The One and Only Basement Turns Ten
If you've been in Busan long enough, you will eventually have a Basement story to tell. Over the past ten years it has been the below ground home of strong drinks, good conversation, great music and the scene of memorable nights and, at times, nights you hope everyone forgets.
BASEMENT, South Korea -- When I first arrived on these rocky shores some seven-plus years ago, I discovered a tiny bar in PNU that served up toxically-strong drinks through a haze of cigarette smoke, pumping tunes, and crackling conversation. The owner, Woo, was a natty-haired Korean dude who knew not only how to get the party started, but how to keep it going until dawn.
The clientele was composed of some of the hardest drinking expats in town, as well as some of the smartest. The place was a salt-lick for partiers, raconteurs and magnificent degenerates: needless to say, I immediately fell in love. This was my introduction to The Basement.
The place has changed since then, moving from its old-time location underneath Crossroads (now home to Soultrane) to its current digs near the PNU front gate. Liam took over, and what was once Busan’s most spectacular dive morphed into a much more comprehensive (and respectable) joint, offering up a broader selection of drinks and food, along with pool and darts. But it was the establishment of The Basement as one of the city’s premier live music venues that really set the new spot apart.
“I’ve always loved live music,” Liam told me recently. “I grew up in New York and when I was young I would often sneak into CBGB’s (the legendary rock club) with my buddies. I wanted a similar vibe at The Basement, where people could come to see bands just getting their start, along with established acts.”
In this mission he has excelled. There is live music every Saturday and many of the bands currently playing in town – both Korean and foreign – played their first gigs there. The Basement also regularly welcomes internationally touring acts, and every fall plays host to the city’s School of Basement battle of the bands. And to top it all off, the bar is home to one of Busan’s longest-running open mics, where every Tuesday night local musicians get up on the stage and give it what they got, sometimes birthing popular home-grown acts. Hajimama, anyone?
In addition to live music, The Basement has carved out a niche as a dance party destination with its Friday DJ nights, and has even added salsa dancing on both Sunday at 8 p.m. (“sexy class” for beginners) and Thursday at 10 p.m. (“extra sexy”), with moves taught by a New York Dominican named Joel who apparently knows his stuff. “Thursday is now our most popular night,” Liam told me. “It’s crazy and a lot of fun.”
One of the nice things about The Basement is the varied crowd that has been cultivated over the years, aided by its proximity to the university. The bar is popular not only with Koreans and the ESL crowd, but on any given night you’ll also meet students from China, Japan, India and Europe mixing it up or the western businessman looking for a back home feel while in town. Liam likes to refers to it as “the UN of Busan”.
It’s been a decade since The Basement opened its doors and: Guess what? They’re celebrating this Saturday with a 10-year anniversary party. So come on out, make your way down the stairs, and give some love to a place that has become not just a PNU, but a real Busan institution. For a map to get there (as if you needed it) go here.
Read more from Chris Tharp