Drinking in Korea Kombee!!

Koreans are not shy when it comes to drinking. They will be very friendly, and will not be too shy to try out any English expressions they know many times during the night. By the end of the night, youll likely end up at a singing room to bust out a few tunes. There are Western Style bars in most of the larger cities that will be a common hang-out for foreigners. In general, most Korean bars will only serve beer, soju, or whiskey sold by the bottle. Wine is very hard to come by, especially by the glass.

Before I came here, I heard Korea had the 2nd highest rate of alcoholism in the world. This surprises me even more because when I talk with my Korean friends, they arent big drinkers at all. That being said, most of the Korean businessmen I knew drank often, so it seemed to be sort of all or nothing.

As exciting as it is to party in a new country, you need to take your job as a teacher very seriously. Arriving at work hungover will be frowned upon by your school, as it would be by any western employer. Due to the antics of some of the expat community, it has painted a picture that ESL teachers drink too often, and dont take their job seriously. Please dont fall into this trap. Also, you are going to a new country for a year, so please try and experience Korea as much as possible during your stay. Hanging out in a foreigner bar 3 nights a week, surrounded by English speakers, will not help you appreciate Korea as much as a well-planned day trip to a nearby mountain.

Cultural tip

It is very normal for co-workers, even with the boss, to get very intoxicated when out together.

Koreans tend to drink only beer or soju, and a night of beer ((2,500 won per bottle) will quickly lead to soju. Soju is a rice alcohol that is about 22% alcohol. ($2/bottle at a restaurant or $1 at your supermarket) It is drunk from small shot glasses. Soju doesnt really taste that good, but the Koreans will tell you they love it, even as they make harsh sounds after each sip. I prefer to order the lemon soju when its available. It isnt as strong at 12%, but it tastes much better.

Another great option is fruit Soju, but unfortunately its only available at certain places.

Cultural tips

  • It is a Korean custom to always make sure your neighbors glass is filled up quickly after he finishes it. Ive forgotten many times and my Korean friends have always understood.
  • Always pour, drink, and receive a refill with your right hand.
  • It is socially acceptable to drink in public in Korea but be polite!
  • When filling your neighbors drink, be sure to show the appropriate respect by holding your left hand to your chest and bowing your head slightly. This level of respect shown changes depending on the age difference between the 2 people.

Drinking options


The bars in Korea come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be a small local watering hole, which can hold only 10 people, or a larger place that can hold over 100. The drink options will be beer or soju. Some places allow you to buy an entire bottle of hard alcohol, to share at your table. When buying an entire bottle, scotch whiskey, or maybe vodka are usually the only options. Wine or mixed drinks are not available at most Korean bars. At some places it will be expected that you order at least one food menu item, with deep fried foods or fruit will be your most common options. For service (something you get free from the restaurant or bar) youll usually get various peanuts, Korean style popcorn, almonds, popcorn, or dried squid. All refillable if you finish them.

Western Bar

Seoul has a variety of bars or clubs that will make you feel like you havent left your own country because there will be so many foreigners. Drink prices may be steep, so be prepared. The bars will be open until most people leave. Youll love this while youre still in the mood to party, but it wont feel so good the next day, or walking home in the sunlight.

In Gwangju, there is a Canadian owned and operated foreigner bar. They do a great job of keeping us local foreigners happy as they aim to cater to our needs with western menu items such as pizza slices or tacos. They also have a variety of mixed drinks and even wine available. With a great house band, as well as event nights such as Trivia Night, darts, open mic night, a house DJ on Saturday, and poker tourneys and Simpsons on Sundays they have created quite a following.


Western bars such as this are common in all of the medium sized cities in Korea, so you will always have a place to feel welcomed as soon as you land.

A glass of wine is not an easy thing to find in Korean bars. Also, dont expect to ask for anything exotic such as a Chocotini or a Sex on the Beach and have the bartender know what you mean.


This can be hit and miss in Korea. I suggest you go your first few times with Korean friends (if youre male) since the bouncers (who are not intimidating, and wear cheesy suits) can often not allow western guys into their clubs.

Generally you pay about 45,000 won for cover for 4 people, and this includes your table, a plate of fruit, and a pitcher of draft beer. You will almost always be asked to sit at tables, with couches, rather than standing up.

You can buy beer, or full bottles of alcohol at the nightclubs.

The clubs are often called booking clubs since the Korean men will tip the staff to bring over a female they find attractive. In my opinion it seems like a weak way to meet a pretty girl, but it is common in these clubs.

The music is mostly Korean pop, with a flamboyant DJ, blending in activities like a sexy dance contest, or even a 50 person rock, paper, scissors contest for cash prizes!

Fruit Soju

This is a pitcher of real fruit punch (grape, kiwi, strawberry etc.) blended with soju. We always order extra bottles of soju to make sure its strong enough. Since its hard to taste the soju, it can get you pretty silly.

Soju Tent

Yes this is a huge tent outside, that serves.you guessed it Soju! Some will have beer available as well. You will be expected to order some menu items here, since this is likely where they make any profit. This is fine because the Soju is cheap. Dont expect to have model waitresses at the Soju tents! Most patrons are older Korean people, but are very friendly. This can be a good stop to quickly get you in the mood to party.


This is a simple one. Because you can buy beer or Soju at every single corner supermarket, sometimes we just decide to go to a super to have our beer. Well pull up a chair to an outdoor plastic table, and enjoy our beer outside. Saves us money, we get fresh air, watch people walk by and our beer stays cold in the supers fridge. Sometimes we will even sit down with locals from our block. The conversation can be challenging, but my Korean gets a lot better after I drink some Soju for confidence!

The park

Yes, sometimes we will venture away from our little super to relax in the grass of a nearby field. A few cold beers in the sun can be a great Saturday afternoon.

Mountain drinking

For many Koreans, there is nothing like doing a healthy hike, followed by drinking some cloudy, thick white alcohol from tin bowls. Its called mokali or dong dong ju. Both are dirt cheap, but neither taste that good, in my opinion. People on the mountains are always very friendly so theyll always look to share their drinks and food with you.


All of the best house parties Ive been to in Korea, have taken place on peoples roofs. There is lots of space, the fresh air is great, and the pizza guy will deliver your pizza to the roof!

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Keri, USA
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Logan Monday, USA
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