Busan is perhaps a more beautiful city at night than it is during the day. From the glittering neon of the shopping districts to the lights of Gwangalli bridge, there is no shortage of views and things to do after the sun goes down. In fact, the city's cafe and bar culture doesn't come alive until dark.
Upscale bars and cocktail lounges are located in the city's high-end hotels. Several other nightclubs and bars can be found throughout the city. More informal are the hofs (German-style beer bars) and pojang macha (neighborhood rice-wine joints) where you can imbibe without breaking the bank. Most places with English-speaking owners can be found in Foreigners Street and the upscale hotels. A quieter evening can include a cup of coffee from one of Gwangalli's many cafes, a stroll on the boardwalk in Haeundae, or a view of the city lights from Busan Tower.
Opened in 1977, the Busan Cultural Center (Daeyeon 4-dong, Nam-gu) has since added several smaller theaters and performance spaces. It is connected to the Municipal Museum and the main stage can seat 1,600 people. Take subway line 2 to the Daeyeon-dong Station (exit 3 or 5), and then walk 10 minutes toward the U.N. intersection (past the Busan Museum). Take bus no. 51-1 to the center or bus no. 68 or 134 and get off at U.N. Park. Call tel. 051/625-8130 for info on tickets and dates.
Nampo-dong is the home of the Pusan International Film Festival (tel. 051/1688-3010; www.piff.org; they decided to keep the old spelling "Pusan"), one of the largest film festivals in Asia. Usually held sometime in October, the PIFF is a showcase for not only domestically produced films, but movies from international directors. The winners of the festival each year imprint their hands and feet on copper plates (similar to the prints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood). These copper plates can be seen all across the plaza. Even outside of festival times, the area is crowded with moviegoers of all ages. Unfortunately, South Korean films aren't regularly subtitled (though they are for the festival), but you will be able to watch an English-language film here with no worries.
Dance Clubs & Bars
There is no shortage of bars in Busan, but very few Western-style clubs for dancing. There are few places in the city dedicated to strictly dancing, but people in most clubs begin dancing later on in the wee hours. Most dance clubs can be found in the PNU area or in the luxury hotels in Haeundae.
Be aware that if you go to a Korean-style bar or soju bang (literally, "soju room"), you're expected to order an overpriced anju with your drinks. Also, they won't let you in if you're dressed down or look like you came from the beach. Koreans dress to impress when they go out. The exceptions are the foreigner-friendly bars, mostly near the universities . Also, beware of the "girlie" or "go-go" bars on Texas Street, which will have Western-style or Russian music. Some of the women earn a commission on how many drinks they can get patrons to buy for them. They aren't prostitutes by any means, but you can end up with an empty wallet, nevertheless.
Due to the military curfew of the past, most regular places close at midnight. However, newer clubs and some less-than-legal joints stay open later, even 24 hours. There are bars all over town, but the most popular areas include Nampo-dong, the PNU area, the Kyungsung University area, Haeundae, Gwangalli, and Seomyeon districts.
Haeundae -- A bar that's very popular with expats and foreigners is Starface (tel. 051/742-0600) in Haeundae, which has an open bar every night from 7pm to 2am for only W15,000. There is a pool table and sometimes live bands play in the early evening.
One of the hippest clubs is the MurpII (tel. 051/743-1234; www.murphys.co.kr), a renovated space opened in the old Murphy's location in the Novotel Ambassador. There is a dance floor with DJs and sometimes popular live acts, as well as a couple of private noraebang rooms. A more casual joint is U2 Bar, a rock-'n-roll club across the street from the Novotel. Just down the way at the Paradise Hotel is Club Elune (tel. 051/802-0555; www.clubelune.com), which is a stop for international DJs after they've done Seoul. Across from the Paradise Hotel is the third big, Western-style club, Club Maktum (tel. 051/742-0770; www.maktum.co.kr). You can't miss well-dressed partiers lining up in front of the giant silver phallic entrance.
A foreigner-friendly, late-night option for dancing is the Fuzzy Navel (tel. 011/1757-6349) (every night 7pm-6am). It's behind the Seacloud Hotel, on the right-hand side on the fourth floor (there are signs on the street level as well). The L-shaped bar has a main dance floor and other subrooms, one with a pool table.
For Western-style options, stop by Brother's Bar and Grill (tel. 051/721-5589) on Mipo Street, on the basement level of the DalMaji Hotel. Open noon to 1am Sunday to Thursday (until 2am Fri-Sat), the place is run by a PNU English professor who missed his nachos and margaritas. They have Mexican-style buffets from 6pm to close every Thursday night for a mere W12,000.
Gwangalli --There are a few bars along the narrow beachfront with excellent views of the Gwangan Bridge. You can't miss Beach Bikini with its glass front overlooking the water. Nearby is the larger Beachfield Bar, which has balconies overlooking the beach and an outdoor stage, great for live music on warm summer evenings.
Seomyeon --In the Seomyeon area, many foreigners head over to O'Brien's Irish Bar and Restaurant (051/894-6541) for a pint and a burger. (They also have live music on Sat.) Beers usually start at W5,000 for a bottle. Take the subway to Gaya Station (exit 2), walk straight ahead, and you'll find the bar on your left-hand side; just go down the stairs to the basement.
Another popular nightspot in the neighborhood is Club Foxy (tel. 010/7648-1010). You'll see a bunch of Korean hip-hop dancers on the two dance floors, which can be quite entertaining. The last time I checked, there was no cover for foreigners.
Another happening place is Guri Bar (tel. 010/6807-1149), located behind the Lotte Hotel (go down the alley next to the GS25 and you'll see it past the V Motel).
PNU Area --The younger crowds head out to the bars near the universities. A popular place for dancing in the PNU area is Soul Trane, a small, foreigner-friendly bar located underneath the Western-style restaurant Moe's. They sometimes have live bands, DJs, and other events and can get pretty crowded on weekends. Just down the street from Soul Trane is Crossroads, another bar popular with expats and run by the same owner. They sometimes have live acoustic sets on Tuesdays. To get to either bar from the main gate of Pusan National U., make the first left and walk about 3 blocks. Crossroads will be on your left. If you turn right on that street and walk a bit more, you'll run into Soul Trane. Around the corner from Soul Trane is what used to be a popular bar, Moo Monk, but it has turned quieter as other more popular joints have opened up nearby. Still, the house band on Friday nights brings in crowds. Across the street is a spacious jazz/blues/folk club, Interplay. Many of the country's top funk bands play here and it's a good place to get imported beer, if you're tired of the weak Korean brews.
Bukyoung & Kyungsung University Area --Near Bukyoung University is a great place to dance, the Vinyl Underground (tel. 051/628-0223). DJs come from Seoul on weekends to spin in front of a typically crowded dance floor. They sometimes have live bands on Saturday nights as well. For a more "meet market" scene, follow the beats to the open terrace of Ghetto (tel. 010/4588-4697), where the dance floor is crowded and shots can be had for a mere W1,000. A mellower place that also has friendly, English-speaking staff is Monk (named after Thelonious Monk). They have regular local jazz bands on Tuesday and Thursday; live rock/blues/jazz bands on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and jams on Monday nights. About every month or so, they also have their famous Poetry Plus (poets, stand-up comics, one-act plays, and more). Bottles of domestic beer start at W4,000. Take subway line 2 to the Bukyoung/Kyungsung Station. Walk toward Bukyoung U. and turn left at the next-to-the-last street before you reach the entrance to the campus. The Monk Bar will be on your left, and make a left to get to Vinyl Underground (it'll be on your left side).
Another great place to catch live music (more on the punk and rock side) is Ol' 55, located near Monk and Vinyl. Also in the same area is Thursday Party, which is a chain of bars in Busan. They have several other locations, including Gwangalli, Seomyeon, and in Haeundae (on the main drag between the subway station and the beach). All of them are popular with foreigners. Just up the street from Vinyl Underground is a smaller, mellow bar called Live House. The friendly English-speaking owner is also the entertainment -- he plays the sax. It's not some cheesy bad saxophone playing; he's actually pretty good. Just look for it right above the OZZY bar.
Namgu -- Although this area isn't the most happening section of the city at night, there are always places to grab a drink with the locals. One casual pub-type bar is London, 55-14 Daeyeon-dong, Namgu (tel. 051/625-1150), open daily from 4pm to 1am. They have light snacks like chips and salsa to go with your pitchers of beer. A classic hof and soju bar nearby is the Janda Look, 68-7 Daeyeon-dong (tel. 051/623-6420), located on the first floor of the basement level. Along with your beer or soju, you can get a pork sausage meal for W7,000 or fried shrimp (sort of tempura style) for W8,000.
Like the majority of casinos in the country, the one in Busan is open only to foreigners. So don't forget to bring your passport. They offer free food and drinks, so you won't have to go hungry or thirsty while gambling the night away. The Paradise Casino, located inside the Paradise Hotel on Haeundae Beach, is the largest one in Busan (not difficult since it's the only one in the city at the moment) and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have blackjack tables, baccarat, roulette, slot machines, and more.
There are a variety of nighttime boat cruises that tour the Busan area. One company, Covecruise (tel. 051/742-2525), provides both dinner and night cruises, which last about 2 hours. The nightly dinner cruise leaves at 7pm and returns at 9:30pm and costs W70,000. The nighttime cruise runs from around 10:30pm to 12:30am and costs W55,000. Most of the other cruises set sail at sunset and return well after dark.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.