Clubs come and go in trend-conscious Korea. Most of the ones you see listed, including Octagon, have been closed for a while.
The clubs that take their place aren’t quite copies, but they definitely rhyme.
Here are the most common types of night clubs you’ll encounter in Korea and how to spot them.
1. Mega Club
These have largely gone out of fashion for one reason or another (COVID didn’t help).
Mega clubs in Korea have a similar vibe as the ones in Las Vegas, with the bottle service part ramped up to 11.
Korea pulls in some heavy hitters when it comes to EDM and Hip Hop and they’re often featured at these clubs. The only catch is that you’ll be pressured into spending a thousand dollars per table.
EDM was the main genre of music played at these until the Hip Hop trend of the 2010s. They’ve also shifted from being mostly in Gangnam to Hongdae.
How to spot them: Multi-story venue, valet parking, lots of imported luxury cars, line for no reason, huge cover, women won’t make eye contact unless you look rich
- Club Mars (Hip Hop) in Hongdae
- Club Track (EDM) in Hongdae is hot now and accepts non-Koreans.
- Octagon, Arena, Answer, Elui, Mass are permanently closed
2. Underground Hip Hop
There are three variations of these:
- older, upscale crowd
In the past, they’d all play some variation of commercial Hip-Hop and R&B. Now the local hip hop scene is pretty big so you might be treated to some live performances.
How to spot them: grumpy security guards, wall of smoke out the door, college kids trying to look thuggish
- NB2, Brandnu_hongdae
- Boombar is closed
3. Dive Bar
Need a taste of home or just a place that will let you in? Dive bars can be a lot of fun and there’s often a dance floor.
These are a great place to end the night for some casual merriment.
How to spot them: Foosball table, beer pong, plastic dart board, no dress code or security
- Grand Ole Opry, Mike’s Cabin
- Itaewon, Hongdae, Sinchon
Bring your passport or ARC (Alien Registration Card) to get in.
Bouncers can legally reject you based on age, nationality, gender, or whatever reason they can think of. Don’t take it personally and go elsewhere. There are hundreds of options.
Dress codes skew towards formal as in no shorts, sandals, tennis shoes, t-shirts, etc. Wear a button up shirt and dress shoes for men and dress for women (unless you’re going to a dive bar).
Clubs open all night and don’t get going until midnight.
Drinks are expensive, so pregaming is your friend. Koreans usually have had drinks with dinner, gone bar hopping, and sang noraebang before the club.
Music can get deafening, so consider earplugs if you go out often.
Smoking inside clubs is legal.
Men may come up and dance from behind without so much as a hello.
Like everywhere else, watch your drink.
Fighting is expensive, like 10 grand a punch, so walk away.
4. Traditional Nite
This is the traditional Korean club set up. Men pay hundreds of dollars for a table near the DJ and women get dolled up.
Waiters will grab female patrons and take them to tables, sometimes in rooms, where they will be openly judged and perhaps given shots.
The music is often a bit older like trot and some K-pop, or ballad when it’s slow dancing time.
I wouldn’t say I had fun at these, but they’re an interesting glimpse into the culture.
How to spot them: located in Gyeonggi, red velvet and gold interior, older crowd
- H2O Night Club (Gangnam), Shampoo Night Club (Ilsan)
5. Meat Market
There’s some overlap here with dive bars, but they’re definitely their own animal. These often begin as a place for locals to meet non-locals, then the equation becomes imbalanced as the former take over.
Some criticize places like Thursday Party for being low-rent as they have a completely open door policy. It can feel like the cantina scene in Star Wars sometimes, but I find there’s a good blend of people.
As of this writing, you’ll be able to get in regardless of your age or nationality.
Use the buddy system and enjoy the show.
How to spot them: extra cropped tops, more packs of men than usual, lots of PDA, police show up
- Thursday Party
- Some classics in old days were Papa Gorilla and Tinpan Alley
6. Salsa Clubs
These are good fun if you know the basic salsa step. You can socialize and the crowd is often more diverse and welcoming.
Locals take things seriously though, and you’ll mainly see competitive level dancers among them.
No need to worry about that and go have fun. I made lot of friends during my first year in Korea at salsa clubs.
How to spot them: people are dancing salsa or other form of latin dance.
- Club Bonita
7. Underground EDM
Hate lyrics and get energy from crowds?
These are great for a more intimate EDM vibe. People are often more down to earth than at the luxury mega versions south of the river.
How to spot them: in a basement, smoke machine, strobe lights, guy and/or hot girl standing in front of a Macbook
- Faust, Club Volnost, Beton Brut : Concrete Bar
- Itaewon, Hongdae
Bonus: Gay Bars
If you want to dance the night away in a fun, inclusive environment, these are the place for you. They play poppier music (Lady Gaga and the like obviously), but tend to be cleaner and serve better/cheaper drinks.
How to spot them: located in an alley on the “hill”, tastefully flamboyant decorations, no age limit
- Why Not, Bottoms Up
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