So, I had a very interesting cultural experience last night with my best friend, who has asked to remain anonymous for this little "social experiment". Let's just call her... Minnie. ^_^
Anyway, after a few years of watching Japanese and Korean dramas and hearing stories about hostess bars and host bars, plus talking about it with Minnie, we decided that we wanted to see what they were really like. Of course, we spent a few months just talking about going without every really doing it. I think we said we would do it for our double birthday party and promised that it would be a secret. We planned to save up a lot of money since they are rather expensive. I think we just kept putting it off because we were both a little chicken...
But then last night at work, I got a message from Minnie, saying that she wanted to go somewhere fancy for a couple drinks. I thought maybe she meant a wine bar. But no. She wanted to go to "that" place, as we referred to it in public, because we didn't want those around us to know what we were talking about. She had even researched host bars and picked out two that she thought were nice and not too expensive.
So, I said yes, albeit, a bit hesitantly, and proceeded to tear my room apart for almost an hour after work trying to find something "pretty" and "sexy" as I was ordered to wear. Finally, around 12:45ish, I met up with Minnie at Samseong Station and off we went to Seollung Station (about one station away) where the bar was located. We had considered going to Apgujong, which is known for its expensive and fancy bars, but decided to stick close for convenience.
At first we couldn't find it. The only instructions Minnie had were that it was near Olive Young behind Exit 1. Once there, we were suppose to call one of the boys who would give us more directions. However, when we got there and called, he was apparently "busy" and didn't answer.
We decided to wander around and look for it and after about five minutes, we stood in front of the pink and purple sign. It was called "Loveholic" which seemed a very fitting name for a host bar. It was in the basement, so down the stairs we went. At the door we stopped, suddenly feeling very anxious and silly about going in. After about ten seconds of debating, we pushed through the door, deciding that it didn't matter since we were only there to see what it was like anyway.
The bar was about half full with groups of about four or five girls sitting in booths and tables. A fairly attractive guy came up to us and asked if we minded sitting at the bar, since all the tables were filled. The bar was not your average bar. Instead of stools, there were red loveseats on a raised platform, so you could reach the bar. Behind it were several stools for the guys to sit while they chatted with you. The speakers pumped out R&B, KPop and ballads, though not too loudly so you could still talk. On our way over there, the guy asked if we knew what kind of bar we were in... we said that we did.
The bar itself was very girly looking. Purples and reds were everywhere, with sheer curtains sectioning off the bar and the tables for some privacy. The lights were set low. The guys all seemed to be engaged in flirting and chatting at the tables and were all dressed very stylish. And yes, they were all very handsome, though only a couple I would deem hot.
We got situated at the bar and the main host asked us if we wanted to stay here the whole time or move to a table when one was open. We said we wanted to stay at the bar, mostly because it was cheaper than a table. The way this sort of place is set up is that you pay a set fee for the table (or bar or booth) and then order one bottle of alcohol, like vodka, gin, whisky, wine, etc. No cocktails or single drinks. You had to make them yourself at the table with your liquor. Or you could order a beer set.
We settled on a bottle of white wine, which came to a whopping 90,000 won (About $70-80) on top of the bar fee, which was 15,000 won (about $10). It was the cheapest thing on the menu since most of the wines and liquors were anywhere from 90,000 to 200,000 won ($70-150). A table was 30,000 won ($20ish) and a booth was 40,000 won ($30ish) since it had more privacy. Also, since the bottles of liquor are quite big, if you don't finish it, you can put it on hold and come back as many times as you want until you finish it. Behind the bar were shelves filled with half-empty bottles of alcohol with little name tags wrapped around them.
While we waited for our order, we looked around. Next to us was one girl seated with a cute guy in a blazer and glasses with a huge splay of food and whisky. She kept giggling and flirting with him like they were on a date and pouring him more whisky. He seemed a little bored. Minnie and I giggled at this. This was kind of what we expected to see at this sort of bar.
Other than her, none of the others really fit the stereotype that I thought I would see. It was mostly just group of women who looked kind of like us, who just wanted to go out and see hot guys. Minnie said they were probably mostly women in their late 20s to early 30s who were either too busy to date, or were just out for a girls' night.
Anyway, at this point, our wine had arrived, accompanied by a very cute guy name Myung Ho, who was dressed in black jeans with a white button-up shirt and black tie. Though, the tie was loosened and the top few buttons undone. His hair was slightly long with bangs that he swept across his forehead. Oh, and did I mention he had the best smile? He poured our drinks and took a seat across from us. He looked really nervous at first, since he got stuck with the foreigner who couldn't really speak Korean. But he tried valiantly. We went through the usual pleasantries of saying our ages, where we worked (he thought I was a college student), where I was from, etc. He did say I was pretty, but other that, there was no gushing compliments or crazy flirting like I heard or read about in manga. He was the sort of guy that I wouldn't mind meeting out somewhere and hanging out with. If I spoke better Korean, that is...
We talked about what he was studying at university (he was only 23, probably just finished military a year or two ago) and what working at a host bar was like. Minnie asked how it worked with the guys at the tables.
Basically, according to Myung Ho, the main greeter takes the order and then sends over a guy he thinks would fit in well with the girls (or guys if it's a larger group). They talk for awhile and if the girl isn't impressed, they'll rotate and get a new guy. Or sometimes the guy is called to another table after about an hour or so and a new one comes. At this point, he thought Minnie was asking to switch, which she vehemently denied after blushing and said she just wanted to know since this was our first time there.
I then, tentatively asked him in Korean if it was fun working there. He said sometimes. But a lot of times they get weird customers who come in and drink too much, then are all over the guys, or banging on tables, or throwing up and he has to clean it up. He also said that he was studying during the day and working at night, which meant he only got about two hours of sleep a night.
After about an hour, as our wine was disappearing quickly between the three of us. (Yes, you do have to give them drinks. Thus why the alcohol is so expensive.) Myung Ho said they were about to do an event. This involved some of the guys doing dances and a game called the Pepparo game. They did a few dances from some popular songs. One guy did G-Dragon’s “Heartbreaker” and another did “Rainism” by Rain. Of course, they were all good-looking and very talented, so it was fun to watch.
Then came the Pepparo game. Basically, one girl from each table went up with the guy assigned to them. They put a Pepparo, which is like Pocky, in the guy’s mouth and the girl has to bite off as much as possible without kissing him. Whoever has the shortest wins a free bottle of whisky. After a round of Kai, Bai, Bo (rock, paper, scissors) I lost and had to play the game for our table.
We were third. Down to the center floor we went. Myung Ho grinned as the MC announced “Lucky Myung Ho, he gets a foreigner,” to the crowd. As if I needed to stand out even more. ^_^ I was so nervous that I ended up leaving a big chunk and lost miserably. I think the winning girl had a length of about 2 millimeters. How that was possible, I don’t know.
Minnie and I ended up staying until about 4 a.m. which surprised me. We switch through a couple more guys and then realized that the wine had been gone for about an hour and we had nothing to offer the guys talking to us. We mentioned this to the last guy with us and apologized, saying that we would leave soon. He said it was okay, and that was actually one of the reasons why he was staying with us.
“If you leave, I have to go to another table and they’ll make me drink a lot,” he said. We were a little shocked by this, but in the end it was understandable. They work from about 7 pm to 7 am each night and have a lot to drink, so it makes sense that they would want a break. This guy, Seung Hun, was actually really funny and natural. The first thing he said when he came up to the table was that he heard I was from Russia, which immediately got me and Minnie giggling. I had mentioned to Myung Ho that men often thought I was Russian. Shows how much of a pro Seung Hun was.
He and Minnie ended up talking for a long time and he told us about how he was planning to move to New York so he could be a model. Another guy came up and told me that he was planning to move to New York to study dance on Broadway. (And he could totally make it. He was one of the best dancers.)
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. It wasn’t sleazy or anything. The guys that talked to us didn’t seem fake or lay on the charm. (Well... most of them. There was one who declared that I was "gorgeous" as we were leaving. Probably the only thing he knew how to say in English.) It wasn’t really any different than meeting a random guy at bar and chatting him up. Well, other than the part that we were paying them to talk to us. Though there were definitely some awkward moments when none of us really knew what to say or talk about, but the guys always jumped in there with a question or comment.
When we left at the end of the night, Seung Hun and Myung Ho walked us out and got us into taxis to head home. Seung Hun even asked for our numbers. (Though, I doubt he’ll be calling me. ^_^ Probably only asked for it so I wouldn't feel left out.) We think that we’re going to get a couple of our girl friends together and go back for our birthday party. It’ll be more fun with a group of us. ^_^
And thus, the myths of the host bar have been uncovered...