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Traditional Korean Cafes Might Not Be What You Think! Here's Our Take!

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

After watching numerous Korean dramas, we've noticed a specific trend that hit us like a brick wall. When you might think of Korean-style cafes, you think of them as being aesthetically pleasing, and warm, with lots of delicious drinks on a nice date or hanging out with friends. But we've noticed the complete opposite, for a different type of clientele! Read on to find out what we've discovered!


Still from "What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?" (tvN)
Still from "What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?" (tvN)

Upon what seems to be an innocent place to gather and have a non-alcoholic beverage with some close friends, there may be a dark side of Korean cafes! Here are three examples we've noticed from recent dramas!


But first, what is a "Dabang" (다방)?


Before major coffee franchises began taking over South Korea in 1999, Korea had its own version of a coffee shop called a "dabang". On a side note, did you know the first Starbucks in Korea opened across from Ewha Women's University in Seoul? "Dabang" literally means "tea room" in Chinese characters "da (茶)" and "bang" (방). The first dabangs first started in Korea during the 1920's, during the Japanese colonial period. Dabangs, eventually, became a place for men and women to gather and discuss art, meetings, blind dates for students, and rest for the middle-aged.


A "dabang" coffee shop located in Gyeongju (@_eun00000)
A "dabang" coffee shop located in Gyeongju (@from_jamie_)

Old school iced coffee with thermos (@yjdabang)
Old school iced coffee with thermos (@yjdabang)

Little did we know that these dabangs had a clientele that most people did not want to talk about, middle-aged men (ahjusshis) who wanted more than just coffee! Dabangs began delivering coffee to anyone who called in and wanted a specific attractive female to deliver it. The men paid these women for their time in return for talking and probably other extracurricular activities. That's when we noticed that similar themes ran in current K-dramas that we witnessed! Let's break it down!


1. My Perfect Stranger (2023)


In one of the slowest, but best mystery dramas out there, My Perfect Stranger used a dabang as one of the locations where the murderer of the town hung out and planned out his attacks. Although the drama didn't disclose any "coffee escorts", the scenes included made the audience realize that it wasn't a place for children.


Still from "My Perfect Stranger" (KBS2)
Still from "My Perfect Stranger" (KBS2)

2. Moving (2023)


In the currently airing drama, Moving, Jang Ju Won (Ryoo Seung Ryong Life is Beautiful 2020) falls in love with Hwang Ji Hee (Kwak Sun Young Hospital Playlist 2 2021) when he bumps into her at night. He starts to notice her non-nonsense demeanor as she makes late-night coffee deliveries on her motorbike. Thus, the two start an unconventional relationship that is pure and juvenile. Moving depicts these "coffee escorts" as entertainment for men who want to have non-alcoholic drinks while having a "good time".


Hwang Ji Hee (left) delivers coffee to Jang Ju Won's hotel room and the two spark up a relationship (Disney+)
Hwang Ji Hee (left) delivers coffee to Jang Ju Won's hotel room and the two spark up a relationship (Disney+)

3. Behind Your Touch (2023)


In the hilarious and sometimes outrageous current drama Behind Your Touch, Bong Ye Bun (Han Ji Min Yonder 2022) and Detective Moon Jang Yeol (Lee Min Ki My Liberation Notes 2022) are brought to the Mujin Dabang Coffee shop for their case. Involving a dabang worker who has "run away", the two set off to the shop to find out why she disappeared. In this drama, the dabang has a madam (woman in charge) and the female workers are afraid for their lives as they do as they are told similar to an escort service.


Still from episode 8 of "Behind Your Touch" (JTBC)
Still from episode 8 of "Behind Your Touch" (JTBC)

Still from episode 8 of "Behind Your Touch" (JTBC)
Still from episode 8 of "Behind Your Touch" (JTBC)

So what are your thoughts about this not-so-talked-about Korean cafe style? Of course, not all dabangs are run this way and many cater services to people from all ages and backgrounds. We've just noticed that dabangs have been used in current dramas to depict a certain image that we're not used to. Let us know what you think in the comments below!




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