South Korea may be known for K-pop, but the musical world in Seoul goes far beyond sugar-spun pop hooks and blindingly vibrant music videos. From underground indie to jazz and heavy metal, the city is home to a host of clubs and bars that feature a wide variety of musical genres. We’ve rounded up a few of the best.
When Once in a Blue Moon opened its doors in 1998, it was the jazz spot in Seoul as well as the place to be seen in general. Today, the venue maintains the same class and charm that first put it on the map. The three-floor venue hosts two local acts every night, with performances that are sure to transport you from Cheongdam-dong straight to New Orleans. With more than 100 wines available, an eclectic menu of cocktails named after jazz musicians, and top-notch cuisine, it’s no surprise that Once in Blue Moon has been listed as one of the World’s Best Bars.
As one of Hongdae’s longest-running indie clubs, Club FF continues to pack in the crowds with its killer line-ups and wide variety of music rarely found elsewhere on the peninsula. Having featured names such as The Koxx, Yellow Monsters, Galaxy Express, and Guckkasten, the venue is perhaps one of the best places to enjoy a healthy dose of rock, but also spotlights punk, ska, and heavy metal acts from time to time. An all-you-can-drink happy hour (held from 11 to midnight) only adds to the grungy but enjoyable basement atmosphere, and often results in an all-night dance party that lasts until the sun comes up.
At the heart of Seoul’s lively Hyehwa district is one of the city’s best-kept secrets: Jazz Story, a bar that dazzles with its live music sets and enchanting atmosphere. Here, patrons can relax in an eclectic interior bedecked with items such as a hand-crafted airplane that hangs suspended over the stage. Otherworldly sculptures adorn the exposed rebar and broken concrete walls, while clusters of dripping candles create a romantic, dreamy ambiance. Get there by at 8:30pm (8pm on Sundays) to enjoy the venue’s house band, which plays everything from Louis Armstrong and ABBA to John Mayer.
Touting itself as a ‘safe space’ for performers and audiences alike, Club BBang has been spearheading the indie music scene since 1994, when it was located in the Ewha Womans University area. Now in Hongdae, the bohemian-esque basement venue invites up-and-coming musicians to freely express themselves in front of small but non-judgmental audiences. Apart from gigs by solo performers and bands, Club BBang also hosts film screenings and art exhibitions.
Named after jazz legend Bill Evans, Club Evans is undoubtedly one of the best spots for jazz in South Korea – and the weekend crowds prove it. Visitors come from all over the peninsula to see local and international acts perform various subgenres of jazz, with some even adding traditional Korean instruments to the mix. You, too, can show off your chops on Monday and Tuesday evenings, when jam sessions are open to the public.
Housed in the basement of the Hyatt Hotel in Itaewon, JJ’s features nine separate areas embellished with luxurious furnishings such as leather seating, mahogany floors, Persian rugs, and a great deal of antique furniture. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is lively (and at times borderline rowdy), particularly in the Music Room, which stars daily, live music entertainment and hosts crowds of young professionals looking to have a good time.
While the majority of Seoul’s music bars feature live acts on weekends only, Boogie Woogie is the place to visit for live shows every night of the week. Conveniently located on Gyeongnidan-gil – just a stone’s throw from Itaewon – the bar hosts a different act each night. Bands range in genres including standard, modern, and fusion jazz as well as funk, soul, and hard bop. With a lively atmosphere, good drinks, and daily food specials, music lovers can’t really go wrong here.
Often referred to as the ‘granddaddy of jazz bars in Korea,’ All That Jazz was the first jazz bar in the country, opening its doors in 1976. Since its establishment, it has consistently aimed to bring jazz to the masses, reinterpreting it with a Korean flair. It has done so through its hosting of many big names, including saxophonist Jung Sungjo and drummer Ryu Boksung, who still frequently plays on the bar’s stage. Nowadays, the venue also mixes up their set list to include contemporary bands such as Kuma Park and JHG. Located in nightlife district of Itaewon, All That Jazz makes for a great date night or post-dinner destination. Check out their website for a concert calendar.
Don’t let this dingy dive bar fool you. It may be small, cramped, and without a stage, but this Hongdae institution hosts some of the best indie acts in Seoul, many of whom visit to simply play for themselves. Embracing the notion of music as a uniting force, Strange Fruit touts itself as a community space where like-minded individuals can gather to enjoy and talk about the songs, the artists, and the music that unite them. In addition to the musical acts, which range from jazz and heavy metal to glam rock and girl punk, cheap whiskey shots and an endless collection of CDs make this spot a must-visit for music aficionados.