Many gay foreign travelers who come to Seoul invariably find themselves in the Itaewon district. It’s the part of Seoul where English is mainly spoken and most of the gay bars are located on a street known by the locals as “Homo Hill.”
The Jongno district is located north of Itaewon, and the bars are clustered along Donhwamun-ro – a wide street lined with food carts and tables. Known affectionately as The Runway (as in fashion not airport), this street turns into a smorgasbord at night. Each food cart sells some version of Korean food and they all serve beer and soju (Korean ricevodka). The one difference with these food vendors from other such places in Seoul is that most, if not all of the clientele, are gay.
Tucked away off this street are various soju bars, noribangs (Korean karaoke) and one-shot bars. A one-shot bar is the Korean term for a cocktail bar. A soju bar requires that you buy food such as a fruit platter or fried squid. Soju bars are typically cramped and smoky.
Unlike Itaewon, which has very few cocktail bars, the Jongno area has over twenty. When you add in the soju bars and noribangs there are more than 100 gay establishments in this neighborhood!
Since each bar in Jongno has its own style and crowd, a perfect way to explore is to barhop with a stop along the way for some food.
Bar Friends (88-2 Nakwon-dong)
Bar Friends is the most sophisticated and comfortable of the bars. It’s very modern which exposed ceilings, chrome tables, leather seats, and low couches. On warm nights, its front opens to the street – a rarity for a gay establishment in Seoul. The lighting is soft as is the music.
The drink menu is extensive, and food is available for purchase as well. Bar Friends is different from the other one-shot bars in that it has a wide selection of wine and beer, though whole bottles of wine in Korea are pricey.
Shortbus (3/F Ehwa Building, 175 Myo-dong)
A stroll down the length of “The Runway” takes you to Shortbus, located on the 3rd floor of a non-descript building. Shortbus is eclectic in style with a large triangle-shaped bar that dominates the space. It has a homey, friendly atmosphere, and the owner is very affable.
Most guys tend to sit around the bar and it’s not uncommon to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. This bar tends to be the most popular with the foreign crowd.
Barcode (2/F Myo-dong 41-1)
Around the corner from Shortbus is Barcode. Barcode is very much a bear bar as evident by its burly customers. It’s dark, with black walls, a faux fireplace, and a large screen television that hangs above the bar.
The owner/bartender of Barcode is friendly and open. He is tri-lingual and lived in the States, so he speaks great English. He also mixes tasty drinks, including a potent Long Island ice tea. All the bars offer bar snacks, but the ones at Barcode are the best!
A/V (2/F 236-1 Nagwon-dong)
Across the street from Exit 5 of the Jongno-3 metro is bar A/V. It has a playful décor with a large, sea-glass green bar lined with colorful bottles, straw dispensers, and even a crystal skull.
As with all the bars in Jongno, the drink menu is extensive and the bartenders are friendly. They take pride in their drinks as evidenced by their delicious margaritas! The bar has a great view of The Runway but it is more fun to sit at the bar and chat with the charming bartenders.
Jongno has a reputation for not welcoming foreigners. This rumor could not be further from the truth. It may be true that they don’t see as many foreigners as Itaewon, but each establishment welcomes and embraces its customers. Jongno feels authentic because it is authentic. Unlike Itaewon, which is overshadowed by its military and foreign influence, Jongno is Seoul at its best – friendly, exotic, and fun.
(This is just a snapshot of the many bars located in Jongno. There are many more to discover and experience on your own. To reach Jongno-3 take subway lines 1, 3, or 5 and take Exit 5. Many of the bars are located on upper floors and can be hard to see.)
The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and not Travel Gay Asia.
by Tod | On: Gay Seoul