Western Bars and Hofs (Korean Bars), Seoul
For those who think expensive O'Kims in the Westin Chosun Hotel is the only Irish Pub in Seoul, think again. Murphy's Irish Pub, located in Jongu, doesn't have the perfect Irish Pub atmosphere (a little too bright and sterile), but it is a close facsimile. It also boasts several types of Irish beer on tap including Guinness and Murphy's. A small pint of Guinness is under 10,000 Won, which is less expensive than many places in the city.
In the early evening, Hollywood is a great place to grab a bite to eat and a beer. At night it becomes one of Itaewon's most popular hangouts for the western school teacher and expat crowd. Few Koreans and military go to Hollywood. In fact, I have heard that military have been denied entrance, probably to avoid fights and other problems.
I read they recently renovated the interior.
As the name implies, Grand Ole Opry is a country bar with a hardwood dance floor. It is located on the middle of Hooker Hill, so it can be a little inaccessible, but if you like country, it is the only place to be in Itaewon. At midnight each night, they play the US National Anthem for us Yankees.
The place is an absolute dump, but the drinks are very cheap and the staff friendly. The Korean waitresses happen to be pretty good 2-steppers and line dancers, so would occasionally get off my but and dance to a good country song. The dance floor is small, so 6 or 8 couples will fill it right up, especially to a fast song.
This was one of the first bars I ever went to in Seoul, but it was too much of a dump, and is a bad location on Hooker Hill, so I never became a regular. Plus, about 95% of the customers are Americans. I would stop in once a month or every other month just to say hello.
Dress Code: cowboy hats, boots, etc
Flair (conveniently pronounced "Player" in Korean) is a quiet Korean-style bar with good beer selection. They do frequent twirling bottles and flaming alcohol tricks!
It's a relatively small bar tucked off the main road, on the small street that goes to the Hyatt and the Swiss Chalet. The entire bar is pretty tiny with an ice bar, about 10 stools around the main bar, and 6 or 8 small tables. The clientèle is mostly Korean with a few Americans who occasionally stumble in to check it out. We made this a relatively regular spot on our evenings out because of the friendly and unique atmosphere, and specifically for the lack of Americans.
Flair is somewhat of a chain in Korea with some 30 or so locations.
Gecko's Garden (NOT Geckos Terrace which is full of American Soldiers) is peaceful and quiet. This large restaurant has indoor and outdoor dining areas, two bars, and plenty of character. The architecture gives a very peaceful and romantic feel with plenty of stone and dark wood. In the summer the outdoor deck on the upper level has great, classy barbecues. Try the tiny second floor bar for a nice romantic spot.
It's a little more expensive than many other places in the area, but the atmosphere, food, and service are worth the price.
Pancho's is a large Mexican bar with Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese waitresses ... what a mix! It has decent Mexican food, good margaritas, and salsa dancing night once a week. Also has pool in the back for the non-dancers. Tuesday nights get a free taco when you order a Mexican drink (tequila, Corona, or margarita)! It has a prime location on the second floor overlooking the main street in Itaewon.
When I lived in Seoul, this was one of our main hangouts where we'd stop each time we went out for drinks. Very friendly staff and nice customers. Highly recommended.
JJ's is the most popular -- and high class -- hangout in Itaewon. It is located at the Hyatt Hotel at the foot of Namsan and has a spectacular view across Itaewon and the Han River. Though quiet during the day, at night this place is packed with people -- despite the exorbitant drink charges (13,000 Won for a cheap beer!).
This place is a little more dressy than most, and the cost of drinks keeps the riff-raff out. Be warned...many of Itaewon's "working girls" come here to scope out new high-roller clients to come to their bars and blow tons of money on even more expensive drinks.
This a popular place for American soldiers and Korean women trying to hook up with American soldiers. Not one of my favorites... far too crowded on weekends, but a nice atmosphere on week nights, especially if you can get one of their few tables outside on the second-floor balcony. Great place to blow a sunny Saturday overlooking the pedestrians and the traffic below! They also have pool and darts, but typically it is too crowded to actually play.
This is a very large establishment for Itaewon with at least 20 seats around the bar and numerous tables, small couches, and other odd sitting locations throughout.
Its a warm and cozy 2 storey Irish pub and restaurant that has a large selection of draft beer and has Guinness for 7000 won a pint. Full pints! All the food is delicious but the fish and chips is easily the best I've had in Seoul. Unique to Seoul in thats its two places in one. More casual restaurant atmosphere on the first floor and more pub/ bar atmosphere on the second floor with a pool table and lots of seating.
Dress Code: Casual
It's not as good as back in 2003, but it's still a popular place with the English teachers looking for a fun night. It can range to casual drinking pitchers at tables to the whole bar turning into a dancefloor~~ depends on the crowd. Good music- very Canadian.
Dress Code: Whatever.
Mike's Cabin is a new Korean-American run bar in the Sinchon area of Seoul. The bar is setup a lot like the nearby Nori, but with a much more Western and unscale vibe to it. It is very new and very nice. The staff is kind, friendly and most of them speak English quiet well.
Dress Code: Just dress normal.
Just last week in Itaewon I was politely invited to visit a new club down the street from Gecko's Garden, behind Hamilton Hotel. My host was quite persuasive and polite, offering a free drink just to visit. The bar is in the basement of the building, nicely lit, has a pool table, some tables, a nice bar, and several lovely hostesses. Of course, this is a "Hostess bar" where ladies drinks run $10, but it was quite nice and relaxing. Four lovely women kept the coversation casual and light, and I felt no pangs in buying several of them drinks; I didn't ask if there was more than drinks available. I would go back. All spoke English.
Dress Code: casual (hostesses wear jeans and shirts or halter tops showing middriffs); my hostess wore a very nice summer dress.
Not a big one for nightclubs I finished each day with a visit to a local pub/bar/eatery. The food was good and fiery and I got a taste for the local beer "Hite." Perenial problem was the lack of english but generally I got fed and watered effectively.
Dress Code: Local all wear suits. I had no problems in combats and a t-shirt although I wasn't shopping up market.
Nori is a big wet kiss of a bar. It's full of colorful people. The best time to go is on Friday or Saturday night after about midnight. The place is usually rocking at that point. It's in the basement of the building. It is often called "The Bar" because there is a big sign that says, "The Bar" on the building. But "The Bar" is on the second floor, while Nori is in the basement.
A great bar is like an old friend --- they're always there for you, they provide you great memories and they get you drunk. They have a makeshift dance floor, a great record collection (vinyl!) and reasonable prices. And it's a great way to jack in to the expat community in the greater Seoul area. The whole dancing thing is what makes it special for me -- they play great music and once people get a few drinks in them, they start shaking their booties.
Be sure to get there early if you're going with a big group, the bar is very small and seating is limited. The place is pretty dead on most weekday nights, so keep that in mind as well.
Stuff is written all over the walls and you feel like like when you wake up the next morning you're going to be just a little bit hipper than you were the morning before.
Another great thing about Nori is regardless of the time you show up -- after midnight on a weekend night -- at least, you're probably going to have fun and/or meet someone interesting.
I write about this place pretty often at www.migukin.com
Dress Code: You may dress any way you wish.
Watts On Tap, along with nearby Nori, is one of my favorite bars in the Sinchon area of Seoul. It's dark and cozy and a great place to take a date. The staff are cool and if you become a regular, you can start to feel like you're part of an extended family.
Dress Code: Don't dress like a slob