What’s going on in a Gangnam Host Bar at 2am? (Part 1)


Host Bars? I’d always assumed they were one-off novelties, largely created for the purpose of perpetuating Westerners’ sexual stereotypes of the Japanese. Any Korean versions would surely be even more rare and exotic.

It turns out, actually they’re a booming industry, in both Japan and Korea. There’s hundreds of establishments just in the wealthier parts of Seoul alone.

Not to be confused with the unfortunately named “Ho Bar” chain in Hongdae, they’re known as ho-bba (호빠) in Korea (“host clubs” in Japan),  which translator Marilyn strongly suspects the name is a play on obba (오빠) or (lit. “older brother”, but often used romantically).  Just like a friend of hers said the jeong (정) in the more upmarket jeong-bba (정빠) version is short for jeong-teong (정통), or “authenticity/legitimacy”.

(Source: Urbantofu)

Intrigued, I was a little disappointed that the following article in the Seoul Shinmun, the first in a series of four, provides little more than basic statistics. Fortunately however, a quick search produced:

In light of that last, perhaps the current boom isn’t quite as recent or as unprecedented as the following article suggests. What do you think? Have any readers been to themselves?

Update: with thanks to commenters for passing them on, From Noona With Love has a mini-interview with a former Busan host-bar worker here, and the drama Jungle Fish (정글피쉬) also featured a character that worked at a host-bar.


새벽2, 강남 호스트바에선 무슨일이() / 여성 고객 하루 1만명주부, 10 급증탈선

What’s going on at a Kangnam host bar at 2am? / 10,000 female customers daily… housewives, teens rapid increase is “deviation”

서울 강남에 독버섯처럼 돋아난 호스트바(속칭 호빠)가 탈선의 온상이 되고 있다. 18일 경찰 및 업계에 따르면 강남 일대 최소 100곳의 합·불법 호빠에 하루 평균 1만여명의 여성 손님이 오고, 이들 가운데 상당수는 성(性)을 구매한다. 이는 지난해 11월 24일부터 지난 17일까지 호빠 밀집지역인 논현·서초·청담동 등에 대한 본지의 탐문 취재에서도 확인됐다. 복수의 업소 관계자의 증언을 종합하면 강남지역 호빠의 전체 매출액은 연간 3000억원 이상으로 추산된다. 하지만 대부분의 업소들이 무허가 영업이나 속칭 ‘2부 영업’을 하고 있기 때문에 세무당국에 매출이 포착되지 않고 있다.

Kangnam, in Seoul, is becoming a hotbed of deviation in which host bars (popularly known as ho-bba) sprout like poisonous mushrooms.  According to police and the industry on the 18th, in the Kangnam area at least 100 ho-bba, legal and illegal, are visited daily by an average of 10,000 female customers, a considerable number of whom purchase sex.  This has been confirmed by this paper’s investigative coverage of areas with many ho-bba like Nonhyeon-dong, Seocho-dong, Cheongdam-dong, and others, from Oct. 24 of last year through Jan. 17.  Putting together the testimony of several industry sources, the total yearly sales of Kangnam-area ho-bba are estimated at ₩300 billion.  However, because most businesses operate without a license or are “two-part businesses”, these sales are not being detected by tax authorities.

(Table caption: Progress of crackdown on female sex-purchasing   * Purchasing of sex and procuring of prostitution  {unit: people})


100여곳 성업年매출 3000

Around 100 places thriving … 300 billion in sex sales

업소 관계자들은 강남·서초·송파구 등 ‘강남 3구’에만 100여곳의 호빠가 성업 중이라고 입을 모았다. 탐문취재 결과 ‘정빠’(고급 호빠)는 D, P, B 등 5곳으로 조사됐고, ‘일본식 호빠’(일명 아빠방·정빠에서 밀려난 25~30대 후반 남성이 고용된 호스트바)는 R, V, B 등 10여곳 정도 파악됐다. ‘디빠’(덤핑 바·저렴한 가격의 호빠)와 ‘퍼블릭’(성매매까 지 이뤄지는 호빠)은 M, S, G 등 각각 3곳이었다. 특히 현장 확인 결과 무허가나 업종을 바꿔 불법 영업을 하고 있는 곳도 5곳이나 되는 것으로 드러났다. 이처럼 업소가 늘어나면서 지하철 2호선 강남역 일대에만 1300~2000명의 남성들이 정빠 등 호스트바에서 일하는 것으로 조사됐다. 호스트바의 인원, 매출, 위치 등 구체적 실태가 확인된 것은 처음이다.

Industry sources unanimously said the hundred or so ho-bba that can be found just in “the three Kangnam boroughs” – Kangnam, Seocho, and Songpa – are thriving.  Investigative coverage found five jeong-bba (high-level ho-bba), including “D”, “P, and “B”, and it is estimated there are about ten “Japanese-style ho-bba” (also known as “dad rooms”; host bars that hire men ousted from jeong-bba, from the ages of twenty-five to late thirties), including “R”, “V”, and “B”.  There were three each of “D bba” (dum-ping bar – a low-price ho-bba) and “public” (ho-bba in which prostitution occurs), including “M”, “S”, and “G”.  The results of the special site check revealed that there are also five businesses without a license or that have changed their type of business into an illegal one.  It was found that, as this type of business increases, between 1,300 and 2,000 men work at jeong-bba or other host bars just in the Kangnam Station area on subway line 2.  This is the first time the specific, actual conditions of host bars, like the number of people involved, sales, location, and so on, have been confirmed.

지난 17일, 20대 일반여성들이 자주 찾는다는 논현동의 S호스트바에서 5시간 동안 여성 고객 숫자를 세어 본 결과 시간당 평균 5명 안팎이 업소를 찾았다. 보통 오후 10시부터 다음 날 오후 2시 무렵까지 문을 여는 점(16X5)을 감안하면 하루 80명 안팎의 여성들이 이곳을 찾는 것으로 추산된다. 경찰 관계자는 “개인적으로 알고 있는 업소만 100곳이 넘고, 고객도 1만명이 넘는다.”면서 “여성 손님의 30% 정도가 2차를 나가는 것으로 알고 있다.”고 전했다

On the 17th at Nonhyeon-dong’s “S” host bar, where average women in their twenties often go, counting the number of female customers for five hours showed that about five people per hour visit the business.  Considering that it is usually open from 10pm to 2pm the next day, it is estimated that around 80 women visit this place every day.  A police source said, “Just the number of places I personally know exceeds 100, and there are more than 1,000 customers,” and added, “I know that about 30% of female customers go out for a second stage.”


10% 이상 ‘2’… 적발 매년

More than 10% [go to] “second stage”… every year rapid increase in number caught

업계 관계자들 역시 “업소당 하루 평균 100명 안팎의 손님이 찾아오고, 10명 중 한두 명은 2차를 나간다.”며 “2차는 고급 호빠인 정빠보다 보도(전화로 부르는 접대부)와 디빠 등에서 주로 이뤄진다.”고 털어놓았다. 이를 반영하 듯 돈을 주고 성을 사다 적발되거나 성을 알선한 여성 성매매 사범의 숫자도 2006년 2636명, 2007년 7161명, 2008년 9411명, 2009년 1만 3414명으로 해가 갈수록 증가하고 있다. 특히 유흥업소 여성들이 주요 고객이었던 이전과 달리 최근에는 가격이 싼 ‘보도방’과 ‘아빠방’을 위주로 10대와 가정주부 고객이 급증한 것으로 드러나 심각성을 더하고 있다. 경찰 관계자는 “물증찾기가 힘들어 단속이 어렵다.”고 말했다.

Industry sources also said, “Every day an average of roughly 100 customers come to each business, and one or two out of every ten people go on to a second stage,” and confessed, “The second stage usually takes place with a bodo (a host contacted through the phone) or at a D-bba, rather than at a high quality jeong-bba.”  Reflecting this, the number of sexual commerce offenses in which women are caught paying for sex or procure sex for others is increasing every year – from 2,636 people in 2006 to 7,161 people in 2007, 9,411 people in 2007, and 13,414 people in 2009. The seriousness grows as it is revealed that, different from most female customers of adult entertainment businesses in the past, currently the number of teenage and housewife customers, mainly at low-priced “bodo rooms” and “dad rooms”, is quickly increasing.  A police source said, “It is hard to find evidence so crackdowns are difficult.”


(Links to be provided as posts go up: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)


30 thoughts on “What’s going on in a Gangnam Host Bar at 2am? (Part 1)

  1. http://fromnoonawithlove.tumblr.com/post/1240727777/korean-host-bars-according-to-chaser

    They are common even down here in Busan. I’ve never been to one, but – as you can see from that little post – I was in a relationship with someone who worked at one for the first ten night of his summer college vacation to enable him to go the rest of the holiday without having to find a job. Apparently this is a common approach by some male students in Korea looking to earn a few quick bucks. He also said that the percentage of women who go for the ‘after service’ is far higher than this article suggests, at more like 40%. Of course, that was just his own estimate.


    1. Thanks very much for that: I’ll add it to the post once I’ve finished this.

      Would you say they’re in specific parts of Busan, or all over? As a Busanite myself, I’ll have to keep an eye out for them once I know where to look!


      1. Didn’t realise you were in Busan!

        I’m really not sure about the city in general, but the one I was specifically told about is in Seomyeon. I know almost exactly where (although my boyfriend was reluctant to point it out to me for fear I’d try and go there I think … haha), so send an email if you’d like specifics.

        There are also a few so-called ‘Model Bars’ in the Seomyeon Busan area. From what I gather they’re a variation on a similar theme? Although without (officially) offering any ‘next level’ – and therefore illegal – services. There are always hordes of very good-looking young male ‘models’ hanging around advertising them in that area on a Friday and Saturday night. Not that I really ever take much notice. Ahem.


        1. Thanks, and it’s okay: I don’t get much chance to go to Seomyeon these days anyway, especially at night. And now that I know what to look for, I’m sure I’ll see many once I do finally get to go out.


  2. Students doing this as a part-time job was actually covered in last year’s 8-part series “Jungle Fish 2” (KBS2), by far the best TV drama to ever come out of Korea. The hosts offering sexual services was not shown, though.


  3. Aw man, you people and your Googling! I feel dumb, because Noona’s and Emma’s posts are more what I was hoping to find when I translated these articles. Poop. Also, did not realize “The Moonlight of Seoul” was about host bars, but not at all surprised, as I have always loved that poster. =)

    I’ve also heard – pure gossip, but I thought I’d throw it out there – that celebrities, both male and female, sometimes do a little work at these places, probably kind of like the club appearances that low-level American celebrities do.


    1. Oh well, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we’re still very grateful for your translations nevertheless!

      Meanwhile, I had no idea that The Moonlight of Seoul was so well-known. I only heard of it for the first time while preparing this post (and the poster doesn’t look like its about host bars anyway!).


      1. For what it’s worth, it’s a lousy movie. Yet another film that tried to straddle gritty realism with over-the-top shinpa drama, and just gets a sore crotch. It is about two workers at a host bar, but isn’t terribly illuminating about the actual conditions inside.


  4. I can’t believe the guys in the Club Eden bar are attractive. Except for ‘Pro’ and ‘Issei’ they all look like young versions of my first boss, the scummiest lowlife type of Hogwon owner: Vomit inducing.


      1. A) they’re all Japanese, and the style of hair, clothes, etc. is distinctively non-Korean
        B) apparently, Andrew’s former boss is HOT


      1. This documentary has a terrific twist in the middle, and it really makes you start to re-evaluate the Japanese host club scene in a different light. Highly recommended.


  5. I’m fairly sure that host bars have been around for quite some time, if not nearly as long as hostess bars . . . certainly I remember hearing rumors about them from friends as an exchange student as far back as 99, and I’m surprised that they only found 100 establishments in three seperate areas of Gangnam. Compared to the number of hostess bars and other similar establishments those areas are home to, 100 seems like a trivial number. Actually, a number of their statistics don’t seem right (5 customers per hour for 8 hours doesn’t come out to 80, for example) and there’s a lot of inconsistency about what the second round is or how it’s arranged (are the women taking home the hosts or ordering new hosts from lower establishments?) . . .


    1. Yeah, I had more trouble than I expected with these articles; they are quite badly organized. The 5 customers per hour, though, is for 16 hours – from 10pm to 2pm the next day. But – I wondered when I read that – who would be there that long?? Don’t people usually want/need to get going by, say, 8am? I kinda doubt that all of them are open that long.


  6. And the fact that in 2007 at least, the Korean market was so saturated that Korean hosts were leaving to work in Japan.

    What’s the difference between “the market was so saturated” and “they were finding so few customers” — other than the huge rhetorical difference, that is?


      1. Might it not be more likely that instead of fleeing an oversaturated market, Japanese demand for Korean cultural products (particularly that fueled by the image of Korean men as sexy, sensitive and desirable, ala Yunsama) created a niche market? I find it more likely that a few adventurous young hosts decided to try their hand (or were recruited) to work in Japan for a bit than the same young men couldn’t find work in host bars here and decided to take the financial risk of heading to Japan instead of finding more reliable, if less well paid, labor in Korea.


  7. Am i missing something here? Being a “host” is just what i have imagined heaven to be like. Where do i sign up? I can work for free.


  8. I moved to Seoul from Daegu for college. It was really hard to find a job so i work at bar as host which i don’t like but what can i do. I see the those girls outside of bar such as around college and it’s very embarrassing and humiliating. I want a better job but i can’t find any. I’m still in college here in Seoul. I hope life gets better.


    1. Hello, I am trying to collect some informations about the host clubs culture in korea for a research, but unfortunately there is not much material about it as I was hoping for. Would you mind helping mea bit?


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