you up!
You get the most out of Wolfhound when you arrive around 11am struggling to muster the energy to do something remotely productive. Treat yourself to a classic western breakfast (the bacon is important) and a mimosa. You know what, make it two mimosas!
Find a local spot
While the above mentioned clubs and bars are a guaranteed good time, all you really need to do is find a local spot when you're in South Korea. Even in small cities like Suncheon, the drinking culture is strong and there are plenty of, "homey," local places to frequent. Koreans are so friendly and inquisitive. Especially in the smaller cities, they'll try and talk to you, ask you where you're from, ask you what you're doing in Korea. Don't be shocked if they invite you for a drink as well. As mentioned, they're very social. If you want to impress your new Korean friends if they invite you for a drink, give them a cheers by raising your glass and saying, "geonbae!" (건배).
It's easy to enjoy life in Korea. After all, Koreans are full of it!