General Nightlife Guide
There are a variety of nightlife options in Busan for every budget in every part of the city. Names can be a little misleading, but there are a few general rules. The following attempts a brief description of the types of joints you can expect to find.
In many parts of the city, you can find big Nightclubs in the Korean style. This usually means you are expected to have a table, and usually must order anju (side dishes) with your drinks. They tend to insist on proper dress (no tank tops, ratty clothes, etc.) and tend to be a bit pricey. Sometimes they have lip-synch bands, 'animators', or some other stage entertainment. There is of course a lot of dancing, usually with the people you came with although it is possible to meet people.
The Korean nightclub scene, like the general social scene in Korea, leans toward established groups and not so much free mingling as Westerners may be accustomed to. Feel it out. There have been cases of foreigners being ejected from nightclubs for dressing too 'down' or being a little too aggressive in their social advances. On the other hand, you can meet many Koreans who will be happy to make a new friend, buy you a drink, or spin around the floor with you.
A Soju Bang (pronounced 'bahng') is a place to sit down and drink Soju (or beer). Many expect you to order anju, but even if they don't, you may want to consider having something in your stomach anyway. These are good places to get pickled cheaply. A westerner pounding Soju at a Soju bang rarely fails to impress. Be prepared to speak some Korean (and maybe make some local friends).
A Hof (sometimes transliterated as 'HOP') is similar to a Soju Bang except that they have draft beer and different food options. Usually fairly cheap. Also a good place for a quiet night of drinking with friends and locals. These, like Soju bangs, can be found virtually everywhere in Busan.
A Pojang Macha (literally 'covered wagon', lovingly called 'Soju Tent' by foreigners) can be described as an outdoor Soju Bang. These are great places to hang out when the weather is nice, especially out at the beach. In winter, they zip down the flaps and turn on the space heater, and can still be very cozy. They will expect you to order anju with your drinks and are a bit more expensive than soju bangs, however the food options can be more exotic (whale meat, live octopus, fresh shellfish, and my personal favorite, chicken gizzards). These can be found singly around the city, and they are concentrated in certain areas like Haeundae (beachfront) and Seomyeon (behind Lotte Hotel). In some places, notably Texas Street, there are merely carts with little or no cover, so you are sitting in the open air. Soju al fresco!
There are also Nightclubs in a more Western style. These may have a bar, may favor more Western or underground dance music, and may be a little less rigid than the dance-sit-dance-sit mentality of the more Korean places.
Note: Some nightclubs, notably the Dallas Club near Camp Hialeah and most of the nightclubs on Texas Street, are slightly more than that. Some call them Girlie Bars or Go-go Bars - the idea is that a female 'companion' (usually a Korean at Dallas, a Russian on Texas) will join male customers and expect them to buy her overpriced, watered-down drinks, for whichshe earns a commission. Be prepared to spend heaps of money--these ladies can really pack the booze away; after all, it's their job. Contrary to popular myth, the women in these places are not necessarily prostitutes--it seems to me that the majority are not--but they are still risky places to go looking for love. The up-side: they can be fun places to dance because the crowds are generally much less inhibited, and they will play Western or Russian music--a welcome change if you burn out on standard Korean vibes.
A Dance Bar is more or less the same as a nightclub, except that there is usually a bar you can sit at if you straggle in alone or in a small group, or just prefer to sit at the bar.
A 'Western' Bar is more or less what the name implies and will be the most familiar to Westerners. These usually have a sit down bar as well as tables, will play anything from Korean pop to jazz to Western rock, and sometimes have those groovy Western features such as dart boards, pool tables, and life-size cutouts of John Wayne. The staff will usually speak from functional to kick-ass English.
Western Bars and Nightclubs usually serve up cocktails. So does a Cocktail Bar, though the distinguishing feature here is the 'cocktail show'. These can be pretty cool, if you don't mind watching people juggle Molotov cocktails in crowded rooms with one exit. I have also seen places called Event Bars, which seems to mean they feature a special 'event' like a cocktail show or a fire-breathing bartender. Definitely worth seeing at least once. A word of advice: order your drink (or two) before the show starts. Once it kicks off, there is effectively no service until it's over (maybe 20 or 30 minutes)
Note that there's a lot of crossover here. Some Dance and Western bars have great cocktail shows. Some Western bars don't have a real 'bar' but maybe some other Western feature like imported beer and a few Route 66 roadsigns. Some cocktail bars have dance floors and DJs, etc.
Western Bars, Nightclubs, Dance Bars, and Cocktail Bars can be found around the city, with the greatest concentrations being in Seomyeon, Haeundae, Gwanganli, Nampodong, and some of the major University areas (Busan National University, Bukyoung/Kyoungsoung). Check our Music Section for information about bars and clubs that feature live music