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History of Korean Bars
Korea's long history of drinking has resulted in the development of various kinds of alcohols through history. Initially, alcohols were not manufactured commercially, but rather most were homemade. Although demand for alcohol was high, the lack of development of a commercial supply resulted from the government's strict policy of abstinence during the Goryeo period.
Goryeo Dynasty's King Seongjong allowed a few premium bars in the Gaeseong area that scholars believe were supervised by government officials. The major customers appear to have been scholars. During King Sukjong's government, bars were opened at Gaegyeong area with the main purpose to circulate currencies, such as Haengdong-tongbo and Dongguk-tongbo, and also to demonstrate the benefits of using currency for trading and business.
Even though historians have found no records of private bars during this period, lyrics of some popular songs of the time referred to going to a drinking place. Also, Buddhist temples ran most of the large-scale breweries of the time. Buddhist temples received several benefits from the government, including waivers of tax and labor responsibilities; the exclusive right to sell alcohol, noodles, garlic, and salt; and the right to run lodging and accommodation businesses. In the times of Yeongdeung-hoe (Lantern Buddhist Ceremony) and Palgwan-hoe (Religious Ceremony for God), the government declared a period of abstinence, but people always could find alcohol at temples.
The peak period for bars can be traced to late in the Joseon Dynasty when the country had an agricultural surplus. During this time, many types of drinking establishments, including heonju-ga (ga means house), soju-ga, byeongju-ga, jumak, mokno suljip (suljip means bar), naewoe suljip, saekju-ga, and moju-ga, opened.
- Bar Types of Joseon Dynasty
This relatively large-scale brewery focuses on retailing and wholesaling alcohol. People paid their bills with cash or advancement within a certain period. According to records of 1907, one vat with a capacity of 20 shots cost 1 won, 80 jeon and white alcohols were sold for 1 won 60 jeon. Historians assume that about 100 bars like this existed just in Seoul, and that they brewed around 20,000 seok of yakju and baekju a year.
These establishements were referred to as byeong-suljip or bachim-suljip and retailed rice wine. If customers wanted soju, yakju, or baekju, they had a servant order some from a nearby heonju-ga for their guests.
A soju-ga mainly manufactured and sold soju. There were around 100 soju-ga, with the most famous in Gongdeok-ri, Seoul, with a manufacturing capacity of 2,500 seats.
Currency transactions were established after the governance of Joseon Hyojong. Along with the popularity of these bars that also served food and provided lodging, jumak became popular, too. People could tell bars by flags (yongsu) tied to a tall wooden pole in front of bars. Inside were servers who scooped drinks and warmed them in boiling water.
5. Mokno Suljip
These taverns served drinks with meat and soups as side dishes. Usually located in remote areas of towns, they had no chairs and were called seonsuljip (standing bar). The most famous ones of Mokno Suljip 80 years ago were in Anguk-dong (Goltangjip) and Dongdaemun (Keungojip).
6. Naewoe Suljip
Old widows or women from collapsed nobility ran these bars. They usually had a plate with Naewoe ju-ga written on the doors of an otherwise normal looking family house. These bars also had a strict etiquette that guests had to follow. When the owner prepared soups, water, and cooked meats with the drinks, the guests had to purchase more than 2 kettles of alcohol. When normal households suddenly had guests, it is believed that the hosts also took them to these kinds of bars.
The Saekju-ga was originated to serve government officials who were commissioned to China in the time of King Sejong. Since that time, many bars operated in the saekju-ga style and did a brisk business selling alcohol and providing prostitution services for patrons.