My favorite bartender quit her job this week. She was good at what she did but was not really cut out for the work, or at least not the way bars seem to operate here in Anjeong-ri. She shared with me some of the frustrations she encountered in the biz and while I was not surprised it was still disappointing. Here’s the lowdown:
Way back in 2009 I wrote about juicy bars and prostitution. My experience was pretty much limited to what I had seen in Itaewon. This burg is a whole other animal. A juicy bar is a joint where the girls work for drinks. It’s usually a lounge type bar where you sit with the girl and chat while she downs W10,000 drinks. And that was about the only reason you’d have to visit such a venue. By the time I left Itaewon there were only a handful of this type bar left. Most of the bars were regular pub type establishments with pool and darts and food and regulars just hanging out (like Shenanigans for example). You could buy the bar staff a drink if you wanted (and they felt like drinking) but it was always customer price.
So I was somewhat taken aback when I first explored the Anjeong-ri bar scene. I’d go into what appeared to a regular pub and get hit up for a lady drink. Now, I don’t mind buying the occasional drink for a hard working girl, but I really hate being asked. As time went on I discovered that virtually ALL of the bars here operate on the “juicy” principle (girl gets a W10,000 drink, and her share is W5,000). These aren’t regular drinks either, they are watered down versions or alcohol-free juice. It really gets tiresome being pestered for drinks by the staff, so I’ve tried to find places where they will at least leave me alone until I offer. My friend the (former) bartender was one of those.
After quitting, she explained to me the horrendous pressure the bar owners put on them to hustle drinks. It begins with paying a ridiculously low salary so the girls will feel compelled to supplement their income with lady drinks. Now, I enjoyed my friend’s company, so I’d normally buy her a drink with every one of mine (which gets expensive real quick, no idea how these young soldiers I see buying lady drinks can afford it). She told me about a customer we both like who never buys a lady drink. The owner would get mad if she talked to him, saying he should be ignored until he bought I drink. I said, well you know, the owner wants you to talk to other customers who will hopefully buy you a drink. She told me no, even when the bar is empty I’m not supposed to chat with someone not buying drinks.
Well, that’s fucked up. And it made me recall a bar I visited before I understood “the system” here. I mean, I’m used to ordering up a beer and having some small talk with the bartender (provided she’s not busy). But this one just moved down to the far end of the bar and sat there. I was thinking what the hell did I do to piss her off? Now I know. Another bartender I like asked me one night to rate her as a bartender. I told her I thought she was a solid “8” (great personality, good conversation, just not that cute). I asked her why she wanted to know and she said the owner told her she was just a “2” because customers don’t buy her enough lady drinks.
Oh, and the bars hire these undocumented Filipinas and pay them even less than the Korean staff. This is not only unfair and exploitative, it forces these girls to be even more aggressive in pursuit of lady drinks.
Damn, obviously I’m spending too much time in the bars. But at this rate there won’t be many bars left that I can countenance to patronize. I’m actually down to three now. And yes, the girls in those bars also work for drinks, but they have the good sense not to pester me for one. They get their share out of me (especially when I’m drunk) but they at least create the illusion that it is not expected.
I would love to open a bar here and run it the right way. Ain’t gonna happen of course because I hate the idea of running a bar. But the bar scene here needs a kick in the ass, that’s for sure.