Coronavirus News Asia

Lights go out over Asia’s nightlife

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Tattooed, built and bearded, Jae Lee is not just the personification of neo-Asian male cool, he is also the owner of South Korea’s most famed nightclub.

But the youthful-looking 46-year-old is currently in very hot water: His business, King Club, is in the media glare for all the wrong reasons.

The gay hotspot, located at the heart of Seoul’s famed/notorious Itaewon  district, was one of three establishments at the center of a recent Covid-19 cluster that caught Korea by surprise in early May.

Lee faces a double whammy: indefinite business closure and a public backlash against gays.

But perhaps more concerning for the sector as a whole is the fact that, operationally, King Club had busted all the right moves.

“We did not let people in without masks, we did temperature tests on the doors and we took the names and phone numbers of everyone who came in,” he told Asia Times. “We did everything the authorities asked us to do – but it still happened! It’s a nightmare.”

King Club owner Jae Lee considers an uncertain future. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times

It is not just Itaewon. A dark cloud now hangs over the often-racy, neon-lit, after-hours entertainment zones that have, for decades, been one of the standout draws in Asia’s service sector – far more so than their staid counterparts in Western capitals.

From Bangkok to Tokyo, the good times are over.

One question is for how long. Another is whether a sector that is about socializing, not social distancing, can realistically adjust its operational practices for the Covid-19 era. 

Ghost town

Itaewon never looks its best in daylight, but on a recent weekend evening, it appeared especially bleak.

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