Seoul’s First Gentleman’s Clubs

Seoul Club is believed by many, especially the members, to be the first Western Club established in Seoul.  According to popular belief, it was established by Emperor Gojong in 1904. Not only was it not the first Western club in Seoul but the date of its foundation is wrong.  But as Prof. Andrei Lankov always likes to say, that is another story for another time.

The first Western Gentleman’s club in Seoul was the German Club – established in 1889.  The first president of this club was probably the German representative to Korea – Ferdinand Krien.  His name has often been associated with strife in Seoul’s small Western community – sometimes unjustified:

Krien, the previous year, had fallen into disfavor amongst the pious missionaries for a rumor that circulated like wildfire throughout the small community claiming that he was having sexual orgies in the German legation. These rumors were later found to be untrue and the subsequent investigation indicated that the wife of the Russian representative to Korea, Karl Waeber, had maliciously started them because of her hard feelings towards Krien. Mrs. Waeber seems to have had problems with some of the younger Germans and Russians in Seoul and wasn’t above a dirty trick or two to drive them out of the country. This is also an indication of the atmosphere of the small Western community ― full of backstabbing and Machiavellian intrigue.

There were other times, however, that Krien’s reputation was justified, but you can read about that here – at Korea Times (October 21, 2010)

  • r.rac

    you mean korea had titty bars at that time? thats what the term “gentlemens club” means to some of us.

  • robert neff

    Hmmm – perhaps I should have changed that name – but the intent was to show that it was a club for gentlemen only – unlike the Seoul Union which was generally a family type club. Of course, as I mentioned in the article, what happened in the “gentleman’s clubs” stayed in the club…..

  • Sperwer

    LOL; Korea’s had the functional equivalent of gentlemen’s clubs for 5,000 years.

  • numberoneoppa

    @r.rac: Haha, yeah, I was thinking the same thing.

  • Craash

    If I remember rightly, from the journals of “Hendrick Hamel” – the buddhist temples were the “gentlemans club” for many, many years…

    thats where you could find nude men just laying around the temple grounds savoring the “prostitutes??” each day.

  • cmm

    Prostitution in Korea was because of the immoral Japanese influence. Before they corrupted the place, Koreans were innocent souls.

  • CactusMcHarris

    Mr. Neff,

    Are you speaking of the clubs from a ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ upper-class men’s club for eatin’, conninvin’ and drinkin’, or the other kind (see King Kong Lick House, circa 1985)?

  • setnaffa

    Gentlemen don’t attend what certain people consider “Gentlemen’s Clubs”. One would expect a well-read type of individual would know what was meant.

    Then again, given the relatively low-brow audience lately, it’s possible the only “clubs” many are familiar with are actually saloons. Especially since it is a relatively white-bread concept. Cigars. Overstuffed chairs. Etc. Rather like the Shilla Hotel; but with a doorman who knows all of the members. See “Naval and Military”.


    I always wanted to be able to afford a club; but I was born into the wrong century and the wrong family. Thank God!

  • Zilchy

    So, Mrs. Waeber had “hard feelings” towards Mr. Krien, thus started nasty rumors in retaliation.

    Jilted lover?

    Was that low-brow enough? Should I just shave them off?

  • Koreansentry

    Well there were Kisaeng Yeojeong places in through out Korea during Silla to Joseon periods. And there is Seodang girls that travels around 8 provinces of Korea during Koryeo to Joseon periods where girls sell themselves to guys willing to pays for the happy ending service. It’s ruling class that can access to Kisaeng place where they can enjoy wonderful food & drinks, music & song & dances as well as happy ending with one of their choices. I’m actually surprised about German style GC was existed in Seoul. There are few Gentleman’s Club around in Sydney to Melbourne, but they’re mostly nothing more than strip joint just cost more for beers and entrance fee. There are more of this orgy places in Shanghai to Tokyo than any other places on earth.

  • seouldout

    I like to call ’em Philanthropic Clubs. And I’m a giver. The RALF’s bash during the summer was one of highlight’s of the Seoul Club’s social season. Seoul’s best non-hotel pool too.

    Another gentlemen’s club in Seoul that was foreigner friendly was the Disabled American Veterans Club. Seemed to more from one locale to another every 6 months or so.