Party people, put your hands up in the air! Looking for a place to go out in Busan? Here’s an article I wrote and photographed for the November 2009 issue of 10 Magazine. Unfortunately the info is a little outdated, and a few of the places like Chen Chen’s, Metro Dart Bar, and Sunset have shut down.
Busan’s Nightlife Renaissance: A Guide to The Pleasure City’s Top 3 Party Routes
Words and shots by Peter DeMarco
Hedonists beware: there’s a new party playground in Korea and it’s called Busan. The city’s night scene has gone through a rebirth in recent years. Although not nearly on the same level as world party capitals like Rio or Madrid, Busan is clearly one of the most happening cities in Korea.
About 7 years ago, if you wanted to go out in Busan and spend the night in a Western-style bar that catered to foreigner’s tastes, you only had two choices. And if you wanted to go to a club that played something other than K-Pop, there was only one in the whole city where you didn’t have to reserve a table and buy an overpriced platter of old fruit or dried squid in order to get in.
Busan’s international population has grown drastically in recent years. With around 3.6 million people, Busan is almost as large or larger than many other major world cities such as Los Angeles, Cape Town, Berlin, Sydney, and Athens to name a few. The town hall’s mandate to put a foreign English teacher in every public school has markedly increased the number of foreigners living in Busan. Add to that an influx of foreign students attending local universities along with a new generation of hip young Koreans open to new influences and you’ve got quite a mix.
As a result, Western-style clubs, bars, and restaurants are everywhere. Most of the places foreigners tend to hang out are located in three distinct neighborhoods. Here are three party routes to help you discover each area. Keep in mind this is not a complete list and that there is much more to be discovered.
The University Route: From Gwangan to Kyungsung
The mass of restaurants, bars, and clubs clustered in the middle of 4 of Busan’s largest universities might as well be called Little Hongdae for it’s abundant nightlife and free-spirited college atmosphere. The area is called Kyungsung, or ‘Kyungdae‘ as the locals say, and it’s packed almost every night of the week.
But before you start exploring, take a 5 minute taxi ride to Thursday Party on Gwangali Beach just next door. Drink your Daquiri as you munch limitless amounts of unsettlingly addictive curry popcorn and super salty pretzel sticks. Once there, you can take in the one of Busan’s most beautiful sights, the rainbow lights of the Gwangan Bridge at night. A number of other bars line the beachfront should you decide to stay in the area longer.
Now on to Kyungdae. Before the night gets started, stop by the Indian cafe and bar Ayuta to sip on imported beer, wine, or a mango lassi. The smell of incense welcomes you as you enter this dimly lit Indian restaurant and bar which has one of best “chill out” atmospheres around. Kick back on the floor pillows and take in eclectic Asian lounge beats – think Slumdog Millionaire meets Cafe Del Mar – while you smoke from a hooka. The Indian grub is average at best but that’s not the reason to go there.
If darts is your thing, you can’t miss Metro Dart Bar. There is a whole wall lined with electronic dart boards so you’ll never have to wait long to play. Not into darts? Try Eva’s, a small but stylish laid back bar which also serves up decent burgers. Although not a sports bar per say, Eva’s is always showing sports games on the big screen from the NBA, NFL, MLB, to Premiere League soccer. Other popular foreigner-friendly favorites, all within a few block radius, are Kino Eye and Ol’ 55 with live music.
Are you ready to get your dance on yet? Just listen for the blaring dance music pouring out of a second floor open air terrace. If you see some guys ogling the scantly clad ladies walking the streets below, or girls posing on a railing for passers by, you’ve found the local meat market aptly known as Ghetto. Not quite your style? Head over to one of Busan’s oldest foreigner style clubs,Vinyl Underground, for an eclectic mix of electronic beats.
Getting there: Line 2, Kyungsung Univ. / Pukyoung Nat’l Univ. Station
Late night snack: Chen Chen’s is a can’t miss for the Chinese food lover located just across the street from the main gate of Pukyoung University. Open until 2 a.m., this American style Chinese bar and restaurant serves up the best Chinese food in town at the lowest prices! The owner and cook Mr. Chen worked in the kitchen of his brother’s Chinese restaurant in San Francisco for almost 30 years. The szechuan chicken is like poultry candy – so delicious.
- Thursday Party (Line 1, Gwangan Station), 051-758-0822
- Ayuta, 016-794-7889
- Metro Dart Bar, 010-9323-5955
- Eva’s, 051-628-5653
- Ghetto, 010-4588-4697
- Vinyl Underground, 051-628-0223
- Chen Chen’s, 010-3553-0004
The Riviera Route: Haeundae
Kick the night off at one of Busan’s least pretentious bars just a few blocks from the beach. Sunset Lounge is the type of place that you feel like you’re hanging out in a college frat house without the over-the-top rowdiness. If you want to watch any type of sports, from Ultimate Fighting to football, this is your place. Throw in some great western food and a rooftop bar to boot and your bound to have a great time.
Next, put on your sombrero as you walk down the beach to Fuzzy Navel, a happening bar right behind the Novotel that serves up a mean taco to go with your margarita. Then, cross the street to Miami 88, another popular watering hole.
Finally, it’s on to the clubs. Busan has 3 big western-style clubs all located in the basement of the city’s 5 star hotels in Haeundae. Murp II, in the Novotel is smaller and probably the most fancy with prices to reflect. A few doors down is the newest addtion, Club Elune in the Paradise Hotel. This club brings in many international DJ’s (the same one’s who spin up in Seoul usually stop here before they move on). Finally, there’s Club Maktum. Just look for the lit up phallic-looking entrance to party the night away.
Getting there: Line 2, Haeundae Station
Late night snack: Wash down your yakitori with some sake at the Japanese bar Yaki Yaki in lobby of the Palez De CZ building, right next to Club Elune.
- Sunset Lounge, 051-742-2925
- Fuzzy Navel, 011-1757-6349
- Miami 88, 051-746-6488
- Murp II, 051-743-1234
- Club Elune, 010-5525-4055
- Club Maktum, 051-742-0770
The Mix-With-The-Local’s Route: Seomyeon
Last but not least is Seomyeon, the neighborhood right in the heart of the city, a favorite shopping and hangout place for Busan’s youth. Start your night on the outskirts of Seomyeon at O’Brien’s, probably Busan’s most famous Irish Pub. Make sure you try the fish and chips. Then it’s on to Guri Bar behind the Lotte Hotel for one of their signature mojitos or martinis.
If you’re looking for something with a little more Korean flavor, take a stroll down Number 1 Street to see the show of neon lights. Bars and restaurants line the street. Just pick one, go in, and mingle with the locals! If you can’t find a bar you like, you can always head over to Thursday Party’s Seomyeon location and meet the Busan tobagi or locals. You won’t find as many foreigners here but you’ll still get the feeling that you’re in a bar from back home.
Finally, wrap it up at Club Foxy, but only if you like hip hop. This popular bar and club takes up two floors. The crowd tends to be on the younger side and it’s always packed.
Getting there: Line 1 or 2, Seomyeon Station
Late night snack: Try some twigim or dakboki from one of Seomyeon’s many street vendors.
- Obrien’s, 051-994-6541 (Line 2, Gaya Station)
- Guri Bar, 010-6807-1149
- Thursday Party, 051-818-6621
- Club Foxy, 010-7648-1010