I’ve said before that Seoul is the city that doesn’t sleep – a pretty brutal national work ethic will do that to a country – but then again, why sleep when you could be out having fun? And by fun I mean dancing into what would be considered regular waking hours by the general public. Clubbing Korea-style is not for the feint of heart or too high of heel.
First things first: I know clubbing isn’t for everyone – and for those whose blood runs cold at the thought of strobe lights and loud music, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy what Seoul has to offer at night. Though you might want to steer clear of hof’s/suljibs and some bars. I just thought I’d start off with what I was most used to seeing photos of pre-coming-to-korea, courtesy of a lot of the seoul youth culture blogs – and debunk a couple of the ‘foreigner myths’ surrounding the seoul clubs, considering next to ‘how do you get a Korean boyfriend?’ questions concerning clubs out here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get.
As with any city, you have areas where clubs are, and areas where clubs are not. The three ‘main’ areas you can find clubs are: the Hongdae area, Itaewon, and the Gangnam area. And, as with any city, each area has it’s own… ‘characteristics’. For Seoul, you have the Student, Foreign and Expensive districts, respectively.
Hongdae is home to most of the student clubbing community, so if you’re not about partying with the barely-legal to mid-20’s lot, this probably isn’t the place for you. The club ‘strip’ is right on Hongik uni’s doorstep, and there are ten ‘Ho Bar’s’ alone in the area. It used to be the home of the ‘hip-hop’ clubs, but hip-hop in South Korea is kind of a bit of a reaching description – unless you look into the seriously underground, no-one-knows-about-this-other-than-those-die-hard-fans kind of thing. Most of the bars and clubs here will play a mix of western chart music, edm (electronic dance music), the occasional kpop hit and whatever the dj feels like, in all honesty.
The ‘main’ clubs in Hongdae you are likely to 1) hear a lot about 2) see a lot about or 3) go to often are: NB2, Cocoon, Vera, M2 and Pawn8. The cover fee for all is fairly similar – 10,000-20,000won – and you’ll get a free drink coupon most of the time. Vera and M2 sometimes have launch parties or events, which will make entry for that night a little more expensive, or the place a little more packed. Sometimes I think clubs in Hongdae (especially NB2) have no concept of ‘capacity’… The four I’ve mentioned aren’t exactly super close together, there’s about a 3-5 minute walk to each of them, but there are so so so many more bars along the way that going directly from one to the other is probably never going to happen.
The little bit of myth busting here is: You do, obviously, need a valid ID to get into any of these clubs, and most of the bars. And, unless you are on the guest list, work at the establishment, or know people, you have to pay for entrance.
Dress code for Hongdae is a little (read: a lot) more relaxed. I won’t wear heels out to any of the Hongdae clubs, and I generally won’t wear fancy dresses or tops. For me, it’s just personal preference. And I don’t enjoy having my nice clothes smell of ‘club’ – a lovely fragrance of cigarettes/smoke machine smoke/sweat – since my washing machine likes to chew things up.
Drinks in Hongdae are lovely and affordable. Shots start from 4000won, mixed drinks start at 5000, and bottles and tables won’t break the bank. (They’re still too pricy for me, though.) As smoking inside the clubs is still a very popular thing there are also cigarette dispensers inside.
Cocoon and some of the smaller club-bars are open every night of the week, should you want to get your groove on on a Tuesday evening. Which I *cough* haven’t *cough* ever *cough* done…
I’ve only ever been out in Itaewon once. I don’t especially like the place for anything other than food and shopping, since it’s generally frequented by the military boys (more on this later) and I generally don’t feel very comfortable there. I just don’t. Lots of people do though, which makes clubbing in Itaewon ridiculously popular among expats and Koreans. Since certain clubs in Gangnam are becoming more of an Hongdae 2.0 with the uni kids and early-20’s packing the places, if that really isn’t your thing, then I’d say come here. There’s a large number of bars to choose from if clubs aren’t your thing.
Most of the clubs in Itaewon come attached to hotels, and the rest are separate bar-type things. Lucidream is probably one of the clubs I hear most about, but then again, I really don’t know Itaewon well at all, so if anyone wants to be my guinea pig and tell me what it’s like, go ahead!!!
Gangnam, on the other hand, I know very, very well. It’s my stomping ground of choice, has the prettiest interior design and *gulp* the most expensive drinks. And also some of the Trendiest People.
The internet will tell you that there are only 3 clubs worth going to at any one time in Gangnam, and this is somewhat true, somewhat a crock of absolute bullsh*t. Generally, clubs in gangnam all offer the same soundtrack, the dj’s rotate between them all, and the drinks are pretty much the same price wherever you go. The main differences are the clientele and the cover fee. As with Hongdae and Itaewon, you need a valid ID to be able to get into any of the clubs, and generally adhering to the dress code (usually ‘chic/stylish chic/sexy), is advisable. I have seen people be turned away because they ‘don’t fit the aesthetic’ – and as much as I hate that, it is a thing that happens. Gangnam is elitist.
So, the most famous/happening clubs as of writing this, right now, in 2014 (because hey all the other ‘guides’ are so outdated it’s laughable), are Octagon, Syndrome and probably Vanguard. There are, however, a bunch of others totally worth checking out: Track, Razr, Club Cage, NBGangnam, Answer, The A, Mass, Eden, Magnum, Listen, Holic, Size… and more. Most of them are in a pretty concentrated area, around Sinsa-Cheongdam-Apgujeong, with a couple scattered a little further out (the A and Track) and the rest around Gangnam Station.
Octagon is, very, very proudly, in the top 10 world clubs list. It’s a know celeb-spotting club, and the interior is pretty fancy. Cover is 30000won (10000won before 11pm on some nights) and drinks start at 8000won for shots. The dancefloor is small compared to most clubs, but they have one of the longest bars I’ve seen, and 90% of the club area is dedicated to seating. Vip is upstairs (you’ll know it when you see it) and there are 3 sets of bathrooms. Both the upstairs and downstairs general ladies (sorry gents, not been in!) toilets have a seating area and a well-lit area to do your makeup if you need to touch up. Dress code here is stylish, the clientele is generally people with money to spend on the very expensive bottles and tables, so I’d say dress to impress. Cloakroom is 3000won.
Syndrome is always busy. Really, truly always busy. It’s open almost all week, and Thursday is their Ladies Night. Fridays and Saturdays, for me, are far too nightmarishly packed for me to even think about going, but it has one of the biggest dance floors, and the walk-ways to all the different upstairs sections are… interesting. Syndrome also has a pool, and a very inconveniently placed main bar. Dress code here is more casual than at Octagon – basically everywhere from this point on falls under ‘more casual than Octagon’. The music is good and they do have events and shows on to keep being open almost every day of the week interesting. Cloakroom/lockers are 5000won, if you want a bigger locker it’s 10000won. Bathrooms are notoriously hard to locate (both the general and ‘vip’ bathrooms are downstairs) and, you guessed it, really crowded.
Best thing about Syndrome is the fact that there’s a convenience store literally opposite the club, that very kindly keeps chairs and tables outside. Worst thing is probably having to tell taxi drivers to go to ‘Hotel Sunshine’ (the hotel Syndrome is attached to), but since it’s becoming a lot more well known now, I think it’s probably ok to just say ‘Club Syndrome’.
Next up is Vanguard. It opened this year (2014), and has already made quite the name for itself. It has a rotation of good dj’s and alternates in some new blood that’s looking for experience. The decor is fairly Gangnam Standard – pretty glitzy, interesting ceiling lights, pool – and the dancefloor is of a decent size. It’s popular with expats and foreigners at the moment. I’ve only been once (and not for very long) so have no details on bathrooms/cloakroom or locker cost. Cover fee is usually 20000won.
The A and Track I’m going to group together since they’re close in location and generally quite similar. Track is a really new club, as in baby levels new, ‘I went to the opening party’ levels of new (June 2014). It’s run by a guy who has a lot of model contacts, and I think it’s going to be one of those clubs that is massive when it starts being know. They’ve certainly set it up to be. Lockers are 5000won (are you noticing a theme yet), drinks start at 8000won, the dance floor is tiny, but there’s a lot of seating. Cover starts at 20000won as far as I’m aware.
The A is really pretty. Really, really pretty, and they serve some really strong cocktails. The dancefloor isn’t the largest, but does it’s job well. There’s a lot of seating both downstairs and up, and also a really, really lovely bathroom area (perfect for selfie’s) upstairs. Lockers are 5000won. Cover is 20000won, sometimes 30000won.
NBGangnam is the sister club of NB2, the only difference is it’s in Gangnam. This means drinks are the same price, cover fee is the same (around about 15000won depending on the day), and the music is incredibly similar The dancefloor at NBGangnam is elevated, which can either be fun or treacherous depending on your mood – or how much you’ve had to drink – and is staged towards the dj decks. They have an upstairs tabled area, and ‘super vip’ is not one of those places you can just walk in unless you have the right wristband. Lockers/Cloakroom is a standard 3000won I do believe, and the club is located around Gangnam Station.
Mass is just up the road from NBGangnam, and is one of those clubs that is really busy all the time. At 4am. No I’m not joking. Some of these clubs shut at 9 or 10am in the morning. Anyway – Mass is super identifiable by it’s shiny, shiny black exterior and massive queue. Did I mention it was really busy all the time? Drinks are fairly reasonably priced, cloakroom is free if you’re going there after going somewhere else (say, arrival at 4am) and entry fee is between 10000-30000won depending on the day and the time you arrive. Dance floor is massive, and it’s split into two halves plus an upstairs.
Razr is another new opener for 2014, and is just up the road from Answer. It’s cover fee is usually 20000won I do believe, and it has had quite a few events for being such a new club. (DJ Hanmin, the guy who did the bba sae song you’ll hear a lot in Ho Bar’s likes to play Razr.)
Cage is another new opener for this year, and is becoming one of the Gangnam hotspots to look out for, it’s one of the clubs with two rooms, so you have two dj’s at any one time to pick from.
If you’ve read other blogs, you’ll notice that Ellui does not feature here.
Sad to say, the club closed down since it just wasn’t pulling in the numbers in June of 2014. When you have 3 other clubs down the road that are making better revenue (Ellui was a huge club), I guess it just made sense to shut the doors. It’s sad because I really enjoyed it when I first started going to Gangnam to party. Well, did not. Turns out, in October the club is set to reopen. A brand new Ellui. Please, someone go and tell me how it is! From what I’ve seen on the internet/facebook, it looks like they’ve changed the setup downstairs somewhat?
If you want to know any more details about any of the clubs I’ve mentioned here (what it’s like to actually club there) then don’t be afraid to drop me a comment or contact me on twitter or through email.