The city’s best gay bars and clubs
Jongro is the type of neighborhood where you can yell, "Auntie! A bottle of soju, please", at practically any restaurant and be met with a reply immediately. Gay establishment Owoo has been attracting all the new blood to this old-school neighborhood. While other older businesses are cramped in small spaces, Owoo boasts a good size, not to mention their Nordic interior styled in wood, a stark contrast from the backdrop of Jongro. It’s been loved by the young residents here, who avoid the party-rocking block of Itaewon. Their unconditional love is due to 1. Speed: their supply of the elusive Honey Butter Chip or the increasingly popular Sunhari(young people are sensitive to trends) 2. Special promotions: Coming-of-Age Day, Coming of Christ Day, etc a handful of dates marked with "Owoo" on the calendar orders for side dishes or giveaways (check for dates on Facebook). 3. Youthfulness: This place emits a young vibe that only a crowd of people in their 20s can give off, and that money can't buy. When we visited the place to write this review, we had to wait a long time ourselves, so other than getting there early, we're afraid there will always be a line of people ahead of you. P.S. Be sure to order their sweet crispy fried chicken before anything else, which comes with high praise like “a collaboration of the souls of the master and the chef” on social media.
When you go to a cocktail bar in Itaewon or Jongno, all you pretty much do is stare at the menu for an hour. It’s either because they have the same menu from ten years ago (like that Kahlua milk nobody drinks these days), or the pricey cocktail that uses a bizarre liquor as a base. (That’s why sometimes I would brace myself for a bad hangover the next morning and just order myself a Long Island Iced Tea.) However (and thankfully), MoU, located in Jongno, knows how to make a good cocktail. Starting with the basic vodka or gin tonic, they have prepared tons of martinis, as well as their own mixtures called Rose Dawson, Basil Limoncello and Last Words. Their Earl Grey Gin Tonic, made from infused tea to make it extra fragrant, is one of their signature cocktails you will never find anywhere else. This is a good spot to go with a group of friends, but even better to enjoy alone. The nicest, most gorgeous bartenders will listen to all your worries and wash them away with fantastic cocktail.
Sevin Cha of Le Queen in Itaewon and former high school classmate Lim Chanhyuk are the two names behind Triangle, a culture complex located in the I.T.W Hotel. Last November, the duo opened up Hotel Pocha, and as the name suggests, it’s a pocha inside a hotel. This soju bar specializes in a variety of delicious seafood dishes, and after having heard a lot about the place I decided to go check it out for myself one Saturday. It was around 11pm and it was completely packed. The dishes were a bit on the spicy side but other than that, the food was quite ok. Although the space isn’t well ventilated and can feel a bit claustrophobic at times, the scene is so vibrant I definitely recommend checking Hotel Pocha out this weekend.
The gay club Looking Star started off in quite a unique way. Before they opened, they asked people on social media what they think the role of a gay club is, with the hope that the responses would help them create the ideal spot. Those who answered were offered free lifetime entrance passes. Out of the countless Facebook replies, one of the answers that stood out the most was: “A place that can accommodate gays of all ages and where they can meet and have fun.” Club Pulse is filled with 20 years olds and Club Grey is the hotspot for those a decade older. Another request was to have various genres of music and a large stage so it would be easy to dance and mingle, and Looking Star successfully responded to these requests. Playing ‘90s Korean pop to the most recent top chart music, the easygoing atmosphere sets people at ease—so much so that many go on stage and dance the night away (some are so good, they could easily be mistaken for being sponsored by the club). It’s normal for the club to have lines of people waiting outside and there’s hardly any space to move around inside. According to word of mouth, Looking Star holds a different standard for women looking to enter (both in cover charge and manner) but for gay men, it has won the unofficial title as the hottest place to spend the weekend.
The-Nine introduces itself as “the bar of trans fat” and the place does live up to that name with its fatty, high-calories munchies. Having a rather different air from Jongno’s usual marketplace atmosphere, this place serves you greasy, generous food that goes well with soju and beer. One of the most popular places on Gaysbook during the weekends, their specialty is deep-fried chicken in hot pepper sauce (kkhan-ppong chicken) served with their butter-based sauce. The bar also wins plus points for being one that serves Sapporo on tap—something that does not often happen in gay bars of the district. Sitting next to a narrow alley, the bar allows for stolen glances at guys smoking outside through its huge glass windows. The strange chemistry between the bar’s sexy owner and the cute part-timer adds a little more to this place but you may want to rush if you are planning to visit on the weekend as the place may fill up pretty fast.
Historically a haven for the socially marginalized and longtime international tourist hotspot, Itaewon is befittingly the home of the gay community's best-known party scene. Located in the area nicknamed “Homo Hill,” Trance is the oldest gay club and also an iconic Itaewon venue. Trance hosts popular lip sync performances by transgendered unni ("big sisters" in Korean) on Saturday and Sunday nights, and operates as a regular bar on weeknights. A shimmering curtain hangs on the other side of the bar, transforming into the perfect performance venue once customers sit around the T-shaped catwalk. Sing Sing unni and the transgender community’s very own Ninano, both of whom are hostesses of the night, invite a host of showgirls on stage, amongst which Bee Mimi’s over-the-top performance is the main attraction of the night. This destination is a hidden gem for tourists and always receives rave reviews from out-of-towners.
Le Queen has been brought to the spotlight as an afterclub with all the offerings of a conventional club, plus drag show privileges. Their drag shows are renewed monthly, with two shows per night, one at 1am and another at 3am. Le Queen provides more bang for your buck, with a complimentary drink coupon after paying for entrance. During its’ post 4am afterhours, the rowdy crowd turns into a topless dancing spree that goes till the early morn (a real sight for sore eyes). Try their extensive cocktail menu and get drunk on Le Queen’s finest house music.
Gray Club flexed its way into the scene with the avid support of buff, well-built, macho gays. Thanks to their steady and trustworthy fans, Gray has garnered much popularity despite being a latecomer to the scene. The synergy of Gray’s distinct sensual lighting and heavy music climaxes at 3am. At its peak, Gray is filled to capacity. Gray occasionally hosts gogo boys flown in from Shanghai, Tokyo, and Taipei and show time is not to be missed. To check performance dates, go to their Facebook page for more details. Table reservations can get messy so be sure to receive confirmation on your booking before showing up. Entrance fee for males are 10,000won on Friday and 15,000won on Saturday, while female clubbers have to cough up 100,000 won. Frankly, they’d rather not have any of the latter.
Queen shares the title of “Best Gay Club” with the well-established Trance on Homo Hill. On your journey towards the top of the hill you will see a terrace with large glass windows showcasing dancing that will stop you in your tracks. It is as notorious as it is attention-grabbing. Whether it's physics-defying feats on the dance floor, or good-looking guys getting hot and heavy, you see it all, and often. If you are neither gay nor familiar with the culture, tread lightly—this is not a place to come for a wide-eyed tour of gay culture. People are here to party, and you'd better be ready. Straight women, on the other hand, can look forward to a night of mindless dancing with men who will be busy checking out other men. The guys at Queen are well-mannered, witty, attractive, and most of all, great dancers. All the best to the best—all hail the Queen!