Seoul crush hits storied Itaewon nightlife district on verge of renewal

With “Hooker Hill” and snaking alleyways of bars with indicators like “BADASS” across the native landmark Hamilton Lodge, Seoul’s Itaewon district was an emblem of freewheeling nightlife within the South Korean capital for many years, earlier than tragedy struck.

The crush of partygoers on Saturday night time that killed 153 principally younger folks may hamper the revival of an space that was simply beginning to thrive after greater than two years of COVID-19 restrictions, as stylish eating places and outlets changed seedy institutions.

Lee Sang-yoon, who runs a pub within the alley subsequent to the Hamilton the place the catastrophe happened, stated it might show a devastating blow for even those that tailored to vary.

“This occurred proper in the intervening time after we have been about to rebound after being hammered by the pandemic,” stated Lee, who has operated Itaewon companies for 3 many years. “We may survive the pandemic as a result of we owned this place, however most of our neighbours who had been paying hire right here had closed their companies and left.”

A brief stroll from the Yongsan U.S. military garrison, Itaewon sprang up after the 1950-53 Korean Conflict as a hangout for American troopers, with bars, brothels and trend outlets lining either side of the primary stretch operating by means of it.

Itaewon went by means of many years of rises and falls.

A mysterious killing known as the “Itaewon Homicide” and different crimes within the late Nineteen Nineties painted a darkish picture of the world. However early on this century it turned a connoisseur spot and place to expertise world cultures with no passport.

The district has been a recurrent theme in fashionable tradition, with a current hit drama “Itaewon Class” and Okay-pop music “Itaewon Freedom”.

Restrictions positioned on U.S. troops after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on the USA prompted a shift to a neighborhood clientele, a change accelerated by celebrities opening eating places that turned fashionable with younger South Koreans.

Earlier than 9/11, “Itaewon was filled with People,” reminisced a 40-year resident who sells flowers on the road. Streets have been simply getting packed once more for the primary time because the pandemic, stated the girl, who requested to not be named.

“Earlier than COVID, extra foreigners than locals, and now plenty of native folks come from rural areas,” she stated. “I can’t imagine this tragedy actually occurred. Vacation or, what’s it known as, Halloween?

Early within the coronavirus pandemic, a few of Itaewon’s homosexual bars and transgender golf equipment grow to be a lighting rod for controversies, with dozens of instances traced to individuals who have been faulted for not disclosing to well being authorities that that they had hung out there.

Park Geun-ho, proprietor of the Havana Lounge & Pub, anxious the catastrophe could show to be larger problem than something the world has seen.

“In spite of everything this, would folks come to Itaewon now? They gained’t,” stated Park, who has run companies within the district for almost 30 years.

Earlier than catastrophe struck, Halloween festivities had been the main attraction for years, drawing native folks and foreigners to the foothills of the Namsan mountain, simply steps from luxurious villas occupied by international diplomats and heads of chaebol enterprise syndicates, together with the late chairman of Samsung Group.

However questions have grown lately in regards to the security of internet hosting an occasion that attracts as much as 100,000 to the cramped and hilly streets, particularly with out shutting down the primary avenue to visitors to accommodate pop-up shops and kiosks.

“This month ought to’ve been a superb one with the World Village Competition, Halloween and so forth, however then this accident occurred,” stated Kim Kyung-mo who works at a comfort retailer close to the alley the place the crush occurred.

“I ran into my boss earlier as we speak and chatted briefly, and he clearly didn’t look actually good.”

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