I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. In the bedtimes of my elementary school years I could be found tucked beneath a blue-and-white checkered bedspread, head hidden from sight, one hand gripping a mini-flashlight while the other turned the pages of the latest Sweet Valley High. Some nights my mom would spot the faint glimmer slipping beneath my bedroom door, and call out from the top of the staircase, “Get to sleep!” I’d click the light off and listen to her footsteps fade.
Then I’d click it back on and keep reading until my eyes gave in.
I like the night. I like the moon and the silhouettes of trees. I like the glow of street lamps shining on the sidewalks. I like the spurt of energy I get around 10 p.m., when the day has trailed off and a few untouched hours lie ahead, coaxing me to linger in them before morning appears. I like the feeling night brings of expanding time a little, loosening it’s clutch over our lives.
Or maybe that’s just the libations…
Yes, a night owl also likes a good night out. Luckily, I picked the finest Korean city south of Seoul to satiate my love of after-dark offerings. Ten weeks into Busan, I’ve discovered its basement lounges and upstairs bars– rooms with brick walls and hardwood floors and names like Soultrane and Fabric and ‘Ol 55.
They’re tucked into narrow roads in sprawling neigbourhoods called Kyung Sung and PNU, where the streets are still throbbing with people after dark, where the dark and the people come together for a drink. Above Soultrane, in a small second-floor space called Crossroads, the owner pulls records out of old sleeves from a collection that lines the back wall. Here you can order a Jameson’s with two cubes of ice and sip it while you listen–to the records, early on, and later to a band that will perform on a tiny stage next to a window that you’re not supposed to open.
Sometimes the bars host special events. In March, in Haeundae–a beach neighbourhood three stops from the end of Subway Line 2–Sunset Lounge threw a costume party called WTF.
Dress up in the craziest gear you can find, said the invite, and try to get someone to look at you and say, WTF?
I suggested wigs. Ashley suggested colours that didn’t quite fit the rainbow, and, after a seven-strong shopping mission to Nampodong, The Rainbow Rejects were born.
The name has since been shortened to The Rainbow Crew…
While we were definetely a hit, I had to admit this guy deserved the biggest “WTF?”
Along with special events, the bars feature special drinks, namely tequila. For $10,000 won the bartender will fill four shot glasses with the dirty golden dew and you and your friends will drink it. It gives a kick start to the night, which, in a city where the bars don’t close until 4 or 6 a.m., can sometimes be a late one. Especially when you don’t wear a watch. And you’ve had a shot of tequila.
The late-night spots feel a little grimy. Kino Eye’s dance floor gets pretty packed…
And The Basement’s bathroom gets neglected.
But it’s easy to get on the pool tables…
And the DJ’s get excited when you dance…
Especially when there’s a lot of you.
We meet people when we’re out. Some of them are cool, like the Irish guy I met at U2 called Robert who loves Beirut and Bon Iver as much I do. Some of them are not cool, like the Kiwi rugby player who spent half an hour hitting on Leah at Club Makjim, then mentioned he was married.
Luckily, I’ve got the sweetest crew around, no matter who else I meet…
And a couple of legends at Ol’ 55.
On Wednesdays, this place holds an open mic. The vibe is chill, the room is cozy, and the musicians, so far, are really talented.
Give me a seat close to the stage, a cold glass of Cass, and the sound of an acoustic guitar being strummed. At the end of the day, that’s my kind of night.