Editor’s Note: This Spring edition of The HBC Fest is Saturday, May 21. This is an up updated guide to the venues and the Fest street. To get to the Hae Bang Chon Fest get out of exit 2 in Noksapyeong Station (Line 6—next to Itaewon). Walk along the wall of the army base and turn left in front of the gate past the Kimchi Pots and up the hill with Seoul Tower as the Maypole in the distance.
The HBC fest is happening on the dung-slope drag in Haebangchon which is just 50 feet away from my front door and that’s Ok because when I’m out on the street I walk the way I want to walk, yet, maybe that’s not Ok because so does everyone else. It is impossible to have a mannerly trek up and down the boulevard of slap-dash dreams. Everyone becomes an audience for everyone else. ‘Who is watching me… How am I going to get recognized… Am I carrying the right heat-seeking guitar… Should I have got a bigger dog to walk… Should I stop and let this car pass me so when I make a speech into my phone more people can hear my either commanding or fabulous voice?’
Well this is a if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em day. May 21, round 7 of the Hae Bang Chon music fest. I just hope this round 7 is more interesting than the rounds in the Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley fight that a few venues in Hae Bang Chon enthusiastically showed. There are 12 venues supporting Saturday’s fest and they do it differently according to their homegrown ways.
Let’s start with some homegrown anger. On the right side of the street up the HBC hill about half way is Jacoby’s. Home of the 48-minute hamburger. That is about how long it will take from when you sit down to the first bite of a “gourmet burger”. Eating here has to be the ultimate suburban dining experience. The many patrons that Jacoby’s now has are Koreans who are vastly underexposed to western culture so they think this place is cool and bridge and tunnel foreigners who are vastly underexposed to western culture so they think this place is cool. Well there’s globalization for you, go figure. Just how convoluted stupid is this place? They have said no to the music of the fest. They believe that it is better for their business not to offer any support for the fest or have music inside its garish walls. It’s good if people come and eat their play tower burgers at 17.000 won but they want nothing to do with the soul of the fest. As Bono said, “Where is the community?” And as James Joyce would define the situation, “When you want all of the pleasure in life and none of its cost, you are a sentimentalist.”
And considering Irishness and sentiments, I have been directly told that fairly recently a group of Irish patrons came for burgers and drinks at Jacoby’s and they were stung a bit by how one of the mixed cocktails is named, “An Irish Car Bomb”. Probably while waiting far too long for a fucking hamburger they decided to inquire if management understood the stuck in the 70’s distasteful name of the drink and wanted management to consider changing the name. The manager’s Jacobean response to this was to call the police on their patrons. Wow! Sometimes I think that the Chinese culture-push of ‘don’t say anything bad about us, you be happy, it is our turn to rule’ is strongly among us. What can you do about it? Boycott the Chinese, oops I mean choose anywhere instead of Jacoby’s.
Next, an Inside Tip: Get up the street and sit outside at the Pinoy Mart. Beers from the P.I. and a friendly manana manana staff who love to see foreigners groove on their porch and enjoy the really nice P.I. food. And just because I can’t remember the name of the food means nothing. This is a good spot.
There is not much to gain by heading up the strip on the same right hand side, but if you cross to the left and keep moving up the higher grade, there is Deeleebob Music Shop (Where the fest is organized from and local studio time is available). A Paris Baguette and a PC Bang follow and across at the top of the first part of the road is a well stacked pharmacy. All could be necessary for any dozen reasons. And so dropping back is the relatively new bar called The Local. It’s very small and inside looks like a Czech pub called a Hospoda but around here who is going to know what a small Czech pub looks like? Maybe 1 out of 183? The good points about “The Local” are that you can play pin-the-tail-on-the-Canadian; which means you can swing beers and do shots and stumble into each other all night long and everyone has a good time and keeps friendly. Not so good is that people who frequent the place are kind of usual suspect-ish and no one soon or ever will be quitting their day job to pursue a future in music or filmmaking or acting or persuing any kind of future at all for that matter. Although last week I did see a pair of attractive 20-something women who were so upset that no one was paying attention to them that they started licking lips with each other at the bar: drink and let drink we can all say.
Next, on the right side coming down—you will see Club FM—which is a Family Mart. You can get bank card cash, different beers, a variety of ready-processed foods and, if you can get a seat outside, this is pole-position to people watch, fest or no-fest. Broken or glued up noses, fuck you eyes, mouth breathing, knuckle-dragging, an assortment of actions on body parts can be experienced here and that’s just because some but not all of the local Korean Kids think that they are living on the wrong side of the tracks. Everyone here in the hood will tell you that the police presence always increases two weeks prior to the Fest and yet that also might be to keep in check the Nigerian contingency always holding court strong on the patios outside of Club Fm.
Continuing down the right side of the inferno there is Casablanca sandwich shop; proverbially a great addition to the neighborhood. Cheap and tasty sandwiches of Lamb Chilly, Veggie and Lentil Soup and Carrot Salad make this place a local favorite and the owner is happy to be participating in the fest and will open before noon to get kosher/Muslim food ready.
Next (20 meters down from Casablanca) to the new (hopefully for the last time) Phillies which will have acoustic music all day upstairs and rock ‘n’ roll music all night downstairs. In short, the ownership has changed so now the food is excellent pub grub and the bathrooms are not ring 6 in Dante’s inferno. The music is what it is and with real western food and the new OB Golden lager on tap, Phillies remains an HBC fest focal point where you see or be seen. (For the 3wm full review of Philly’s bar click here—for reasons not to talk politics in Phillies basement click here.)
Downstairs Phillies. Not sure how the new ownership will let the basement play out but expect lots of loud music. Regardless, this venue will have a good feel for the fest. Perhaps, we’d all be luckier though if it kept its nihilistic Ass-Clown, oops, I mean Insane-Clown-Posse-fun-house-and-we’re-in-pre production-for-a-Bang Bros.-movie-here vibe. This place has yet to equal the last-chance-for-love fire zone that the Ssen bar across the street offered, but today’s crowd who goes down there, whether it is one or twenty, always seems most comfortable with anything that is obscene and the truth is the debauched dizziness of the place is unforced and that’s not always easy to find in South Korea. Hopefully early in the night before it gets crowded, a local bar buzzard will drop his pants for all to admire his cock ring. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Almost directly across from the upstairs and downstairs of Phillies is a place that is crowded on the weekends but the crowd seems a little too pretentious for me to check out, Le Vert. It’s mostly foreign food, but it seems like diners in there are more concerned on being seen or perhaps, like, come out of the closet and then get discovered in Hae Bang Chon. The aura is cracked into a double-helix of course in this post-modern spin along because fame wants you to live forever so don’t apply for the waitress job this restaurant is offering because those days are west of your strategy now… I’ll make this easier for you: they paid the fee: they’re in the Fest.
Just down from there and adjoined to the old HBC bar which is now The Hungry Dog is Pita Time. The food is just Ok and the menu never changes but I hear there are going to be some kind of belly dancers in search of their poles gig starting around 3 p.m. Anybody know for sure? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org Fest organizers hope not to see too many social blockheads buying beer at Mr. Lee’s Kowo Boo and just sitting across the street navel gazing and waiting to be discovered. This admonishment is to get folk into the venues and support the scene because last time so many 708ers just bought 3 cans of cheap beer at Mr. Lee’s and stood outside across from P.Time with their knuckles draggin’ and their elongated fourth toe tappin’.
The VFW. When Lou Reed said, “That sometimes to be hip you have to be square,” he had The VFW in mind. Well of course the-fuck-not but with older well mannered Gi’s, Young Filipina bar maids, popcorn, a pool table and the best stage and sound system of the fest this is the turn up place for those who can understand Lou or those who want to play loud like The Velvets. NOT TO MISS! IF THERE WAS A VENUE TO GLUE YOUR ASS AT AND CHECK YOUR HIPSTER BOURGEOIS AT THE DOOR… THIS IS THE PLACE.
The first venue you will see at the fest will be the Variety Venue of the Orange Tree. The previous owner Kenny Lee has moved back to L.A., California to raise his daughters as “Christians”. The new owner “Mike” is seven months on the go with O.T. and has proved his mettle as a bar owner. Starting on the night of his official opening when he participated in a knock-down drag-em-out fight that left his bar with the front doors completely smashed open. Well the doors have been broken a few times since then and Michael has made some upgrades to the bar and continues to do so. While in the O.T. someone remarked to me that, “This place looks like a reptile cage,” maybe so but an eclectic mix of all nationalities play here and they are locals. The one thing everyone has in common who comes here is the desire to drink. It reminds me of the bestest T-shirt I ever saw in me life:
“They all talk about my Drinking but they never speak of my Thirst.”
That says it all about the O.T., but not quite. Everyone who comes here seems to have a problem with sequencing. Like getting things in order. I can swear I bought a little Englishmen a drink at The Local last week and then I saw him at O.T. last night and he didn’t have any greeting or a glance my way. Just another social blackout I suppose. And when I was asked to leave last month it was because someone complained that I was being crude to a woman in the corner. In my notebook I had jotted her email down because she told me she had a friend in Seoul who was a photographer (Don’t they all…). I checked if the email was legible and it was, along with the words, “SEX ME.” I had to repeat that back to her didn’t I? And then she and her soccer fan boyfriend got up and walked across the bar and quickly I was asked to leave. I mention all this because I think the best time to be at O.T. is not the Fest but all other nights of the year where reality can slip into the gutter when everything else slips.
Last venue: The HBC cafe, I mean The Hungry Dog. Yes, it is The Hungry Dog now—a sandwich and burger place that is clean, well-lit and does serve beer. I have had several items like the Turkey sandwich and Eggplant slider burgers. The food is good and not expensive—at least for this neighborhood. I am already nostalgic for the previous HBC. The all night drinking, the eclectic music, the occasional soft-toned bar fight ( Yeah that’s the time… the time Tommy tooled Fabio) …, the fellatio in the back alley and the nicknames that followed and lasted longer… , the boozy challenges to live an unboozed life, and this was this life not the next.
“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”
Erased by the weekend and followed with this quote:
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
My favorite from The Greeks,
“Worship all that you see and more will be given to you.”
–The parallel view to outside the boulevard of broken dreams as Michelle exalts, “Of course I can cry on demand, I east pussy and…” Everybody laughed.
–Sinks and Hymans made in Japan and broken in the bathroom. The police showing up in riot gear but forgetting to bring the pizza.
–Mikey in the bathroom “just hold on a second,” “But Mikey the smell, the smell…,” “Hold on a second.” Mikey with a hammer, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.” Mikey playing a kid brain farting around a misplaced coal stove, “ I think it’ll work…” Mikey and Sunny.
–Using GROOVE magazine for toilet paper, not to make a statement or because the bar was out of role… just cause the glossy paper felt, glossy. Talking baseball with Mark two months before opening day.
–And Kenny dressed in gong-show drag and Jordan dressed in atomic-punk drag. Kenny K.I.S.S.I.N.G. Jordan.
And that night we were all on our heels when the Slavo-Trash studying Korean in Seoul entered the ring dressed up like a tsarist rocket crash and demanded for the next two hours that the HBC bar play only electronic music without words. When a Jameson with 3 cubes came out as 3 Jamies neat, and we shared and just put it on Kenny’s tab. Adrian’s Saturday night Rip It Up show where he would stand on the bar and wait for the correct Christ mongering book to be taken down off the shelf and passed to hands that would rip it wildly with Little Richard’s Rip it Up as the directing chorus in case you couldn’t tell what the action was.
The Bronx and Texas license plates stayed on the walls, along with the art of garden variety hipsters, and there never was a TV. Smoke was everywhere, and it was dominatrix free.
So what actually happened to the HBC? Well, the two who started the place split from each other and it became a bar that like a bird, can’t fly with one wing… But what else? It seems to me that the kind of people coming to Korea to teach English and living in Haebangchon now are not necessarily expats now. The new breed wants a horizontal experience. Come on in for one or three years, ‘do Thailand and South East Asia’ save some money, clear a loan, go get a mortgage in Canada, or a Sky Sports Satellite package in the UK and keep touring the corners. Also shimmying into the land of the morning calm is some kind of, ‘Alpha-players and careerist’ A-list group. Foreigners who are going to learn Korean and become something over here: work for the tourist department, use their advanced degree to burrow into the Korean Uni, system, start a teacher’s union for foreigners, or live in the neighborhood with your door always opened to abandoned animals and snap snap of course: the bust a nut on stage because there is no business like show business folk et al, et al. They are wafer thin characters traced from a Hemingway novel, yet without any foibles besides an excruciating lack of Grace and that is why they are not interesting, or at least why they don’t drink.
So as far as night life goes, current Seoul buzzers prefer to go hangout where their lifestyle group is. Better to go to three of four ‘happening scenester’ places for the greaseless night vs. sitting down in a dive bar and discussing reasonable expectations for a new president or is anything with teaching here actually about education. Cigarette smoke wrinkles the looks and alcohol churns the soul up to the surface where everyone can read it and who really wants that?
By the time HBC bar was expiring most of the clientele were aged 30+. Usual suspect types the anti-hero and the semi-cursed would sit down and drink and smoke and smoke and drink. A lot of the charisma had left the house and played itself out in places like the rice wine joint across the street from HBC. In places like this people always eat something, rarely smoke, talk about nothing but themselves and are always soberly tuned for what might become a Facebook moment where their chance would come to slam the gavel on each other and promote their self.
Gone are the tiger-blood-hot minutes in the HBC bar where the music would blast, hemispheres of smoke would rise, pretense became just an aftershock and Seoul was actually a world-class city because of the absurd truth that it had carried a world class dive bar.
This was written a little over a year ago during the halcyon days of the HBC bar.
On Tuesday, March 9 at approximately 8 p.m., the door of the popular boozing shed HBC 46 Haebangcheon St., Haebangcheon, Seoul was found shattered its small glass pieces in a pile and mixed in with the days’ snow. No suspect perpetrators are known to have come in or left the premises due to the now empty doorway. This establishment is popular with the local foreigner crowd in the neighborhood– known to Korean citizens as unification village. HBC is a particularly known repository of beatniks, dart tossers, just tossers, music dorks, stay drunks, sons and daughters of b-list pornographers. Baseball fans, Gunshot vics. Wagnerites, Midwestern chipdrips, Irish Culchies, Sneak attack lesbians, Quiz night mummies, Canadians and the fan clubs of both Rodney Dangerfield and Oedipus and Jacosta.
Here was a bar where everyone knew your game. I guess you had to be there.
What can you do? It had to change and so it changes and never ever forget how it was.