Jazz audiences have their own views on the pros and cons of jazz clubs. Factors such as crowd size, venue layout, the look of the club, or prices might all be considered. But what are the views of the musicians? We recently asked some Seoul-based jazz musicians about a handful of popular jazz clubs to get their opinion on the positives.
Positive Zero Lounge
Positive Zero Lounge is a jazz club located on the east side of Seoul in Seongsu-dong. Not far from the popular Konkuk University Station area, the club is located off a side street near Seongsu Station. Located in a quiet area that is a mix of residences and shops, the club is accessed via a stairwell in a building basement. Appropriately, it is sometimes advertised as the hidden jazz club of Seongsu. Positive Zero Lounge offers Seoulites live jazz performances and a wine bar. There is live music scheduled every night except Mondays. Guests have an assortment of cuisine and drinks to choose from. Some highlights produced by the club’s kitchen are shrimp gnocchi, chicken steak, and pulled pork. Wine lovers should be happy, as there is an extensive list of wines. Drinks are generally priced in the medium to high range, with a glass of wine starting at about fifteen thousand won. Cocktails, whisky, and draft beer are also served, and they have Erdinger beer on tap. The inner part of the club has a slick, upscale design. Upon entering, patrons will see the kitchen on the left and the stage on the right. The stage area has a large silver curtain as a backdrop. Small oval and large rectangle tables take up the rest of the room.
Positive Zero Lounge is good at maintaining clear relationships with the musicians who perform there. “As a musician, I feel their booking system is very reasonable,” says jazz guitarist Youngsun Kim. The club has an overall warm feel and pleasant aesthetics. As a result, it attracts receptive audiences. “The vibe is good and allows for the music to really be appreciated.”
All That Jazz
Amongst the most storied and established jazz clubs in Seoul is All That Jazz. “It’s one of the oldest jazz clubs in Seoul,” says Hanol Kim, a jazz pianist. All That Jazz is located in Itaewon in Central Seoul. It has long been one of the more visible jazz clubs in Korea, as Itaewon has become a top nightlife spot in the last decade. All That Jazz is close to Itaewon Station exit 2. It is on the second floor of a building on Itaewon-Ro-2Ga-Gil. The street has numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs, and is one of the more crowded parts of Itaewon on weekend evenings. The part of the club facing the street consists of tall glass windows. Although the lighting is less ambiance-creating than the lighting at other jazz clubs, the stage makes up for it. The stage is usually lit by pink lights, and the effect is beautifying. They serve cocktails, beer, wine, and an assortment of hard liquor. Most drinks fit the medium price range. The dinner menu has categories such as pizza, pasta, tapas, main plates, and bar snack food. Main plates include mixed sausages and striploin steak with herb butter. The bar snack food consists of fruit platters, nuts, and cheese plates for guests looking for lighter fare. All That Jazz is usually open Wednesday through Sunday evenings, from 6 PM to 1 AM on Wednesday and Thursday, and from 6 PM to 2 AM on Friday and Saturday.
The professional atmosphere gives the club a big time feel. ”I like it because it feels like being in a New York jazz club when I’m there,” says Hanok Kim. Some musicians treat performing there very seriously. “As a jazz musician, playing in that club gives me much more responsibility or maybe pressure; it’s not a joke.” The club’s windows are a major asset. “So, in summer time. from time to time they open the ceiling when some musicians are gigging. They have an automatic opening ceiling and window frame, so that audiences enjoy the entire nightly, jazzy Itaewon mood with musicians.” Kim believes All That Jazz is a must-see in Seoul. “My favorite venue is without a doubt All that Jazz in Itaewon.”
“One place that I really love at the moment in Seoul is Sounddog in Huam Market,” says veteran trumpet player Damon Brown. Sounddog is a jazz cafe in Huam-dong. The Huam area is close to Seoul Station, Namsan, and Itaewon. Sounddog is located at the traditional Huam Market, south of the Millenium Seoul Hilton Hotel. “They do live shows every Thursday, Friday, and Monday night,” says Brown. Sounddog has a tidy and simple aesthetic, with obsidian walls and bric brac on shelves to go along with pre-fab glass doors that open onto the street. The cafe serves beer.
One of the best parts of Sounddog is the owner, who is a jazz aficionado. “The place is run by a lovely guy who makes the place special with his passion for the music. He’s a 30-year student of jazz trumpet who lives to put on live jazz and is not concerned with profit,” says Brown. Jazz guitarist Youngsun Kim agrees. “The owner really appreciates jazz and cares for the musicians which in turn allows for the quality of music to be high,” says Youngsun Kim. The cafe has other appealing characteristics, like opening the cafe to people outside. “The windows open onto the walkway inside the market and people sit outside when it’s full,” says Brown. Sounddog gets many true jazz fans. “Always just a great listening, but expressive audience,” says Brown.
Idenhouse is a jazz club in Hannam, located south of the Itaewon and Hangangjin neighborhoods and north of Hannam Station and the Han River. The venue is advertised as a place to enjoy whisky, cigars, and live jazz, especially on Live Jazz Nights every Friday and Saturday. Thursdays are Ladies Night and Live Jazz, and every female guest receives a free glass of sparkling wine. The club has a posh interior, with glass chandeliers and cigar lounge style. A noticeable part of the club is the framed black and white photos of famous celebrities smoking cigars. The stage wall has a large black and white photo of Jack Nicholson smoking a cigar that makes the view of the performers idiosyncratic. Idenhouse serves alcohol and food. They have a big whiskey selection, brandy, rum, cocktails, wine, and beer. Prices are on the higher end. The food includes cheese platters, margherita pizza, Jamon and sausage platters, and other dishes.
Brown considers Idenhouse a good place to perform. “I’m also really enjoying playing at Idenhouse in Hannam Oguri,” he says. The club has a lot of the components that make for an enjoyable experience. “I play duo there and the staff are all very respectful of the music and the audience again are very receptive.”
“I’m just loving Boogie Woogie in Gyeongridan. It’s a fantastic club to play and to check out other bands,” says Brown. Boogie Woogie is a bar in Gyeongridan, a small neighborhood across from Noksapyeong Station and just over the hill from Itaewon, the popular nightlife spot. Boogie Woogie has a unique club design from other Seoul jazz clubs. It’s got two red neon logos with “Boogie Woogie” written in cursive, one behind the bar counter and the other behind the stage. Mirror disco balls hang from the ceiling, and the effect is that the club is either bathed in reddish light or sits in utter darkness while bands are performing. The bar has live jazz, cocktails, whisky, wine, and food, according to its Instagram page. Compared to most Seoul jazz clubs, there are more cocktails on the menu, and the prices are more reasonable. Boogie Woogie has more of a typical bar feel to it than other venues, and the regulars contribute to the atmosphere. Gyeongridan is one of the trendier areas for Korean and international twenty-somethings to live and party. Boogie Woogie is open every day except Monday.
Brown likes the fact that the venue attracts Gyeongridan hipsters and trendy Korean youth. ”It knocks me out how so many young people come to this bar to drink and eat in a more party atmosphere but then really focus on the music from beat one when the bands start.”
This post was last edited on June 29, 2021 for typos and errors in the content.
Addresses and Contact Information
Positive Zero Lounge
14-2 Yeonmujang-gil, Seongsu-dong 1(il)-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Cost: 11, 000 Won
Days: Wednesday- Sunday
Hours: 6- 10 PM
All That Jazz
12 Itaewon-ro 27ga-gil, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Cost: 10,000 Won
Days: Wednesday- Sunday
Hours: 6 PM- 1 AM; 6 PM- 2 AM
78-, Hangang-daero 104-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Days: Monday, Friday
Hours: 8- 10 PM
31 Daesagwan-ro, 31-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Cost: 10,000-20,000 Won
Days: Friday, Saturday
Hours: 6-10 PM
Hwuinamu-ro 21, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Cost: less than 10,000 Won
Days: Tuesday- Sunday
Hours: 6 PM-3 AM
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.