Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing beer halls, mak­ge­olli houses in late 1960s

The Korea Times - - FOREIGN COMMUNITY - By Matt VanVolken­burg Matt VanVolken­burg has a mas­ter’s de­gree in Korean stud­ies from the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton. He is the blog­ger be­hind pop­u­largusts.blogspot.kr.

In late 1969, Korea Times colum­nist and fu­ture nov­el­ist Ahn Junghyo wrote an ar­ti­cle about mak­ge­olli houses nar­rated by a drunken lo­cal who had bumped into a for­eign tourist, told him to “Throw that damned tourist map away” and of­fered to show the tourist a “real place”: Oc­to­pus House.

“We call this place NowhereHou­se,” the guide ex­plained. “Means we come here be­cause we don’t have no other place to go. Don’t have a wife or a girl to spend the evenin’ with. Ain’t rich enough to go to a bar and you come here. When you’re so happy or so blue that you want to go some­where, ya come here. Peo­ple come here to com­plain about their sad life. Folks come here to feel big and happy. On all kinda oc­ca­sions, you’re here.”

This was a far cry from an­other drink­ing spot ex­plored a year ear­lier by Amer­i­can colum­nist Patty Barker, who de­cided she wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence a beer hall, but found her hus­band and his trans­la­tor, Mr. Kim, less than en­thu­si­as­tic. When she asked Mr. Kim whether women were ever taken to beer halls, he an­swered, “There’s no rea­son to take women to beer halls, they’re al­ready there!”

De­cid­ing to “shat­ter prece­dence” and go, she first vis­ited the “re­spectable” Tour d’OB in Myeong-dong be­fore head­ing to a beer hall in Mu­gyo-dong, which she de­scribed as be­ing on the “fine di­vid­ing line be­tween the cabaret and a beer hall,” what with its band and a “troupe of very at­trac­tive young ladies.”

For Barker, the eco­nom­ics of the beer hall drew her at­ten­tion. The beer hall had “30 ta­bles and eas­ily 30 or 40 girls, plus male waiters, and the man­ager. None of these peo­ple are paid a salary. In fact, usu­ally the only salaried souls are the lit­tle boy barker down on the side­walk, the bar­tender, and the cook, and a cashier.” Ev­ery­one else worked on tips and per­cent­ages.

The beer hall owner took in a 10 per­cent ser­vice charge tacked onto the bill, 15 per­cent or 20 per­cent of what each waiter sold, and 30 won to 50 won for each ta­ble served by the hostesses. The women kept the rest of their tips. On top of sit­ting on laps and pour­ing drinks, they were ex­pected to go up and sing songs with the band af­ter con­vinc­ing a cus­tomer to pay a song fee of 100 won.

The band was salaried but also took in these fees, and pro­vided added pres­sure: “The combo leader calls out the girls’ num­bers all evening long. Of course, the cus­tomer feels like a piker if his girl’s num­ber, af­ter a long em­bar­rass­ing in­ter­val, is passed over.”

The waiters had a tougher go of it. They had to put down a se­cu­rity de­posit of tens of thou­sands of won for the priv­i­lege of work­ing in the beer hall and guar­an­tee that loyal cus­tomers would fol­low them from their pre­vi­ous work­place.

Keep­ing cus­tomers loyal of­ten meant loan­ing them money to pay their bills, which came out of the se­cu­rity de­posit. The head waiter would take all his waiters and clien­tele along with him when he left for a bet­ter job, lead­ing Barker to de­scribe “the beer hall game” as “a con­tin­u­ous round of mu­si­cal chairs.”

While Barker en­joyed her hour “watch­ing the girls ta­ble hop with­out miss­ing scarcely a beat in their smiles, gay chat­ter, and a ten­ta­tive in­ter­est in their cus­tomers,” the hall’s ex­trav­a­gance made it a far cry from the mak­ge­olli house ex­pe­ri­ence. As Ahn’s nar­ra­tor put it, “We don’t come here to en­joy teasin’ or jokin’ with dames. We come here for a more ur­gent need — re­laxin’. What we need is just to sit and talk, laugh and feel free.”

He also added, “Even girls come to mak­ge­olli houses these days. Most of them come with their boyfriends. What a place to date! Yet, they still come.” This was, in fact, a fairly new phe­nom­e­non. A Septem­ber 1968 ar­ti­cle noted that “The drink­ing boom among young women has brought a sub­tle con­fu­sion to the night­club scene, since no longer is the woman with a mar­tini or gin and tonic the pro­fes­sional host­ess but just as eas­ily an ed­u­cated young woman with her date.”

It was also pointed out that women ma­jor­ing in art and mu­sic were the most fre­quent vis­i­tors, and that they were seek­ing some­thing more than in­tox­i­ca­tion. As a “pretty

art stu­dent at Ewha” Wom­ans Univer­sity who didn’t smoke put it, “hold­ing a cig­a­rette in one’s hand will def­i­nitely cre­ate a mood. I like to watch cir­cles of smoke go up… lis­ten to drown out noise of peo­ple yakking. You can feel alone and to­gether at the same time. It’s that mood I like and want to have.”

Ahn’s nar­ra­tor also ar­gued that mood was im­por­tant, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Though he be­lieved the owner of the Oc­to­pus House could eas­ily have af­forded to con­vert it into a fancy place, this never hap­pened be­cause “He wants to pre­serve this mood, the mood the com­mon salaried folks love. We don’t want to go to fancy places. Makes us feel small. This is a proper place for us. We know that. The owner knows we know that. This is a sad place that shows what we re­ally are. We are com­mon peo­ple. And it’s sadly happy to be­come one of the com­mon peo­ple.”

We don’t want to go to fancy places. Makes us feel small. This is a proper place for us. We know that. The owner knows we know that.

Korea Times Ar­chive

Male cus­tomers en­joy a night of drunken an­tics in a mak­ge­olli house in this il­lus­tra­tion that ac­com­pa­nied colum­nist Ahn Jung-hyo’s Dec. 28, 1969 ar­ti­cle.

Korea Times Ar­chive

Women from Ewha Wom­ans Univer­sity are de­picted drink­ing in this Korea Times il­lus­tra­tion pub­lished June 16, 1968.

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