Originally appeared in HAPS, Aug. 9, 2017. Click here for the original story.
Do you have any suggested places for fun nights out, in the PNU area or throughout Busan that you would like me to check out? Leave a comment.
This article took a lot longer than I expected it would. I am not entirely sure why. I didn’t have much trouble getting comments from sources, especially Liam Cullivan, who is a wealth of great information and conversation if you’re curious about Busan’s expat history at least since the mid-1990s. Super fun. I think it was just a lull in my desire to write. That happens to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s ever happened much to Stephen King. That guy seems to churn out book after book, even when he got run over by a van almost 20 years ago. But, I get those times where I just don’t feel like it. A good trick to get the juices pumping again is to suck it up, buckle down, some other cliche phrase or two and then follow the sage advice of the Nike “swoosh” and Shia LeBeouf.
“DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK, BECAUSE THEY NEVER REALLY LEFT.”
That’s from Liam Cullivan, owner of Basement, in the Pusan National University downtown area on a Facebook post announcing a new venture: pizza at an adjacent establishment dubbed “Cullivano’s.” While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, this long-established member of the Busan bar community hammers home the point that, despite the popularity of other downtown destinations in Busan like Gwangalli, the Kyungsung University area and tourism-heavy Haeundae, PNU too has remained a popular spot for both foreigners and locals looking to have a fun night out further north.
Local history wonks will also note the Pusan National University area is also where expats found their first Busan nights about two decades ago.
“The English teacher population exploded with the introduction of EPIK (English Program in Korea) in 1995,” says Cullivan, who has operated Basement since 2002, and previously managed a bar in Masan.
As new metro lines and additional stops on existing ones made it easier to commute across this vast city, and as more Korean business owners sought to appeal to expats, other locations besides PNU began to flourish. Cullivan specifically cites the Thursday Party chain, which started in Busan but now has more than 20 locations throughout Korea.
“It was hard to find any western style bars,” Cullivan notes of years past. “So, people flocked to havens where they could speak English and be understood.”
In Busan, that haven was the PNU area. “This is what the old timers gush about,” he says.
But, like everything in life, change was inevitable. “Frankly, Korean bar culture and English abilities have changed,” Cullivan says. Despite the shift in customer base, Basement has remained.
But, while many expats moved on from PNU, Cullivan says “we still had a huge student population at our doorstep. We became more of a student bar.”
In its current incarnation, Cullivan notes that, while expats have started to return to PNU, “it’s not who you think. PNU (the university) has really upped their game in attracting students from around the world, especially from Europe and the former Soviet republics.”
Still, some “old timers” find themselves in PNU “for mostly music events,” Cullivan says. “But, in general, the expat crowd in PNU is much younger and frankly everything in PNU is a little bit cheaper because of the college students.”
Cullivan also notes a couple new bars, like Galmegi Brewing Company, have found a place in PNU. “So, yes, the big wave of teachers who arrived a decade or more ago did move on to other areas, but we haven’t been lonely in PNU,” he says. “The students and punks stayed and now I think some of the expats outside of the ‘hood are starting to realize what a cool little place PNU is.”
To see for yourself, here’s a shortlist of destinations to try on your own PNU night out:
416-1, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu, Open daily 6pm-5am, 010-5557-4626 , Facebook
What began in 2011 as a single-story dive in an old industrial storefront has turned into a two-story must-visit destination. The freshly-renovated Someday offers a cool and laid back venue for live music, or simply a place to sip a variety of adult beverages. These range from assorted cocktails to a wide selection of beers, from OB for the skinflint, to Goose Island for those who want a little craft in their draft.
“The old Someday was kind of just a local bar in PNU,” says Donghyuk Heo, one of three partners responsible for the renovations. “Now, we hope many people will come to know about it and enjoy it.”
Heo says Someday is a place for everyone, Korean or foreign, a neighborhood spot for those with a liberal mindset. “I can’t explain it well, even if I explain it in Korean,” he laughs. “But, it has something different, an atmosphere you can only feel here. I suggest you come here and feel it for yourself.”
Pusandaehak-ro58, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu – Monday-Thursday, 6pm-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 6pm-1am, Sunday 6-11pm – 010-3782-6116 – Facebook
Galmegi Brewing Company ushered Busan into Korea’s burgeoning craft beer movement back in 2014 when it opened its Gwangan brewery (they first began serving contract-brewed suds the previous year at a location closer to Gwangalli Beach). Its PNU location is Galmegi’s fifth (following the popular brand’s other locations in Gwangan, Haeundae, Seomyeon and Nampo) to open and sixth overall (a location near the Kyungsung University/Pukyong National University subway station opened in July).
PNU Galmegi owner Andrew Bencivenga prides himself on adding his own signature to the location, including a playlist that lends itself more to a chill night chatting with friends than competing with the sound system. There’s a full slate of familiar bar food favorites as well as special menu items like handmade sausages and location-specific pizzas. Those seeking a liquid diet can choose from a number of bottles and drafts that cannot be found at any other location, from throughout Korea and around the world. And, if beer is not your thing, Galmegi PNU has several bourbons and tequilas to whet your whistle with, as well.
Jangjeon-dong 417-2, 2nd floor, Geumjeong-gu, Monday-Saturday 7pm-4am, Sunday 6pm-1am, 010-6213-2198, Facebook
The bartenders at Red Bottle, opened in 2010, pride themselves on their cocktail skills, something owner Nanhee Lee says has created a loyal following at her relaxed second-floor establishment.
“We’ve made a unique atmosphere in front of Pusan National University,” she says of Red Bottle. “I want to have even more live events for indie bands. I am trying to make this a place for exchanges between Korean people and foreign people.” Live music is also a regular facet at Red Bottle.
389-51 Jangjeon 1dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 3am, 051-515-1181, Facebook
Owner Juhee Kim points to consistency for this 20-year-old PNU landmark’s staying power. Folks can enjoy music from the 1970s to today at Crossroads, which offers both local and imported beers, as well as over 30 cocktail choices, with prices that haven’t changed in many years.
“It’s cheap and it’s for everyone who loves music and enjoys drinking,” Kim says. “Anyone can be friends with anyone and can enjoy it comfortably. That’s what’s attractive about Crossroads.”
418-32 Jangjeon 3dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 4am, 010-3221-2500, Facebook
One of PNU’s mainstay establishments. They recently began to offer pizza by the slice next door under the moniker “Cullivano’s,” a nod to owner Liam Cullivan. Cheap drinks and cocktails, with a number of Korean and international indie acts passing through for raucous concerts.